Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Hisyam Takiudin Master of Public Affairs, Brown University

"I had to learn a completely new programming language for my current work, and I am thankful that the MPA program trained me how to learn and adapt to new skills fast."

Hisyam Takiudin, MPA ’19

SPHERE Institute, Washington, D.C.
Data and Policy Analyst
Hometown: Terengganu, Malaysia

The SPHERE Institute is a nonprofit firm that operates in conjunction with its affiliated for-profit firm, Acumen, which uses data analysis to conduct policy research in support of federal, state, and local health care and social policy programs. SPHERE works with policymakers to provide policy analysis to help design and revise welfare, health, education, and labor programs at the national, state, and local level.

You earned your undergraduate degree at Brown in economics and political science. Why did you decide to stay a fifth year to earn your MPA?

Short answer is, I genuinely do love learning. The beauty of Brown’s Open Curriculum was that I was able to explore different interests throughout my four years. Designing your own curriculum is an amazing privilege to have, but I was also finding myself unable to tie together everything I had learned. I had set my eyes on the MPA program since I was in my sophomore year, and I knew that the program would be a good meeting point between my majors, economics and political Science.

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue an MPA directly after their undergraduate studies?

If you have a particular topic you are highly passionate about, there is always a way to capitalize on Brown’s vast resources and to shape your MPA experience to ensure that you are learning what you want to learn. Brown’s professors are highly accessible, and most are more than happy to share their experiences or direct you to relevant resources. If you are coming into the program without a specific direction in mind, embrace pivots. Diving into topics or skills foreign to you can be quite rewarding. When I entered the program, I was not expecting to spend six weeks devising a policy framework to implement electric scooters in New York, or to devote six months studying chemical contamination on Guam.The report and code that I wrote for the latter was actually central to why I got my current job, and I am forever grateful that I embraced that curveball.

What have you worked on so far at SPHERE? What skills from the MPA program have you used in your work?

I am about to wrap up a project with The Medicaid and CHIP Payment Access Commission (MACPAC), a non-partisan legislative branch that makes recommendations to Congress, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and individual states. My team is assisting MACPAC in running data analyses on the Medicaid population data, and the results will be included in their annual report. I had to learn a completely new programming language for my current work, and I am thankful that the MPA program trained me how to learn and adapt to new skills fast. I was roped into the project within two weeks of starting at SPHERE, and despite a steep learning curve, I was able to jump into major tasks fairly quickly.

The numerous data-driven analyses that I did throughout the MPA program definitely helped. I was provided with ample opportunities to run analyses on datasets that require specific conventions or extensive background research. The data I work with now often uses similar conventions, and it was definitely easier to have the experience of knowing how and where to look for the information I need.

How has your work at SPHERE expanded your knowledge of policy?

I was well aware that policy work is often slow because of how complex the relationships can get between different stakeholders, but being at SPHERE showed me how much work goes on behind every single aspect of policy. I witnessed the lengthy discussions on methodologies to approach a problem, I took note of the amount of work put into every single table in a report, and I experienced the level of detail by which results are analyzed and scrutinized.

What do you miss about Brown?

The people. My MPA colleagues and professors, of course, but also other often overlooked individuals who completed my Brown experience. Kay from the Nelson Fitness Center whose angelic care to everyone made her 1.5-hour Sunday morning Spin + Pump classes feel like a trip to your nicest aunt’s house; Gail from Dining Services who still remembers me three years after I went off meal plan; Deneen from the Rockefeller Library who showed up at my graduation because my parents could not make it. Brown would never have been the same without these people, and I truly recommend MPA students connect with some of Brown’s awesome staff.

December 2019