"Time and distance in business school are relative—good luck trying to measure them"
My first year at business school ended with a map. Tasked to create a plan of action for my career as part of a class called Power and Politics, thoughts of journeys, destinations, and experiences came together in a paper and a cartographic representation of where I've been, where I'd like to go, and what skills from recent classes will take me there. Business school is like any journey. It begins with thoughts of a destination and ends up the sum of experiences you took to get there. Attempts to find your bearings at any given point result in a shift in focus from looking forward to looking back on the experiences we've had along the way. It may be a cliché, but it's the journey and not the destination that eventually quantifies the value of our endeavor.
DESTINATION AND SCALE
Time and distance in business school are relative—good luck trying to measure them. Never has a year in my life passed so quickly. I've settled into a steady but high-paced rhythm of twice-monthly classroom lectures that seem as natural a part of my life as breathing; I've forgotten what it's like to have time to spare.
With the business world all in chaos this past year, business schools have been under scrutiny for their part in the mess. In "The Buck Starts (and Stops) With Business Schools" (Harvard Business Review June 2009), former Yale Dean Joel Podolny, now dean of Apple University, tackled questions of accountability and responsibility, highlighting how the curriculum at Yale integrates ethics and values into a broad understanding of business scholarship and a holistic experience with clearly defined expectations. The stature of Yale has only increased for me as a result of a clear mission and focus relative to social responsibility and business; I'm proud to say that I am a member of the Yale School of Management Class of 2010.
This past year also allowed a glimpse of the physical future of the school. The new SOM campus, designed by Foster + Partners, was unveiled to students in early December. Following a presentation by the architects, students were encouraged to weigh in on the design and its conceptual foundation. Images of the school demonstrate an integration of the physical space with the unique core curriculum to create the best teaching environment in the business world; the Yale Corporation approved final construction plans in June 2009. Although I will be among the ranks of the alumnae when the school opens, I'm excited about what this new campus will mean for the school.
A culture of community was one of the four key functions identified by the architects in the creation and design of the new campus and buildings, and community permeates the atmosphere at the school. Relationships between students and between students and faculty are fostered from Day One and continue both inside and outside classrooms.
All work and no play would be a bore, and at Yale we have a good mix of both extremes. How many other schools have a dean who launches the school year by challenging the entire student body to a Labor Day road race to support charity? A professor who sends out an e-mail to the class asking, "Are you ready to rumble?" as we excitedly prepare for the challenges of the Littlefield Technologies Operations case at 10 p.m. on a Friday night? With professors who are engaging, supportive, and available outside the classroom, I have been shown repeatedly in words and actions that SOM is as vested in my successes as I am. That's a great feeling at the end of this first year.
I think it is probably all too common for students to think about how business school can help them succeed. Although individual success is important when taking on such an investment in time, money, and effort, looking at business school through such a narrow lens seems short-sighted. A recent visitor to our Power and Politics class, Chidi Achebe (MBA-E Class of 2007 and CEO of the Harvard Street Health Center in Boston), offered some parting words of wisdom regarding business success and power: "People are people because of other people." Businesses and powerful individuals work in isolation at their peril. In the thick of it, when the work gets tough and the nights get long, you start to realize that your choice of business school should also be a good match for your commitment and dedication to more than just yourself. Business school, after all, is also about relationships and working with others.
The soft skills of negotiation, patience, timing, empathy, and situational awareness, all mentioned in the Podolny HBR article, are only just starting to get the attention they rightly deserve in the business world; failure to be aware of their importance in the classroom and within the work setting could have disastrous results. Relationships matter and must be cultivated and cared for to thrive and grow. Take into consideration how hard you're willing to work for yourself, your team, your class, and ultimately the reputation of the school and for what it stands.
You'll be held to those standards while attending the program and long after you graduate. The rigor of admission is nothing compared to the rigor of the classroom and it shouldn't be. You can't and won't be the best at everything; you can and should be the best version of yourself and figure out what you have to give.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Throughout the past year, I have experienced some of the best opportunities for my own learning outside the classroom. During a class this past semester in Health Care Economics & Finance, I found myself wanting a real sense of what it is like to be in Washington, D.C., at this pivotal juncture for health-care reform. To enhance my academic experience, I spent several days in Washington, D.C., as part of the Tenth Annual Patient Congress. I was able to network with other health-care advocates and business leaders, and I had the chance to meet with health-care legislative assistants to Senators Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Dodd (D-Conn.) as well as my congressman, Representative John Larson (D-Conn.).
In addition to discussing health-care reform, I had the opportunity to ask that my senators and congressman to support the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act of 2009, a piece of legislation important to my own family and far too many other families across the country. My trip to Washington gave me the opportunity to convey my position on health care as a constituent and health-care scholar, as well as to put the concepts of the classroom into context. This experience in Washington also helped solidify and confirm my long-standing aspirations and goals to be a part of a policy relative to the health-care business industry.
It has been quite a year. I'm now 43 class days (nine months) away from the completion of my MBA; business tax and law await me during my second summer boot camp and a week-long stay at the Omni in New Haven. I'm keeping my eye on the prize, but I'm holding onto the enjoyment and fulfillment during this journey. I enter the second year excited about all I have yet to learn and with anticipation for all that will come my way in the months ahead. I owe a debt of gratitude to every person who was a part of my first year at Yale: every single member of my class who teaches me so much, particularly the incomparable Team C (Senai Ahderom, CEO Weblinx; Dr. Edward Valentine; Dr. Jianlin Xu; and Marilyn Cross Piedra) the MBA-E staff, visiting scholars, and the professors who challenge, encourage, and ultimately educate me every day. Onward to second year!