Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the University of Chicago

by Risako Takashima

This June, I finished my first year of my Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the University of Chicago. As I look forward to my second and last year at Chicago, I cannot help but express my gratitude to the Ito Foundation U.S.A. and Friends of UTokyo, Inc. for their unwavering support throughout my first year.

Prior to coming to Chicago, I worked full-time for four years after graduating from college. Making the decision to leave the job was tough, as pursuing a graduate degree with work experience is not a very popular career choice in Japan, except for MBA or firm/government sponsored programs. Despite knowing that pursuing an MPP, even at the expense of my sougoushoku (総合職) position, would benefit my career in the long run, this unconventional choice did come with economic uncertainties. As far as I’m concerned, most study-abroad scholarship providers limit their support to current university students, which is understandable but disheartening for someone like myself, who is trying to make a career jump. I cannot thank the FUTI Scholarship enough for offering opportunities to UTokyo alumni, too. I hope that other UTokyo alumni aspiring to study abroad will consider applying for this scholarship and not give up on their dreams of studying in the US due to financial reasons.

Taking time off from the bustling life in Tokyo and immersing myself in new academic subjects has been an invaluable opportunity to broaden my horizons. The core courses of my program I took in the first year, particularly Microeconomics and Econometrics, have allowed me to deepen my understanding of policy analysis. At the same time, I still strongly feel the need to learn more about the theoretical aspects of these fundamental subjects. In policy debates in Japan, one often encounters reports where superficial data analysis skills are employed. As my ultimate goal is to offer a more theory-based approach to the Japanese policy-making process, I feel that one year of learning is not enough to address the current situation. Looking ahead to my second year, I plan to take PhD-level courses to delve deeper into the theoretical aspects of Microeconomics and Econometrics so as to gain solid knowledge in quantitative and computational methods. Public policy schools often emphasize practical courses focused on real-life applications, and UChicago’s program certainly lives up to that reputation. Having begun my career in the public sector, however, I believe that enhancing my theoretical skills would be the most effective way to make the most of the program so that I could combine my experience with academic concepts.

Regarding my life outside of academics, this was my first time living in the US. During the first year, I shared a flat with two American students and learned a lot of American political and non-political jokes from them. I regret a little bit for not being super active in exploring the city of Chicago, partly because I wasn’t fully aware of the climate in the subarctic zone. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned in Chicago is that you do miss sunshine and actually feel depressed when half of the year is winter. I look forward to exploring more of the third-largest city in the US during the next year.

Overall, I am incredibly thankful for the support I’ve received and the enriching academic experience I’ve had so far. I look forward to the upcoming year with great enthusiasm, confident that the knowledge and skills I gain at UChicago will contribute significantly to my future endeavors in the field of public policy.