Sunday, August 31, 2008

And so it begins...

After all of the orientation days, the Accounting boot camp, and the team workshops, this has been the first full week of "real" classes. After getting a taste of MBA life, I now know why many first year MBA students liken the first semester to drinking water from a fire hose. It's been pretty crazy. For example, my team was given data on Monday and we were expected to perform an analysis and present our findings on Wednesday. I finished my last 2 years of undergrad in a year and a half, taking 6 classes per semester while working full time and still managed to maintain an A average. Before the MBA program began I thought, "Well, even though I will be completing Master's level coursework, I won't be working. It should be cake compared to working 40 hours per week and going to school full time." Although I am no stranger to hard work and am not one to complain about having to put forth an extra effort, I have to admit that this semester is going to be taxing. The core semester at Carlson is broken up into 2 halves and 19 credits are crammed into 18 weeks. For the first half of the semester we take 4 classes and in the second half we take 3 more classes. 4 classes might not sound like much, but try doing it in half the time, topping it off with group projects sprinkled here and there along with required leadership seminars. I've got my work cut out for me, that's for sure.

A quick recap of what's gone on so far:

My group
Carlson breaks up the class into groups of 5 or 6 and these teams stay together for the duration of the core semester. I would venture to say that my team is pretty sweet. We've got 2 internationals AND 2 women in our group, 2 groups that are pretty scarce in this year's class. In all we've got a Finance guy, a think-tank guy, a techie guy, a marketing girl, a JD/MBA girl, and an "other" (me). Not only is my group made up of people that I can get along with, but more importantly it is devoid of slackers. All of us are shooting for A's, which is pretty important to me. I think we are going to work well together this semester.

Data Analysis for Managers
This class is taught by Norman Chervany, and so far the class has been interesting. He utilizes something he calls "In Progress Learning Assignment". It's kind of like a pop quiz, but much better. He gives us a 3 problem quiz and around 20 minutes to solve the problems on our own. After completing the quiz on our own, we then get into our groups and try to come to a consensus on which are the correct answers. After the group decides on the answers, we then scratch off our choices on something that resembles lottery ticket you can buy in a gas station. If we are correct, you can see a star. The group gets 4 points for a correct answer on the first try, and 2 points if it is correct on the second guess. The grade for the assignment is 75% individual and 25% group. The benefits of this method are two-fold: First, we get to hash it out as a group when deciding on the correct answer. This enhances our ability to work in a group. Secondly, we get instant feedback, so the learning process is a lot smoother. On top of that we get to use Minitab statistical software to perform statistical analysis. All I have to say is.....where the heck was this when I was in undergrad??? Rather than having to work out all those cumbersome equations by hand, now I can just enter the observations into Minitab and it spits out a nice statistical summary. Nice...

Financial Accounting

Well, what can I say about this class? The teacher, Frank Gigler, seems like an intelligent guy that is capable of cracking an occasional joke, but accounting is accounting. No matter how you present it, accounting is about as exciting as brushing your teeth. I've got to give the professor an A for effort, though.

Strategy
I must say, I have freaking nightmares about this class. A large portion of our grade is based on class participation and how well we prepare for the cases we discuss. This means that we must wave our hands fiercely in the air and hope to god that he calls on us when we are confident about a certain topic and cower in fear while praying that he doesn't call on us if he brings up a topic we aren't so sure about. I swear, after that class I feel like I just completed 2 hours of aerobic exercise because the class is 2 hours of non-stop pressure to produce a few substantive comments or insights. The fact that I feel like this is not the professor's fault at all, it is just my nature. In reality, the professor, Aks Zaheer, is very positive and supportive in class. If a student gives an answer that is totally off base he says, "Yes, and...," rather than ripping into said student. Dr. Zaheer is a very well traveled man, having taught in China, Poland, and something like 3 or 4 other countries that I can't remember. He has a deep baritone voice with a high class European-type accent. I think if the whole "professor thing" doesn't work out for him, he can definitely make a lucrative career out of doing voice overs for PBS history specials. All joking aside, he is a great teacher and a world renowned researcher. I'm going to learn a lot from him.

Marketing
Take the vibe from Strategy class and reverse it and you will get the Marketing class. The professor, Wayne Mueller, is extremely laid back. His class feels like a 2 hour chat with a friend.
One interesting tidbit is that the professor is a 9-11 survivor. He was actually across the street from the towers when the planes hit. Crazy.

The first week of classes have been interesting. I'm curious to see how the semester progresses...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Carlson Full Time MBA Orientation Debrief

On Friday our 5 day orientation came to a close with a final dinner. Here's a recap of the activities that went on during those 5 days:

Day 1
On the first day we had our kickoff dinner, a time for the members of the class of 2010 to meet each other while the assistant dean tells us all how great we are. In our class we have someone from the Counter Terrorist Unit (that's right...the same CTU that employs Jack Bauer), a couple of Chinese diplomats, and a Bangladeshi pop star to name a few. I have to admit, after hearing the list of some of my classmate's accomplishments, I felt rather average. There was one statistic that rather surprised me, namely the fact that our class is only 19% international. Two years ago Carlson's Full Time MBA class was 40% international and last year's class was around 30% international. I wonder why there was such a drop this year...

Day 2
During the day the MBA office staff introduced themselves and we were given an introduction to the case method of teaching. I found the "mini-case" class thoroughly enjoyable and I'm definitely looking forward to participating in such classes in the future. In the afternoon we all headed over to Camp Iduhapi for some team building exercises. I had a good time despite the fact I HATE the outdoors or anything that remotely resembles camping and that the activities the camp leaders made us do were kind of cheesy. Near the end of the day, we all split up into groups and did various activities that involved being strapped into harnesses and cavorting 30 feet above the ground. While other groups got to climb a huge wall or jump off of a pole, my group was stuck doing some lame trust exercise in which we had to lean on each other in order to cross a set of tightropes. Oh well, sometimes you just get the short end of the stick. After the camp outing the class all met at a nearby pub for drinks and appetizers.

Day 3
On this day we stayed indoors and were lectured to about personality types and critical thinking for half of the day. The first half of the day was quite boring, but during the second half a group of improv actors came in to talk to us about communication. The main presenter was freaking hilarious and he definitely woke the class up a bit. After that we broke up into groups and completed a team exercise in which we were to pretend that we were stranded somewhere in the Canadian arctic with only 15 items. We were all briefed on the situation and then were made to rank the 15 items from most to least important as a group. I basically learned that if I were stuck out in the wilderness, I would most likely die a horrible death. After that we had a nice little class on business meal etiquette.

Day 4
The day started with an introduction to the MBAA (MBA Association) and a couple of writing classes, then moved on to the introduction to the Core Class professors. They all went on to introduce themselves and assure us that we all had made an excellent investment decision by deciding to attend Carlson. I found this interesting because I had just read an article written by a professor here at Carlson concerning fading optimism in products (you can download it here). The basic gist of the article is that if a consumer buys a product that is to be delivered later, the consumer's optimism about the product's performance declines as the date of delivery nears. Right after the purchase, the consumer is more optimistic about the product because he wants to reassure himself that he has made the right choice. As the product's delivery date approaches, the consumer lowers his optimism in the product in order to not "get his hopes up" in case the product does not perform as he expected it to. One of the obvious applications of this research would be for companies to reassure customers shortly before the delivery of a product. Were the professors here at this school employing this technique on us? I guess it would make sense for Carlson professors to utilize research that came out of the Carlson school.

After the lunch break, we were broken up into different groups and given a case for a mini-case competition. We were given 10 hours to read the case, perform analyses, and put together a presentation to be delivered the next morning. This was a tremendous learning experience, as I had never participated in anything like this before. I left at the end of the day (11pm) simply exhausted.

Day 5
In the morning all the teams gave their presentations and in the afternoon the best 4 presented for the whole class. My team wasn't selected to be in the final 4, but it was still a good learning experience nonetheless. I found that I have a lot to learn from my classmates when it comes to the business world. Although I have a degree in Finance, I received it almost 3 years ago and went into a non-business field after graduating. I was rather impressed by the presentation skills displayed by the top 4 groups. I've never given a formal "professional" presentation, so I can definitely gain from sharing a classroom with these people.

After the best 4 groups gave their presentations we had a break and came back for the closing dinner. Again, we were all told how wonderful we are while being treated to a mediocre dinner.

All in all, I would say that the orientation was a positive experience. It really opened my eyes as to what to expect in the next 2 years. If these 5 days were any indicator, I should be a better person after completing the MBA, and that's all you can really ask for from an education. Well......that and a better job.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Networking.......ugh?

Let's face it, when it comes to academics, the MBA is on the bottom of the totem pole of graduate degrees. Unlike in other graduate degree programs, where your place in the class and performance in the classroom have significant bearing on your placement after graduation, in an MBA program grades are almost secondary. It may be difficult to finish at the top of an MBA class, but it is damn near impossible to fail out of one. Many top MBA programs have grade non-disclosure policies, meaning that Student A who gets C's and Student B who gets A's will be the same in the eyes of potential employers. Other programs give pass/fail grades. At Carlson, the grading scheme is set up so that the median GPA of core classes will be 3.33, or a B+. What? Finishing in the middle of the class will automatically get you a B+? Call me crazy, but I always thought that finishing in the middle of the class makes one average, and last time I checked C=average.

Check out this video that underlines my point:

video

In defense of the MBA, one of the reasons that academics aren't emphasized is that in order to be admitted to an MBA program, students must have achieved a certain level of success in their professional lives. The MBA is the only graduate degree that I can think of that actually requires applicants to have work experience in order to be accepted. In essence, MBA students have already "proven themselves" before they even step foot into the classroom, lessening the need to validate aptitude through grades.

If grades aren't emphasized in an MBA program, then what is? Networking and recruiting. Attending networking and recruiting events is just as necessary as going to class. In fact, it may be even more important given that grades are given a diminished role. At first glance, it may seem like an MBA is really a $100,000 schmoozefest with classes sporadically sprinkled here and there as a bonus. This isn't totally the case, but after researching MBA programs and talking to MBA students, I've learned that academics take a back seat to making those all-important connections in the business community.

Networking....sounds like a dirty word, doesn't it? Its like socializing, but with an agenda. Whenever I think of networking, the most negative scenario comes to mind. First of all, I picture a room full of insurance-salesman type guys--the kind of guys that call you their "best buddy" after meeting you for the first time and are always ready with a cheesy one liner in the wings. They are all standing there in ridiculously expensive clothes drinking the most expensive liquor with big fake smiles on their faces, laughing a bit too hard at jokes that aren't funny and discussing their golf scores while throwing around business cards like shurikens. Next to them are standing the female versions, who are just so uber-excited about everything. To be honest, I equated the words "networking event" with a simply nauseating situation: people acting fake and using each other in order to make more money or to land a better job. I think I would rather have a Doberman gnaw off my left foot than attend an event like that.

You can imagine my apprehension as I accepted the invitation to attend the first Carlson "meet and greet" that was held yesterday. I thought, "Oh god, here we go. Let the schmoozing begin." I already had a plan devised that would allow me to make an early exit, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that my classmates are a diverse group of down to earth, well-rounded people that I could see myself enjoying spending time with. The event was to be held from 5-7 PM and instead of sneaking out the back door at 6:30, I was having such a good time that I didn't want to leave at 7! Actually, I think I was the only one that left at 7. Everyone else stayed behind to continue drinking and socializing, but I told my wife that I would be home at 7:30 and being the good husband that I am, I was home at 7:30. Oh well, there will be plenty of other opportunities to hang out with my classmates, as we are going to be spending the next 2 years together.

If this is considered networking, then maybe it isn't as bad as I thought it would be.