Archive for October, 2006

Diversity at a Cost

October 19th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. 2 Comments.

Some female business school applicants worry that MBA programs will be testosterone filled, male dominated environments. Few female students attended the schools I visited, but all of the MBA programs were trying to boost their numbers. One admissions representative said that her school admitted women with only a few years of work experience, because the older women became, the more likely children or other obligations would prevent full-time school. This trend of admitting younger women is part of an overall strategy that business schools are pursuing. In September 2006 the Financial Times published an article describing how business schools across the United States are admitting younger and less experienced candidates to attract more talent.

During my application process, the number of female students at a school was a consideration, but not a deciding factor. I felt a good fit with Smith, and it also happened that Smith had the highest percentage of female students of all the schools I visited. There are about 115 first year full-time students in the Smith MBA program, and about 30% (or ~35) are women. First year students are divided into two tracks, and in my track, there are about 16 women and 40 men.

During the first days of school, I was conscious of being the minority, but I’ve since found that there is little distinction between my female and male classmates. While males dominate the classroom discussion, this is understandable since there are over twice as many males as females. Also, it’s the same six or seven males who consistently make comments in class; there are just as many quiet males as females.

My groups have been a good mix of females and males, and the work and leadership have been divided equally. I worried that as a woman I might become the designated “secretary” in groups, but that hasn’t been the case. And depending on the group dynamics, a female or male may emerge as the natural leader.

The other day I was sitting in Rudy’s (As an aside, this is an area that needs improvement. The business school cafe rarely has any caffeinated tea. Why does it sell six different types of decaffeinated green tea and never any black caffeinated tea? Who has ever heard of pulling an all nighter with green tea? Or getting through Monday morning with an herbal blend?). I was eating some mediocre pasta salad and discussing female groups versus male groups with two female and three male classmates.

Views on the subject were mixed. One student said that he’s had bad luck working with females. Another student said that, based on her work experience, she preferred working with women. The two other guys said that they preferred working in mixed groups. One guy brought up his former company’s Christmas party as an example of a failed all-male project. He said that since the company was majority men at the time, the party was the most boring in the company’s history. A female student pointed out that a mix of genders is needed to balance out characteristics that may become accentuated in all female or all male groups.

I’ve observed that experience, not gender, sets students apart in business school. Students, whether male or female, who studied business as undergraduates or who worked at their former jobs on projects similar to class projects, tend to lead groups and class discussion. From this I conclude that if business schools want to groom future corporate leaders, they are cheating women, and men, by accepting students with one year or less of work experience. Seven weeks into school, I hardly think about being a minority in business school, except for the random moment when I’m sitting at a table full of guys and they start talking about “hot girls.” Then I just have to laugh and think of it as preparation for the boardroom.

[Sidenote: I received my first fan e-mail yesterday. Someone in Massachusetts googled “silicone shoe packets” and my blog came up as the fourth hit down.]

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None of Us is as Smart as All of Us*

October 11th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

TestudoI finished my last midterm yesterday. Taking tests again was stressful, and nervous energy coursed through the school all week. Every first year student takes the same classes, so we all went through test hell together. This past week taught me a lot, and I learned that sample tests and study groups are key to doing well on exams.

I have always been a lone studier and viewed group study as a waste of time. As an undergrad I studied theories. The only way to study was to read, memorize, and ponder deep ideas for long hours. Business school is skills driven, so most of the studying is practicing skills through book problems and sample tests. Checking my answers and methods against other people’s answers and methods helped me to learn the material. Several times I didn’t understand how to calculate an answer, even after staring at the answer sheet for ten minutes. Talking through the problem with other students always helped.

Group studying also works well in business school because many people have expertise in class topics. I couldn’t have done well on my accounting test without help from several very time generous accountants. All the engineers know statistics cold, so they are the ones to ask about regression analysis and interaction variables. And previous finance majors walked me through several capital budgeting problems.

Finally, there is the peer pressure of group studying. Studying alone, I could easily put aside the book for a more fun activity, such as watching reruns of Laguna Beach or eating ice cream from the carton while standing in front of the fridge. But in a group I can’t just call it quits after an hour. Other people are depending on me to work with them, and this makes me focus better and longer.

The other challenge I faced this week was finishing my first large group project. The project required three group meetings of two hours, and I spent about 12 more hours completing my section of the project. Luckily my team members were great to work with, so we formed-normed-stormed-and-performed with no problem. But I found group studying more efficient than group project work.

It’s ironic that studying for tests was done better in a group, while the group project could have been done faster individually. Why was group work more effective in one instance than the other? Even the professor seemed to signal that the group project was more about honing group skills than completing a case study, since the project accounted for only 10% of the final grade. Group study or group work, the end result is that my team skills are improving, and that’s what I’m here for.

*Japanese Proverb

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Cool Town, Autumn in the City

October 4th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

When you note the seasons by Starbucks’ changing drink menu, you know you need to get out more. I am one of those people who knows its fall because Starbucks recently released its Pumpkin Spice Latte and Maple Macchiato.

Fall is the best season on the east coast; the weather is temperate and the leaves’ changing colors make driving down any state highway a scenic tour. Fall food is something to look forward to: yummy pumpkin pies, hot chocolate with marshmallows, crisp apples, and punkin beer from Dogfish Head brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I also have several favorite fall activities, but for the past few weekends, my fall activities have consisted of studying, studying, and studying.

However, let’s do a thought experiment, as Professor Lele frequently asks us to do in statistics class. Imagine that professors suspended all homework, and I had a free Saturday in October. Here are some great fall activities around College Park, Maryland.

Apple Picking
Every fall the Washington Post publishes a list of local farms in Maryland and Virginia that open their orchards to people for apple picking. It’s a fun afternoon outside, searching among the branches for the best apples. Most farms also sell ready made apple pies, apple cider, pumpkins, and miniature squash. And, as added bonuses, there are hay rides and corn mazes. I recently read an article in Slate’s moneybox section hating on pick-your-own-apple farms. The author commented that apple picking is a cherished rite of fall that is also a wasteful scam. Interesting article, but I like to take a simpler view of apple picking: a fun fall activity that is cheaper than a movie for two.

Skyline Drive
Driving down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is another cherished rite of fall. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the only public road through the park. You can enter Shenandoah at four places: Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Rt. 211, Swift Run Gap at Rt. 33, and Rockfish Gap at Rt. 64 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day.

University of Maryland Sports
Maryland football games are spirited events. Tailgating starts hours before the game, and everyone wears red or their Terps shirt. Even though I’m not a football fan, I still enjoy the social aspect of the games. You can follow Maryland’s team at the Official Home of the Terrapins. And even before football season ends, the Maryland basketball season begins with Maryland Madness on October 13.

Fall Festivals
Every neighborhood, church, and community center seems to host a fall festival. At the Taste of Georgetown, on October 14, restaurants serve sample food and wine while musicians from Blues Alley entertain with live jazz performances. Adams Morgan Day is another street fair with food, music, and lots of people.

Halloween
Finally, there’s Halloween, when my inner little devil comes out to play. During the month of October there are Halloween concerts at the Kennedy Center, ghost tours of Washington, D.C., old Town Alexandria graveyard tours, and “haunted” train rides through forests in Wheaton, Maryland. All this culminates in a crazy night in Georgetown when everyone dresses in costume and fills the bars beyond capacity.

Do readers have other suggestions for fall activities in the Washington, D.C. area?

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