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MBA Journal: B-School Update

MBA Journal: Searching for Answers

I write to you, dear readers, from the midst of the MBA January doldrums. The MBA doldrums are like the week between Christmas and New Year’s, except spread out over an entire month. The post-exam luster of “Done!” has faded; the inevitable reality of the next semester has set in; and I’m not sure if I should be extremely productive (pre-assignments just came out, an internship must be found, extra-curricular obligations have not gone away, and I actually have time to go to the gym) or extremely idle (when will I next be able to sleep in? Watch TV? Mindlessly surf the Internet? Take naps with the dog?). So, as if it were one long, extended last week of the year, I wait for the MBA new year to kick in.

At Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, winter break extends through Jan. 19, when classes begin and we again race through two terms, seven to eight classes, numerous papers, group projects, and finals, hopefully ending the school year with a trip to our dream summer internship. In some ways, the second half of the year will be more of the same—an intense schedule of classes, extracurriculars, and internship hunting. But it will also be very different, with a new tone and a fresh start. As I mentioned previously, we have completed all but one of our core classes, and I’ll be free to take electives in my particular interest areas: social entrepreneurship, strategy, and marketing. While teamwork always is a key component of Fuqua classes, my first year learning team (the folks with whom I’ve generally been spending 25 to 30 hours a week) will separate as we pursue classes in our divergent concentrations, and I’ll form new teams in each of my classes.

The break has given me an opportunity to reflect. Six months in, I’m still confident that business school and Fuqua were the right choices for me. I love the academics, experiences, and friends I’ve made at Duke, and the exposure to a variety of industries and career paths. At the same time, I realize that while I came in with more of a general idea of what I wanted to pursue to achieve my long-term goal of social impact, I didn’t necessarily have the short-term specifics nailed down. As I’ve found, for better or worse, much of B-school is spent focusing on an internship, then the first job out of school, and not always the longer-term goals. While my friends who want to be bankers or general managers have a fairly clear-cut path to their internships and post B-school careers, mine is somewhat murkier—especially since I am constantly learning about new opportunities that I hadn’t previously considered.

Reflection Is Worth the Work

In retrospect, I could have done a bit more soul-searching last summer to have better prepared myself to strike out on my own, independent career search once B-school kicked in at break-neck speed. Fortunately, the faculty, staff, and second-year students at Fuqua provide support and insight to first-year students. All this has helped me home in on what I need to pursue in the short-term to effectively reach my goals. So, prospective MBA students out there: When folks cheerfully recommend you spend your summer reflecting on who you are and what you want from your MBA program and your career, do find time among wrapping up work, moving, celebrating, and traveling the world to heed this advice.

So, what do I have to look forward to at the end of these January doldrums? Winter means the hunt for my first-year internship will be in full force, so I’ll again be balancing this with the demands of my classes and obligations. At Fuqua, we are lucky that the second-year students all survived their first year and are willing to tell the tale. The second years stay very involved in our internship search, advising us on industries, companies, and processes; offering feedback through mock interviews and case interview practice; and then celebrating or commiserating with us through the ups and downs of internship offers. They have been invaluable navigators and my classmates and I will continue to lean on them next semester.

What else will spring bring? I’m enrolled in two classes on social entrepreneurship that will span the next two terms. I also hope to take more classes in presentation skill-building. Though we are all required to take a two-term core class in public speaking and communication, I felt my improvement in public speaking skills and personal growth was so noticeable that I should incorporate as many of these classes into my schedule as possible. And while I will miss taking classes totally outside my comfort zone this semester, I’ll be prepared to dive back in next fall with managerial accounting and corporate finance.

Finally, I hope the spring will include a little more time for fun outside the walls of Fuqua. Since I live by my calendar, I’m planning to start blocking off time for running, dinner with friends (off-campus), and some of the great live music that comes to the Raleigh/Durham area. While networking debriefs over wine and impromptu team room dance parties helped get me through the fall, I’m looking forward to participating in some activities that might resemble fun beyond B-school.

In between journal entries, you can keep track of Susan’s business school adventures at the Business Schools Facebook page. Follow the Bloomberg Businessweek B-Schools team on Twitter.

Susan Shell is a second-year MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. During her life before business school, Shell managed strategic polling and focus group projects for nonprofits, public interest organizations, Democratic political campaigns, major corporations, and the media. Her goal, she says, is to use her MBA to make a difference in the world. As part of a choir she helped launch, Shell performed onstage for President Obama in 2009.

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