Monday, October 27, 2008

Q2 - Diwali in a suit

We’re into week 2 of the second quarter. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I do think this quarter is far more interesting than the last one yet a little harder too. For starters, I think corporate finance is going way over my head ( or is that because I’ve got it in my head that if it’s got the dreaded finance word in it, then it must be hard) while operations and marketing though more interesting than last quarter, are definitely beginning to pinch a bit. But hands down the most interesting subject we’ve got this quarter is GEM (Global Economies and Markets) and Peter Rodriguez is our professor for that. This subject is very relevant to the current crisis and helps us (ok, helps me, since most of my classmates seem pretty tuned in already) understand the financial crisis better by analyzing the fundamentals that built up to it in the first place. After each class I find myself marveling the amount of insight that my classmates bring to the table in such matters and I can actually feel the difference in my understanding from when I'm going in to when I’m done with the class. The new seating arrangement has me once more in the last row – prime bit of real estate in the class room, mind you – and although a lot of people feel excluded when they sit there, I personally enjoy sitting on my “perch” and taking in all the proceedings below, occasionally participating in the fray myself.

On the recruiting front, it looks like we’re just finishing up with the briefings. Two consulting companies this week and I think we’re done with the bulk of them. With the situation being what it is, the school has been encouraging us to explore off grounds job searches, even organizing a seminar on how to navigate the process with special attention to international students. Outside, the weather’s been cooling down and it’s gotten downright cold in the nights when I walk back to Ivy. Darden and the rest of the ville is looking really pretty with the trees peppered with leaves of multicolored hues and I love stepping on the fallen leaves to hear the crunchy sound they make under my shoes.

Finally, today is Diwali in my part of the world. When I called home last night I could barely hear my sister over the firecrackers in the background. If I had to sum up Diwali in one word for you, it would be this: firecrackers. If I were to sum up Diwali my way in a word for you it would be this: sweets. On this day, it’s custom that we wear new clothes and the sister sent me a new Indian outfit to wear for today. I, however, am sitting here in the library (I know I said I wouldn’t be back here for sometime but I can’t help it, it feels like home!) in a grey suit (grey like the weather outside), munching salty baked Lays because I missed lunch. Happy Diwali to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Before we start over

Q1 is over, finished and done with! But in the words of the Surfer Guy (J"B"S, Section D), “the repercussions are not.” I agree with that, but for today, just today, allow me to revel in this sense of freedom that I last felt on my final day at work!

Today we wrapped our exams for the quarter, leaving behind 6 days of myriad experiences as we tackled case after case, crunched a million numbers, and ate more granola bars than I can count on my two hands! As I pushed open the doors of the library after the exam, I was happy just at the thought of not having to camp out there for the next couple of months and constantly speak in hushed tones. I chose not to bid for one of the learning team rooms for the exam, choosing instead to hole up in the library, where I am more comfortable and insulated from a lot of the madness.

Funnily enough, I’m a little disappointed that the exams are over (I hear a range of disapproving noises) because while they were on, I had something to do all the time. Not that I won’t have something to do now, but no exams means having to tackle a whole lot of other work from the “real life” – errands, laundry, resume polish, company briefings prep, all the phone calls I’ve been promising people back home but haven’t gotten round to doing… you get the idea…

So in true Darden case method style, I figured I should make a little note of the key takeaways from this quarter and the exams, to be tucked away till Monday, when Q2 begins.

1. Exams are supposed to be the easiest time at Darden. Why, then, was I so hassled? Back to the drawing board as I figure out where my study-style was messed up.
2. My learning team rocks, but I might have depended on them too much. A lot of exams had me struggling to get something I thought I’d done at LT. I remembered trying to figure it out on my own before LT, and then getting help from the folks there. But turns out I didn’t really learn the concepts as well as I could/should have.
3. Time management. Q2 is much harder than Q1. There is a whole lot more going on then and if that’s not enough, I have signed up for a bunch of stuff that’s going to take up a lot of my time. I have to find a way to balance all of it.
4. Self takes priority. I noticed that when in crunch situation, I tend to forget myself. I stop eating or sleeping properly, and pretty much lose touch with the outside world. Very in-the-box behavior. Must fix it.
5. Decisions under duress – strict No-No. Ok so I know this. And I know it well because my dad hammers this into my head all the time. But I make the mistake again. And again. Strict no-no. Note to self: Apply LO concepts to life.
6. If you hear the voice of your DA professor in your head while you’re taking the DA exam, realize that you could be more stressed about the exam that you should be. Or that the knowledge that the case was written by your own DA professor has the ability to throw you off balance. Or you could be genuinely messing up the exam big time.
7. Keep nail polish handy. I tend to chew my nails a lot during exams. I’d forgotten that habit of mine. Right after I am done with this post, I am going to sit with the file and try to salvage what’s left of my nails. For the next exam, I'll make sure my nails are painted well in advance.

The good thing about the exams is that I have now learnt to flag and categorize my emails pretty well – I do have quite a few to act upon, but they’re all there where I can see them, so that’s good! The best thing, though, is that Q1 is over and I survived! Sometimes it really is hard to believe that I’m here, doing what I always wanted to do and being able to tell the world about it.

In true Darden spirit, the school that never lets you stay idle long enough has started the cycle all over again by leaving our Q2 case packets in our mailboxes. Off we go on another whirlwind ride! But for today, I’m just going to relax at the Section D party and maybe head over to the Moustache competition afterwards.

“And for the sake of time, let’s move on!”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Facilitator

Today was our last DA (Decision Analysis) class of the quarter. It was also our last class with our DA professor. Although a bunch of us will be taking the DA electives later this year and in the next, my professor’s announcement made me pause to think back to the quarter that sped by.

Over the summer, during days of trying to figure out Accounting from the Pre-Enrolment modules, I often wondered how I would learn the concepts through the case method. In the case method curriculum, the professor acts more like a facilitator than a lecturer. Take for instance my accounting class. My professor would hand out transparencies to randomly selected students in the class to enter each line item of a balance sheet with the corresponding t-account. These would then be put up on the projector and the student would defend his balance sheet entry while the rest of the class was free to debate and discuss his assumptions and logic and even his handwriting if they wanted!

Our DA class was another innovative exercise in teaching you to convince clients of the soundness of your arguments without resorting to the use of complex numbers and terminologies. Our professor would make us role-play the case – convince Mr. X to go with your decision to either invest or get out of a particular venture or convince Mr. G to sell a certain number of t-shirts at a game. Our class would play analyst, supplying the “chosen one” with the numbers and ideas to support his/her hypothesis. In all these instances, our professors would play devil’s advocate, challenging our stands, forcing us to rethink our answers, planting a seed of doubt so that collectively you challenge the very spreadsheet before you that took you the better part of the previous evening to develop.

The professor chooses to play facilitator, but that does not mean we do not get to leverage his immense experience and knowledge in the area. Our marketing professor is one such example. His classes are peppered with instances and examples from his own professional and personal life concerning companies and brands that we are all familiar with, all delivered in his trademark New Yorker’s humor.

The case method itself is unique, but when you factor in the fantastic faculty that teach at Darden, every once in a while you get that feeling of awe for just being here and part of this society, making you sit just that little bit straighter in your seat. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that the Darden faculty have been ranked at the top of Princeton Review’s business school rankings.

Here’s one sample of the caliber of the faculty at Darden. Take a look at the video footage of the panel discussion of our professors organized a couple weekends ago, discussing the current state of the financial markets and the causes leading up to it. Abbott Auditorium was packed with students sprawling out on the aisles to watch the hour long discussion.

On that note, let me excuse myself as I prepare for the last class of Q1 tomorrow. it flies!


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