Friday, February 27, 2009

End of Q3, Start of Spring

This week saw the wrap up of Q3 of the first year. The quarter flew by faster than anyone expected and I guess before I know it, summer break will be here too but let’s not go there.

Once we got over the initial bewilderment of new sections and new faces, this quarter proved to be great fun. I learnt a ton, and actually started falling in love with a few subjects that I was absolutely petrified of earlier. Finance this quarter was great fun and I can’t wait for second year when I will hopefully get to take the Valuations elective – I envy the folks that are taking that elective next quarter because the professor is one of the best in Darden. Another subject that I kind of got my head around was DA – something I’d struggled with in Q1. Econ for this quarter was extremely informative and I wish I could have taken the elective next quarter but that’s choc full. All in all, we had a great couple of months and with finals next week, I only hope I will do justice to all that I learnt. We wrapped up classes with the social reps organizing lunch after the last class yesterday. And another great way to wrap up the quarter was the election of LP, my Section D and Section V superstar, as the DSA President and K-Mart as DSA VP and special congratulations to fellow blogger Jackie for NAWMBA President.

This quarter is also the last one where learning teams will meet. Next quarter onwards, because of electives, most learning teams choose not to meet. My own team chose not to meet this quarter, but we kept the support going for the most part through emails and exchanges of information. A couple of team based simulation exercises brought us together a few times this quarter and each time it’s been a ton of fun. Most LTs had LT corridor parties – all the teams in a particular corridor had beer + snacks parties. Tonight my team is
meeting for dinner at a new Thai place at Barracks and I am really looking forward to catching up with the gang.

With the end of this quarter I guess it’s also the end of winter in some ways – it’s 6pm and there’s still light out. With the fantastic weather we’ve been having over the last couple of days, I’m feeling strangely relaxed. I’m just hoping it doesn’t lead to complacence because there’s a lot of cramming I need to do over this weekend.

Same time next week I’ll be done with finals and packing up to go to Brazil on my GBE. I’m SO excited!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On being grown up

These past few weeks have required me to make a number of decisions on a whole range of things. There’s some on the personal side, some professional, some just plain “life” things. I hate how I get when I have to make these seemingly big choices; I just internalize and think about it until it consumes me and then suddenly I make up my mind and I’m back up again. And just when I think I could not have thought any more, I find myself revisiting the choices I’ve made only to discover there is room for more thought. I am not sure if I’m just more fickle than others – going by the track record I’m not so much, but I do tend to over analyze. It’s never a good thing I guess.

That’s the thing about being grown up. A lot of my choices and decisions have been one way streets with no room to change my mind later and with no one to look up to for advice. Some have been easy to make out of intuition and hard to back up with logic. Others have checked out fine by all sense and logic but then intuition plays spoil sport… a classic head vs heart war dance. Sometimes it’s not even so much of a choice as an attempt just to find out some options to choose from. And you know how they say life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans? There were some things that were creeping up on me that I had no idea about until I woke up one morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sigh. I have made my choices and there’s no going back now. I normally assure myself that I have done right by seeing how easily I move on after I’ve decided. In some cases in these past few weeks, I have moved on almost overnight – out with the old and in with the new. But some things have not been that easy, and there is that dull ache of regret. After a whole of quarter of making complex models to solve go/no-go issues with airlines, oil rigs and movie sequels, I discovered that unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), not all of life’s dilemmas can be represented on a decision tree with clear cut EMVs and probabilities where you just pick the best one and get on with it. If only it were that simple.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Joining the dots

Warning: Long post ahead.
Somewhere in the Darden website there is a page that talks about the integrated curriculum at the school. I thought it was pretty cool when I came across it the first time and I also remember talking about it in my interview. Once in school, there were many weeks when we would do cases in different subjects on the same firm – a lot of times these were narrow focus subjects (looking at the balance sheet or their marketing strategy) and I always thought it was kind of remarkable how the course directors designed our courses such that they came up that way. But this quarter it’s a little more than just remarkable.

Last week, we covered Brazil in more than one subject. So we learnt about it economics, then in finance, and tracing the country’s economic and financial history over the years for one case helped me understand some of the exchange rate discussions we touched upon in finance. And since I’m going to Brazil during spring break I hope that with all that I have learnt about it so far and the reading I am going to do before I get there, I can bridge the time gaps (between the cases and now) to hopefully understand the country better.

And while we’re on countries, I have to tell you, our macroecon class has taken on an interesting avatar this quarter. Every case we are doing is based on a country and in order to give us a background, often there are a couple of pages on the history. It helps us appreciate and understand the causes of the country’s economic picture at the point in time that the case talks about. A lot of times we are forced to acknowledge that not all solutions to a country’s eoconimic problems lie in monetary or fiscal policy and that the customs, politics and people are an important consideration. Sometimes it is none of those but a fallout of something that plagued a whole different continent, that the country in question is paying for. In a sense, each of these cases has felt like a mini capsule of history lesson from a more economic viewpoint. we have traversed South East Asia, Africa and Latin America so far while next week we’re spending a good deal of time on the flavor du jour, India and China. And in all our discussions, the recurrent undercurrent is the importance of ethics in all the decisions that we will be called upon to make once we re-enter the work force.

Similarly, we focused a lot on the airline industry this quarter – nearly every subject has had a case on the airline industry, by focusing on a single airline company and its dynamics with the other players in the industry. Knowing nothing about the airline industry before this, except from the perspective of a traveller, this case took us deep into the industry and a number of interesting view points and insider ideas came about during our class discussions. And in questioning why our course directors decided to give us such an indepth view into the industry, we found out something really important about researching and case writing – it’s all about finding the right amount of public yet correct data!

Another highlight of last week was the first blogger meeting that I could make it to. Sitting over there, chomping on pizza and sharing insights with a bunch of the coolest people in school (and the blogosphere, I think!), I really felt the power all of us carried with us, in our attempt at bridging information from inside Darden to the world outside. It was easy to see why we were all there – because we believe in the school, in the method and in our community and because we are so passionate about this system.

Changing gears a little bit here, I wanted to tell you something interesting about the case method – how class participation is graded here at Darden. In most first year courses, our participation counts for about 40% of our course grade and I would wonder how the points were allotted. So during one of our strategy classes, as we recapped the discussion we had on the previous day’s case on Google, our professor actually recapped the entire class in under 5 minutes, talking about the key insights that the class brought out including pointing out the students that made these insights. He remembered exactly how the discussion flowed and what we concluded and nicely summed it up with what we were supposed to have taken away from it. I guess the key to the case method system of learning is to be able to do just that in order to arrive at the take away and the lessons learnt from that particular class, to cut through the meandering flow that sometimes takes place in a particularly obtuse case.

In other words, in the case method, you have to step back every once in a while to tie it all back in, to join the dots, sit back and say aha, because what emerges is nothing short of a work of art!


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