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MBA Journal: B-School Update

MBA Journal: Early Morning Quiet

It’s 5 a.m., and I’m at my desk, drinking tea and reading cases. Well, technically, I’m writing a journal entry—but any other morning, this is where you’ll find me, bleary eyed but ready to go.

By 9 a.m., this early morning quiet will be gone. I’ll be at school, meeting with my team to debate and work through our assignments, followed by two or three classes, career club meetings, an informational interview or two squeezed in, and then usually a recruiting event to round out the evening. After all that: home, for more school-related work. Phew. I can’t remember who told me the toughest part of business school would be getting in, but I’d like to find him and have a few words.

Yes, I knew Duke’s Fuqua School of Business would be challenging, but I have always thought of myself as fairly resilient. Usually I can plan to do it all, and it all gets done. The past six weeks, however, have challenged that assumption: I really can’t do everything. Instead, I’m learning how to prioritize, shake off disappointments, celebrate small victories, and appreciate downtime, even if it is at 5 a.m. with a case study in hand.

Fuqua is on a six-week term schedule, meaning I finished six classes before the end of October, and I’m several weeks into my next four classes. The benefit of a term schedule is that I get to take almost twice as many classes than I would in a traditional semester program. Excellent. The drawback is I get to take twice as many finals. Much less excellent.


Fuqua’s core curriculum is intense. My first term was a quantitative sprint, including stats, econ, and accounting. First-year students complete almost all core classes in these two fall terms, which frees me up to take electives this spring. In the core, I’m learning things I didn’t know I didn’t know (you can actually calculate a learning curve), but I’m looking forward to homing in on my specific career interests in social entrepreneurship and strategy in the spring.

The classes themselves are great. Our first-year class is divided into six separate sections of about 70 students, and within those sections, we’re again divided into six- to seven-person teams, with whom we’ll work throughout the core. These small teams become the hub of the work done in the core curriculum and define much of your first-year experience. After hours of work together, my team has basically become an extension of my family. We’re quick to laugh, quick to argue, and no one bats an eye if I come to team meetings in sweatpants.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the major reasons I came to Fuqua was its outstanding focus on social entrepreneurship. Since arriving, I haven’t been disappointed; it seems that not a week goes by without a speaker, panel, or event aligning with my long-term career goals. In addition, I’m thrilled about all the opportunities to explore the intersection of business and the social sector outside the classroom. Through the Global Consulting Practicum, I’ll be consulting with a social enterprise venture in South Africa throughout the spring, and I’ve recently been selected to serve as a nonvoting board member of a local nonprofit organization through the Fuqua On Board program. These are the types of opportunities that helped define Fuqua to me in the application process, so it’s exciting to have been selected to participate.

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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