Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thoughts on the First Year

My blogging skills are rusty.

Went back to Chicago for the weekend - we did not sublet our apartment for the summer - decided to eat the expense for the sake of sanity. But I think I don't really like Chicago that much. I'm not sure what it is but just 36 hours in the city left me feeling irritable. I am interning in a small Midwest city that I did not expect to like much but compared to Chicago it feels clean and friendly and traffic free and I was happy to come back.

Anyhow ... this is a post I have been meaning to write since the end of the quarter. What was the first year all about, how do I feel about the experience, where to from here?

Wasn't this supposed to be fun?

As I've mentioned, the first year was far less fun than expected. Granted, my situation (baby under one year) and mentality (take the hardest load possible, skip all the intro classes) made it worse but the idea that an MBA is a slacker degree chock full of R&R is somewhat misplaced. You still fight to find a job. Deal with irritating group members. Are subject to arcane and mysterious grading policies. Are spending a fantastically awful sum on tuition. Sit through brilliantly boring lectures. May be beholden to the whims of egotistical, unethical professors. (Thanks again NGD.) Worry about your career and your future. It's not the magic ticket to happiness.

Which brings me to the big lesson of the year.

It doesn't pay to work hard

If you're a nerd from the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, you hold most dear the idea that all that stands between you and success is brains and hours of work: attend the hardest schools, take the hardest classes, build up the resume and all will be right with your world.
  • Well, I think I landed my current internship primarily because I hit it off with folks.
  • Greatest homework hours <> greatest learning this quarter
  • More effort on homework <> better grades but = unhappy family, unhappy me

As a couple of second years wisely advised while ferrying my home from the Harper Center at midnight during spring quarter finals - you will never regret not working harder during the MBA.

Which brings me to the bigger lesson of the year

It's all about Reputation and Relationships

Certainly, a reputation for being a hard worker is a desirable thing but that doesn't mean that you have to forsake your happiness and health in the meantime. By simply getting into the GSB you have solidified an important reputational milestone ... and secured an invaluable relationship network. To me, this has become the sole redeeming feature of the MBA. It's not the classes, it's the people. I am currently at a fund with a significant number of employees who are GSB grads which is a big bonding factor. But you can't bond with folks if you are stuck behind your computer screen all day - either as a student or as a worker. Yes, it's important that your class/work mates know you for your integrity and work ethic rather than a habit to show up 45 minutes late for everything and artfully dodge responsibility for your portion of the homework but more important is that they know you. So ... pick a MBA program where you will respect your fellow students and future alumni and then ... enjoy yourself. (Most of you probably don't need such advice, but I could have used the "enjoy yourself" bit a year ago.)

Baby + MBA/career is completely doable

Yeah, it does make it a little harder and make one especially unsympathetic to the complaints of childless classmates about how tough it is to find time to finish homework but, as I've said before, the class work doesn't really matter. What matters is that you get into a great school and that you get the degree and that you come out with a top notch job. And you fellow mamas can do that. There's nothing like a baby to hone the priorities, maximize your efficiency and light the fire in your belly to get the job done and get back home for some cuddle time. The MBA will make your career + baby easier, not harder, and school is a great time to give you more time with the little one.

NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU, YOU CAN'T HAVE A GREAT CAREER AND A GREAT FAMILY LIFE BECAUSE THEY ARE FULL OF SH** (not to mention unimaginative and defeatist to boot), more on that later.

But classes aren't totally worthless - they give you the big picture (but get the best profs)

I don't want to leave anyone feeling as though I think nothing of the technical skills and classes in a good MBA program. It's just that, pre-first year, I was overestimating the value of classes and underestimating the less obvious aspects of the program. For folks who have never had any exposure to basic business stuff (accounting, etc.), the basic MBA curriculum is invaluable. For those with more experience in the business world, it's all about taking what interests you and rounding out your skills. If you've played the MBA right you should emerge with a big picture of business which allows you to work faster and smarter - cut to the meat of the matter and have greater confidence in your decisions. And, after just the first year, I am already seeing that quality in my work this summer.

Nevertheless, my second year plan is to have waay more fun and worry less about homework and job stuff.

Ok, it's past my bedtime - just wanted to finally give a belated update.

More on the first year of motherhood and an internship update later ...

Edited 7/28/08: Note, don't let my 'it doesn't pay to work hard' spiel convince you that I'm advocating becoming a beer swilling, powerpoint pushing baboon. I'm all for working hard but I don't know that the MBA is the best place to kill all of one's free time. I'll leave that for when I'm getting a pay check ... upon reflection today I decided I wanted to clarify that.

Oh yeah, and my last piece of advice - don't assume that just because a class costs a lot of points that it's going to be any good ... unfortunately.


m@ said...

aw, but i was planning on using my second year to practice my beer-swilling skills. ;)

One other thinkg you should mention: YOU WON'T BE BEST FRIENDS WITH YOUR ENTIRE COHORT. There's people in my program I can't stand (and, likely, vice-versa). I've learned not to try so hard to please those people -- after all, you don't want TOO big of a network, right?

Sarah Fang said...

thanks so much for another wonderful blog post. i'm in a situation very similar to that of yours, and its striking how much we have in common. new students, chicago gsb, a love for finance (actually, that last one might just be!)

can you recommend any good classes from your first year? i will be starting in the fall and want to experience the best profs here. is kevin murphy's class good?

Samantha said...

Great post. I like the all caps statement. I'm 25 and childless for the foreseeable future, but I still that attitude. So many people (women included) are defeatist about this issue and it gets obnoxious. Keep on enjoying your internship!

MaybeMBA said...

Ha. Yes, one would be in the minority to love the entire cohort.

For classes, Sarah ... you will be able to view professor ratings through the bidding system, so definitely take a look at that to see which are the most popular profs for whatever course you want. I didn't take Micro (really not necessary if you have an Econ background) but have heard nothing but good things about Murphy's class. I loved Dhar for Marketing, though McGill, obviously, is quite popular. Bertrand is supposed to be the best for comp strat, but quite expensive. I loved Pastor's Portfolio Management - more of a second year class but plenty of us first years go for it too. But check out the prof ratings and feel free to post specific questions.