MBA Journal: First Year Review

Year One: Where Did the Time Go?


What a year it has been. It seems like only yesterday I was finishing up my last days at work and embarking on a summer of R&R before hopping on the business-school train. (Ah, the good ol' days.) It seems like just last week I attended Admit Weekend and had the chance to meet my future classmates for the first time. And I really can't believe nine months have passed since attending our adventure-laden orientation in Wisconsin. Turns out a lot can happen in a year.

I remember the overwhelming feeling of moving to a new city, tackling graduate courses, and readjusting to life on a student budget. I remember, too, the anxious anticipation of classes starting, the excitement of being in an academic environment again, and the possibilities in the never-ending stream of new faces. With so many priorities, the first few months of school went faster than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I ran in every direction because I didn't want to miss a thing. Nobody did.

We arrived ready to conquer, to tackle classes with fervor, to develop new friendships, to strengthen our professional networks, and to prove our worth. We all had a sense that we were lucky to be here; perhaps most lucky to have bought ourselves these two years to take a breath, recalibrate, and then relaunch our professional paths on new trajectories. This time, we were sure, we'd find careers that met the proverbial expectation that we Gen Yers had grown up with: We would find rewarding jobs to fulfill our dreams and empower us to change the world while at the same time enjoying work-life balance and a comfortable (well, we hope very comfortable) lifestyle. After all, we are the Trophy Generation who grew up in a world where no one loses, we're all thanked for participating, and maybe you can have it all.

Shortly thereafter, however, U.S. economic prosperity unraveled. Intensity and fear reigned as we approached recruiting in a Darwinian fashion. In a strange juxtaposition of emotion, every man was for himself, yet we would all go down together. We faced the uncertainty of the economy, the competition of incredibly qualified classmates, the looming threat of impending student loans, and the harsh reality of rejection together.

The internship of her dreamsDespite the seemingly evil doldrums of winter, good prevailed: We have internships. As luck would have it, my memory is quite forgiving. I can no longer recall each winter day in minute detail. Rather, akin to daVinci's sfumato painting stroke, the days all blend into one. As the frigid temperatures seem like a fairy-tale memory of a distant past, I remember kindly the first snow, fun times, and friendships that made the stress of classes and recruiting not only bearable but incredibly enjoyable. Conversations in the Winter Garden, study breaks at the pub, happy hour, school dances, and weekend getaways are atop my recollection of quarters past.

Once the intensity of recruiting reached a plateau, spring quarter looked like it'd be a welcome rest from the pace of the previous quarter. However, that proved entirely untrue, as it may have been my busiest quarter yet. A lifelong member of OverBooked Anonymous (this disease is rampant at business school), I figured I could take on more coursework (here we take 10 courses per year, selecting which quarter we'll opt for four instead of three). Luckily I chose an intense four courses and then rounded my semester out with a volunteer project. I wasn't alone; we all dove in, in some form or another, becoming club co-chairs, throwing ourselves into student groups, participating in case competitions, and ramping up the coursework. Can you blame us? We've only got two short years in this environment, where the sky is always the limit and opportunity lurks around every corner.

So here we are. It's mid-June, and with the quarter system that puts us right smack in the middle of finals. Some folks have already shipped off to their internships, or taking finals remotely or doing final projects instead. Most of us are still here mustering up what motivation we can to study for final exams, wishing our graduating second-year friends well, saying goodbye to first-year students headed to different cities for the summer, and wishing we had more than a weekend to recoup before starting our internships.

Despite the lack of transition time, I am excitedly looking ahead to my summer. While these 10 weeks will certainly require an adjustment from the student life, for me it's a welcome one. I'm looking forward to the schedule, producing rather than consuming, the change of pace of a new environment, meeting colleagues from different business schools, enjoying a city I love, and last but certainly not least, earning a paycheck.

a new perspectiveSomehow the stars aligned and the powers that be have brought my dream internship to fruition. I will be a summer associate at a consulting firm in Boston. I am looking forward to a challenging and rewarding summer. I'm hoping for the opportunity to work with an interesting client, utilize some of my freshly minted business-school skills, and befriend the company as well as my summer class.

As I reflect on where the past year has taken me, I can't help but realize the incredible amount I've changed. I phrase things differently now (sadly, I called myself out for using the term "on the margin" at dinner with some girlfriends), and I see the world differently, too. I have an appreciation for businesses, large and small (perhaps, Wal-Mart (WMT) isn't quite the devil incarnate). I think about the choices I make in the grocery store, like trading brand names for private label, and theories of price discrimination when upgrading to a large Diet Coke at the movies. I think about the underlying economic drivers of social policy and ponder questions like the benefits of paying students to attend grade school or legalizing drugs. I have incredible respect for entrepreneurs who've seen their ideas through conception to, sometimes, funding. And I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity of another year to indulge in classes that pique my intellectual curiosity with classmates and professors who challenge my intuition.

Next year has the makings of being a great one. I hope with the confidence of one year under my belt and the friendships I've developed, I'll have the ability to truly take advantage of the academic rigor at the Booth School of Business, immerse myself in the city of Chicago, and enjoy the company of great friends. I also hope us first-years will come to appreciate life from a second-year perspective, which should tell us to "relax, calm down, and enjoy it while it lasts."
Ellyn_charters
Ellyn Charters is a member of the University of Chicago's MBA Class of 2010

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