February 23, 2010

Those Who Can, Do and Teach

[Post by Rachel Dellon, 2011 MBA Candidate in Public and Nonprofit Management]

Over the course of my first semester in the BU MBA program, my new second year friends had many words of encouragement to offer about the opportunities ahead of me: internship search tips, electives I’d want to take, upcoming Cohort Cup activities…and, of course, the prospect of having Fridays free.

So what was I doing sitting in an SMG classroom on an unseasonably balmy Friday afternoon last week, discussing a sizable packet of extra reading with a dozen other students? Believe it or not, it was our idea. In a series of internship search check-in chats set up by Kristen McCormack, the dean of the Public and Nonprofit Management Program, I and a number of other students had expressed an interest in learning more about grantwriting. Not only did she agree that we would benefit from being able to discuss and evaluate that aspect of nonprofit operations in our interviews, she also organized and ran a three hour workshop on how to find sources of funding and put together an effective proposal. Attendees ranged from students like me hoping to work in development to those looking to become well-informed board members, which kept the conversation lively and the questions insightful.

The ability and readiness to teach me skills I can bring back to the nonprofit sector was a large part of the reason I chose to come to BU, but I’ve long since discovered that desire to make sure we can use what we’re being taught on a practical level isn’t unique to the PNP program. All of my professors have made themselves available during office hours or by appointment to answer my most basic questions (which, given my liberal arts background, can sometimes get very basic), and I’ve been contacted by faculty representatives from every concentration to ensure that I’ve provided feedback on whether the career portfolio program is meeting my needs.

If I needed still more proof of this dedication, I got it the morning after the grantwriting workshop (yes, a Saturday) when I arrived back at SMG for Link Day. I’d been looking forward to the opportunity to put my new knowledge to work on behalf of a local organization, but was a little nervous we wouldn’t be able to give them what they really wanted. Fortunately, my half-international, half-corporate sector team of first and second years came through with a series of creative, workable steps toward a more sophisticated marketing plan for our nonprofit – and our faculty advisor was right there, balancing her expertise with a willingness to stand back and let us guide the discussion as much as possible.

One final piece of advice the second years gave me was that I’d learn as much outside of my classes as in them. While I’ve found that to be true, it hasn’t hurt being surrounded by instructors willing to continue teaching literally or by example even after class has let out for the week. Even if it does sometimes mean sacrificing a Friday.

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February 12, 2010

Be Verrry Quiet, I’m Hunting Internships!

[Post by John Whitmer, 2011 MBA Candidate]

While attending the BU Admitted Students’ Weekend event last March, there was a definite theme among the questions being posed by incoming students to the current first year MBAs. The topic of choice was of course, “So, how’s the job market this year?” The respondents did their best to evoke optimism, but reading between the lines uncovered thoughts of doubt, concern and uncertainty about their plans for the upcoming summer. Those of us who chose to ignore the warning signs in favor of higher education would be doing so with the knowledge that we were entering a potentially abysmal job market. One thing was certain: the market for internships between our first and second years would not be “business-as-usual”. Employers might not be knocking down our doors with 3, 4 or 5 offers apiece, and, we just might have to (gasp!) put in a little effort to find that killer internship.

Most people attending that event, myself included, did make the difficult decision to voluntarily leave gainful employment to pursue an MBA. I would like to say that my co-workers, friends and family were completely on board with my plan. Aside from my wife, who has been my rock and guiding light throughout this process, most reacted to my news with confusion and disbelief, followed by supportive comments like, “Good luck, you’ll need it.”

These reactions were actually productive in the sense that they motivated me to come in to this program from day 1 ready to pound the pavement. A real strength of the Boston University MBA program is its Career Center. The career councilors are armed with decades of knowledge across varying industries and are passionate about helping you find work that is the right fit for you. The resources are there, but it is up to you to take advantage of them. They are not going to take you by the hand and drag you through the job search process, nor should they have to, but if you make yourself and your interests known to them early on and utilize their extensive services, you can in fact find success in a down market.

Through networking with BU alums who work at my target companies, maintaining constant contact with our career center and endlessly practicing the interview techniques they provided, I am happy to report that I was able to land my top choice internship for the upcoming summer! It wasn’t easy, but it really shouldn’t be, should it? I don’t know a single member of my class who is here because he or she has taken the path of least resistance. Maybe past classes had it too good, I don’t know, but what I can say for sure is that the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction and we are now required to make our own luck. Take it from me, it can be done, and I am not alone! In just the last week, a number of my classmates have received offers from top companies with highly sought-after internship programs. BU is representing well so far and I am confident that by giving that extra bit of effort we are known for, we will continue our early success.

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February 8, 2010

Strategizing through the Night

[Post by Tarun Theogaraj, 2011 MBA Candidate]

8:30am Saturday morning and the clock starts ticking on Tech Strategy 2010, the annual technology case competition at BU. It’s a two-day workathon where teams of four students apply their experience and learning to a real-world problem faced by a real company. It’s the weekend I spent awake and working continuously for nearly 26 hours. And where I had so much fun and learnt so much that I’m definitely doing it again next year. Perhaps getting through the first semester of B-school imbues you with incredible stamina and the capacity for hard work. Or perhaps it just makes you a crazy workaholic, take your pick!

Our case this year was a fascinating and extremely relevant topic: what implications does Apple’s recently released iPad have for Amazon’s Kindle strategy? With such a current topic, my team was swimming in a sea of information and speculation from the web. The blogosphere was abuzz with information and opinions as people tried to figure out how things would play out.

By 9:30am we had each read the case individually and came together to discuss the various elements as a team. After just a semester of b-school, it was interesting to see how we were already starting to use frameworks and analysis to structure our problem. And gratifying to be able to apply our classroom learning on business ecosystems and network effects to an actual business scenario.

The rest of the day and night was a blur of research, analysis , discussion and debate. Our Integrated Project (note the capitalization!) experience last semester had taught us the importance of decision by consensus. All well and good, but consensus is a lot harder at 1am in the morning when all you want to do is tell everybody else that you’re right and they’re wrong, and they should just do what you say so everybody can go home and go to bed!

A nice ending to this post would be to be able to tell you how my team came up with a brilliant strategy that floored the judges and won us first place. The truth is that we lost out to another, better team. But the experience was a reward in itself and that’s why, crazy or not, I’m doing it again next year.

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February 5, 2010

To Work or Not to Work

[Post by Lauren Ferris, 2010 MBA/MPH Candidate]

As a current student, I often get questions from prospective fulltime students about working while in school. When most people ask this question they are usually looking for some confirmation that working for their current employer on a part time basis is a good idea. I will admit that the summer before I started the MBA program, I considered working part time as a consultant for my former employer. However, I did not realize how time-intensive the first year of the MBA program actually is. People told me the first semester was very time intensive, but I figured “well, I work 45+ hours a week now, so how much more time would going to school require?” Well, it turns out it takes a lot more time and in general evenings and weekends are filled with team projects, homework, and studying for tests.

That being said, I think working during the first year can be done if the job is very flexible and on or near campus. I was fortunate enough to get a job at the Graduate Admissions Office which allowed me to earn a little money on the side while having something other than school to focus on for a few hours a week.

While I would not necessarily recommend working during the first year, the second year is a great opportunity to work part time to earn money or experience. Most elective classes are held during the evening or afternoon and intensive courses at the beginning of the semester can help you get some of the classes out of the way to open up your schedule.

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February 3, 2010

Diversity in Learning

[Post by Will Peterman, 2010 MBA Candidate]

I came to BU’s MBA program during the waning months of summer in 2008 filled with anticipation of what was to come over the next two years. As has often been the case in my life, what I had imagined the program to be like was in most instances nothing like what I would experience. I actually had the foolish notion that the MBA program would be somewhat like undergraduate classes and that I would be able to live laid back collegiate lifestyle that would allow for leisurely hours in the gym, intramural broomball championships, trips down Fitrec’s lazy river and trivia night at the Whitehorse in Brighton. What I quickly came to understand was that little of these goals would actually be realized. What I learned during my first semester was that the level of work that I would need to put into school and job search would be one that I had never experienced before. Our organizational behavior professor Jack McCarthy likened processing the amount of information we were receiving to “Getting a drink of water from a fire hose.” He couldn’t have been more right.

Another preconceived notion that I had about business school was that it would be filled with white men wearing pressed white spread collar shirts in navy blue pin-striped suits, who would all be brilliant accounting experts, proficient in all areas of excel modeling. I came to business school with a degree in neuroscience and experience in surgical operating rooms and couldn’t tell you the difference between LIFO and FIFO if they brought me the newspaper and my slippers on Sunday morning. (If you don’t get that joke now, you will by December.) What I was surprised to find was that there was an incredible amount of diversity in each and every one of my classrooms in the graduate school of management. Growing up on the north shore of Boston, I attended a private middle school and then the second oldest prep school in the United States, neither of which was replete with students of diverse backgrounds. In many cases the greatest diversity came in the form of which color Volvo you drove to school. College in Boston and hospital experience provided little additional exposure to diverse backgrounds. However, my first semester at BU would allow for a very different experience.

During your first semester at BU’s graduate school of management you will be assigned to a team of 6 or 7 students that you will work closely with throughout the duration of the semester on an integrated project. The project will incorporate each subject you study and will occupy the majority of your time. My team consisted of three women and three men. One woman with non-profit experience from West Virginia, a new father from Utah, a newly married man from California, and two non-native English speaking women, one from Shanghai, China and one from Athens, Greece. It was quite a diverse group. I will admit that at first I was apprehensive of how we would be able to work together. I was concerned that we would not be able to communicate well, that we would have different driving forces and motivations and that I would work better with a homogenous team that I had been used to working with prior to my experience at BU. I can’t imagine how difficult the process was for my teammates whose first language was not English. Even with a working-level knowledge of the language, there are so many colloquialisms and inside jokes that are a common part of our vernacular that I imagine seeing classmates laugh and joke together must have been like watching an episode of the British version of “The Office.” You understand the words they are saying, but the jokes just aren’t translating.

Despite all of these apparent obstacles to fusing as a successful team we found that not only were we able to work well together to complete what I thought was an excellent final project, but we all became good friends. Instead of being held back by the different backgrounds and views that we all had, our work was enhanced by the breadth of experience that we were able to share. I learned that groups of homogenous thinkers often fail to consider all possible options and solutions and thereby inherently produce suboptimal decisions. In his book “Authentic Leadership” legendary business leader and former Medtronic CEO Bill George points out that “Having people on the team who represent a broad range of life’s experiences is critical to success. It is diversity, and the intense debates it generates, that leads to the best decisions. By calling upon the broad experiences of team members, you can avoid pitfalls and make better decisions.”

I find that the diversity at BU’s school of management is one of its biggest assets. It provides real life experience keeping in mind that managers of the future will need to work well with all persons of different cultural backgrounds within the global marketplace. It also provides a richer learning experience in the classroom as views and opinions born from different backgrounds provide a fuller understanding of business topics that are essential to success. I have friends and colleagues in many business programs in the Boston area and elsewhere and I can say that rarely have I heard of a university that does a better job incorporating diversity into its student body than does BU.

While disappointed that I have yet to put together a broomball team, take a trip down the lazy river, make it to more than one trivia night at the Whitehorse, and rarely go to the gym without some reading in hand, I have been pleasantly surprised in my experience of diversity at BU. Having had little experience with diverse backgrounds and cultures, I learned that not only is diversity not something to avoid, it is an aspect of team work that I will be sure to seek out, so that it might enhance the quality of my work life in the future as it has here at BU.

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Day in the Life of an MS-MBA Student

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