Entries in Theme #7 Limited Time (22)
Here is a testimonial from Joshua Izzard, finishing up his MBA at Chicago's Booth School and member of the MBA Math Board of Advisors, looking back at the MBA Math quantitative skills course:
I have just looked at the modules included in the MBA Math program and after going through Chicago Booth I am equally impressed with how correctly you chose and built the program for incoming students.
I reminded myself that I was incredibly busy when preparing to move to Chicago and the critical thing was to be really prepared for the beginning of class.
That being said, the fire hydrant that a Chicago MBA is trying to drink from gives very little time to review additional fundamental material during the MBA, and if you are reviewing it-- you're likely giving up on time that needs to be spent building relationships.
Sarah Baranowsky writes in her BusinessWeek MBA Journal about the inevitable challenges of the MBA first term at Wisconsin Madison:
But before the halfway point, when exams are piling up and every waking minute is devoted to the program, the doubts creep in. You think, why am I punishing myself this way? You think, how did I end up here? You think, being a student is a crazy way to live. You think, I might not make it.
If you are heading to business school in the fall, you should expect to hit a low point sometime in November. Plan for it, because it will happen no matter what you do ahead of time. For my part, I started to see combinations of panic and fatigue on the faces in my cohorts first. I felt like I was doing reasonably well. Then midterms hit, and I fell apart. I realized that I don't know how to take tests anymore, especially tests that have anything to do with math (my last math class was more than 15 years ago). The stress plays out in everyone differently, but everyone learns one common lesson: the value of grace under pressure.
The upcoming holiday break is the light at the end of the first-term tunnel.
Lucia Marquez writes about Wharton's pre-term program in this student diary blog entry:
During pre-term you can opt to take classes to refresh your memory in statistics, accounting and microeconomics. The refresher courses are aimed at those who have seen the material before and want to take a test to waive out of the core courses. If the material is new, you can take the introductory course to give you the fundamentals so you can hit the ground running once September rolls around. There is also the math test that everyone has to pass.
A few weeks later she writes about the accelerated pace of the first term:
It’s been only three weeks and we have mid-quarter exams already. The summer and pre-term really lulled me into believing that the pace would only be turned up a little more and that everything wouldn’t be as crazy as they made it sound when you came to visit during welcome weekend….No wonder I felt like I got hit by a truck during the first two weeks.
I was in complete survival mode. We got emails from professors the weekend before “real” school started, reminding us that we had homework posted on the internet that we needed to have done on the first day of class. I was doing only what needed to be turned in and reading the basics just in case I got called on in class.
Here are some comments from a Tuck first year, who looks back at the fall and winter terms.
Given my background (Chemistry Undergrad followed by pharmaceutical manufacturing) I will try to describe my approach and what I would do differently.
Pandora's Box. Tuck sends a big box of pre work material, to me the box was frightening and just looking at it filled me with fear. I decided that because accounting was first and the book seemed reasonable I would start with it. The accounting book is pretty self explanatory and a good warm up.
Hindsight is 20/20. What I wish I had done sooner was back up what I had learned by reading the other accounting/finance material. I looked at MBA Math too late, and looking back the content is really good. I would recommend that for anyone coming from a non quant or non business background to look at their MBA syllabus and at the very least do the MBA Math sections that apply to the first term. For me those would have been accounting and working with spreadsheets (decision science).
You, Yes You! The first term is so overwhelming that any preparation you do up front will be worth it. If you are like I was and ignoring the pre- work material then you are exactly the person who should be doing it!
Searching for Elusive First Year Equilibrium. One of the sections that I did from MBA Math was economics. Being familiar with the basics such as supply and demand curves and how they shift provided me with a solid foundation, if you haven’t got it by the first micro econ class you will be left behind.
Finance Basics Not Covered in Class. The most fundamental thing I learned at math camp was understanding the concept of NPV & perpetuities and being able to apply it. That stuff was never really taught in class and I was so glad I had gotten to grips with it before hand.
Algebra Algebra Algebra. Algebra was not a problem for me but do make sure you are comfortable manipulating equations and substituting variables as you will do this all the time.
Listen Up, Becoming a Student Again is Tough. One last thing, it is actually worth listening to the MBA Math lectures and practice learning from lectures. MBA lectures will be more interactive but it is a skill to listen and process information for any significant period of time.
Sally Jaeger, Assistant Dean and Director of the MBA Program at Tuck, made the following comments about first-year support options in a podcast over at MBA Podcaster about MBA Quantitative Skills:
We have tutoring available on demand. And we pay for tutoring, so cost is never going to be an issue with students. If somebody needs a tutor, we get them a tutor. And we make sure they get the help they need, but they have to come to me in order to get the tutoring. Once you do start school, keep in mind that you won’t have very much extra time. And with the free time you do have, you don’t want to be playing catch up. You’ll want to be focusing on forming relationships, joining clubs and organizations, and finding internships.
David Thanairongroj, a first year at McCombs School of Business at University of Texas in Austin offers tips to prospective MBAs in his BusinessWeek MBA Journal about prioritizing their efforts during the application process and in the period between being admitted and arriving on campus, including these comments about quantitative preparation:
While waiting for your acceptance letter, one extra tip I highly recommend for non-business majors, even if you're an engineer and are good with numbers, is to take a financial accounting, managerial accounting, and finance class at a local university or community college before school starts. More than likely, you will already be at a disadvantage against a third of your smart classmates who have business degrees. I can guarantee that you'll be better off having some background in these courses rather than learning this material for the very first time in a very fast-paced environment.
Here are some comments from a Tuck first year that should provide some pointers to prospective students who are willing to prepare but want some help prioritizing their efforts. I particularly like the emphasis on efficiency and the difference between going to bed at midnight and 2 AM.
My Background: I have a science background, majored in biology and psychology at Middlebury College, and following that worked in market research, then consulting in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.
Here are my two cents:
If you are somewhat of a poet, or even if you have seen this stuff before but haven’t touched it in years, preparation before diving into a full-time MBA program can be incredibly useful. Given the time pressures of the first term, spending an hour here and there over the summer before starting your program will go a long way. Here’s what was most useful for me:
- Familiarizing myself with the basics. You can’t expect to remember specific formulas and all of the mechanics, but to gain or revitalize a basic understanding of excel modeling, the time value of money (e.g. discounting cash flows, annuities, perpetuities, etc.), statistics, implications of supply and demand, etc. will significantly pay off. Remember, though, that no one problem is the same, and therefore no solution is identical to the next. It’s not about memorizing formulas or finding out all the answers, but rather it’s about gaining some comfort, efficiency, and proficiency in how to approach problems and how to employ some simple tools to aid you in rational decision-making and problem-solving.
- Building the toolkit. Learning simple excel formulas can help cut down the time it takes to solve problems. You may understand how to work financial formulas, but learning to do so quickly in excel can save enormous amounts of time in the long-run. It’s the difference of going to bed at midnight and 2am. Trust me.
- Stress. We all know the first semester of business school can be stressful, but what amazes me is how easily that stress can be countered. Just taking the time to become comfortable with the basics before you start gives you confidence to excel and one less thing to think about. The mechanics become second nature, and any preparation you’ve done allows you to focus on the big picture – which of course is most important.
Rachael Klein writes in her BusinessWeek MBA Journal about her first term at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown. She makes an interesting point about the wide range of student backgrounds and the experience level to which professors pitch their teaching:
Our class has about 240 people divided into four cohorts. We all have the same core classes in our first two modules—each module is six weeks long, goes by in what feels like two weeks, and by the end, the beginning feels like a year ago. Business school flies by at lightning speed, but the beginning feels as far away as high school.
Fortunately for the smart people, the professors teach to the top of the class and then make themselves readily available outside of class for the students who are seeing z-scores and time value of money for the first time (gently termed "poets" by a favorite economy professor). Since we all have the same classes, we help each other. Touchy-feely perhaps, but trust me, it returns full circle.
There is no way to make everyone happy in first year classes. Each prof makes a choice, balancing the desire to challenge the more advanced students while not abandoning the "poets". As with other schools, students get through the workload by working together and sharing strengths:
But they also admitted to being pretty exhausted from their first year. And it's true. It's exhausting. The workload is ferocious. But the solidarity of the student body is what gets us through. The fact that everyone has the same work is a relief, and well, let's be honest, misery loves company.
The next thing we know, the four of us are sitting around in the school study area, nursing glass bottles, discussing game theory, and painlessly finishing the assignment. Only drawback, we have about five other assignments to tackle before bedtime. But still, the experience and the overly sentimental unity we feel during times like this can't be helped. It's a great feeling, and one none of us will forget.
But remember, you take your exams alone, and beerless!
Brian Glenn writes in his BusinessWeek MBA Journal about his first term at MIT Sloan. He describes the intensity of the b-school experience:
I remember reading some of these journals last year. One in particular mentioned something along the lines of, "no matter how much you think you're ready for the experience, it will surpass your wildest imagination in terms of time commitment, intensity, and of course what we all signed on for—fun!" Well now, standing in a similar pair of shoes, I echo these thoughts. So far, it's been the eye-opening experience of a lifetime. Literally as well, because sleep is the last of your priorities and something you can catch up on during the morning Intro to Finance class.
He discusses how his study group's mix of strengths and weaknesses helps them to get through the work, and closes his piece by suggesting that prospective students consider carefully the teaching methods (case vs. lecture) of the schools they are considering:
But for practicality's sake, can one effectively learn rule-based subjects such as accounting or regression modeling through case-only lectures? I'm probably a biased source in this argument as Sloan teaches lecture-style for most hard-core subjects, but it's certainly worthwhile to think not just about what you want to learn but how you want to learn it.
However, once we have mastered the material, or at least figured out how to come up with a reasonable answer, then we will apply these methods, sometimes cross-subject, through a case homework assignment. Homework seems evenly split between individual deliverables and team hand-ins. These are great for classes like Data, Models, and Decisions—a pseudostatistics class with a genius quant professor by the name of Bertsimas who can model anything into Excel—where we apply all sorts of Excel features and software add-ins to solve case problems. You name it, we've done it: Monte Carlo simulation through Crystal Ball, Regression Analysis, and Linear/Binomial/Non-Linear Optimizations. Eric (the Google guy) and I have jokingly pondered the possibility of adding all these tools together and whether that would simulate Marty McFly's Back to the Future DeLorean by actually seeing into, or at least predicting, the future.
Kirsten Grenoble writes in her blog about her first term at Penn State (Smeal). She's busier than ever but clearly has her confidence intact and is thriving. Time management is emerging as critical:
I am busier than ever before in my life (and I was pretty busy the first time through school) and the thing that goes is sleep.
Professors in this program have high expectations. While many assignments are collected, most of the work is not. You are expected to KNOW the readings in order to participate in class and to do well on quizzes and tests. Some professors even cold call in class. Trust me…you really want to do all of the readings.
So, for the first time in my academic life, I find myself truly challenged. I’m working much harder than before and I’m loving it. In the first mod I struggled through accounting and, surprisingly, found that I really enjoyed statistics. Our management class rocked my world - this class alone should convince you to come to Penn State – and even though I had taught public speaking I still learned a lot in our communications course. Through all the demands, you start to understand that it’s not about learning balance sheets and motivational tactics. The real goal is to teach you time management. I’m happy to say that I know a lot more about that now and I’m sure the current mod will help me hone that skill even more.
How do students with less quant experience relative to their student peers balance their time in the first year, both in their individual study time and their study group meetings?
The relatively less quant experience would tend to suggest that such students need to devote more time to their quant courses, at the expense of their other classes. But, how do students draw the line in their time management to avoid getting so sucked into quant coursework that they keep stealing time from their non-quant courses and don't get the qualitative and strategic expanding of their horizons that presumably is one of the big attractions of b-school in the first place?
Is this a real issue for you and your fellow students? How do you do it? What lessons can you hand back to prospective students about managing this tension and achieving your broader MBA learning goals?
I welcome any general comments or specific anecdotes about this quantitative/qualitative tension.
Here are some advance preparation suggestions from a first year at Tuck from the start of winter term.
Coming to Tuck I knew I had strong quantitative skills, but felt that I did not have the necessary background in Accounting and Capital Markets in particular. I would recommend to any student coming to a school such as Tuck to take full advantages of the opportunities available to get up to speed prior to starting the course.
One reason for this is that the core curriculum is so intense that any head start that you have can only make life easier. For this reason I both utilized the materials sent out by Tuck over the summer and attended Math Camp.
I was surprised by just how large a percentage of some of the courses is outlined in the materials. For example, the summer reading on Microeconomics gave background for virtually the whole course. Math Camp backed up a lot of the summer material and also helped to "clear the cobwebs" in a more formalized classroom setting. It introduced a whole range of topics I had not studied before and was specifically tailored for the Tuck course to ensure the information was relevant.
Some concepts which we spent a whole session studying in Math Camp were not even discussed in class once term had started, as their understanding was assumed. For example, I had never used Net Present Value before Math Camp, but was soon using the principle in my regular class homework with ease.
I would also recommend that anyone concerned about their quant skills should look at the Syllabus for their school (Tuck has the syllabus for each course on-line) to get a feel for the topics and material likely to be covered.
I believe that, between them, the summer materials, Math Camp and mbamath.com gave me an excellent grounding in the quant required to be successful at a top business school.
Observation #3 from Hugo Lorenson, a Rotman first year:
Having excoriated one-dimensional grades-obsessed students, I will now take to task their mirror opposites: students involved with pretty much every extracurricular activity the school has to offer. While their zest for the slice of MBA life is admirable, they play a dangerous game: crammed agendas, less studying, and they become unable to spend more time on activities they really enjoy at the expense of those they do not. Also, being that busy all of the time accelerates burn-out. Rather than joining every club you can think of, only join the 1 or 2 that really interest you and/or you want to impact. Not only will you have more free time to focus on other things (like school!), you will be able to fully appreciate all that those clubs have to offer.
Thanks to the Tuck students for sharing their perspectives. While there may be some specifics unique to Tuck, I suspect that the sentiments are relevant for prospective students targeting top programs other than Tuck. I welcome input from students in other programs.
Below is another Tuck student's perspective.
The highest math course I ever took was pre-calculus back in senior year of high school. I graduated from Harvard in 1999 having taken only one vaguely quantitative course. I did IT consulting for two years after school and did very little quantitative work there. In 2001, I moved to an environmental consulting firm. I built some Excel models and routinely used Excel to create budgets, but my job wasn’t very quantitative and involved almost no finance, mathematics, statistics, or accounting.
Protect Your Investment by Arriving Prepared
This is a must. It took me until the middle of Fall B to be comfortable doing math long-hand again. Even something simple like solving a pair of equations for two variables can be challenging when you haven’t done it in a few years. I could have used more preparation, but I’m very glad that I didn’t do any less. I had used Excel quite a bit at work, but people without that background really struggled for a bit.
Another aspect of preparation for me was figuring out exactly what I wanted to get out of the program. Knowing this helped me navigate some of the choices about time that I had to make this fall. The times when I was most frustrated were the times when I forgot this.
Know Thyself: Confidence is King
This has been a hard one for me. To be honest, I’ve really sucked at accounting and capital markets, and it’s been hard not to let that affect how I feel about other courses, in all of which I’ve done better than I expected. There was one night in Fall B when I was feeling especially miserable about life in general when I said to myself, “well, stats is going great…economics seems fine…mancomm [Management Communication] seems intuitive and I seem to be doing very well…I know most of the people in my class, no real complaints on the social front…the weather’s been great…but I’m really stinking up the joint in capital markets.” That class alone managed to give me a negative perspective on pretty much all of Fall B.
Summer Before B-School is Chaotic
I can’t relate to this too much in retrospect. Compared to the fall, it seems like a halcyon period of calm and tranquility.
"Knowing About" Is Not "Knowing How"
I agree; I’d add, “knowing how now is not the same as remembering how in 2 weeks” and “knowing how now may not be as valuable as remembering where to go to figure out how.” If that makes sense.
Bankers, Engineers, and CPAs, Oh My!
Having an analyst in my study group this fall definitely helped me enormously. I don’t know if I’d have made it through accounting unscathed without him.
(Limited) Time is of the Essence
You might consider re-naming this “you will not have enough time no matter what you do.”
Quant Struggles are Emotional
Couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to let frustration with a particular problem translate into “there’s no way I can understand this topic” in my head. It’s also easy to let that frustration extend into other unrelated areas, as I mentioned above.