To the Class of 2016: Here’s to the Next Chapter

Sweet Sixteens,

Because my greatest memories of my Sloan experience have been grounded in storytelling, I’d like to begin this final post reflecting on our story together as the Class of 2016:

In the first semester, our story began. We moved quickly from knowing each other based on where we were from or what we used to do and instead through the collective memories we were beginning to create. First BHPs and parties at Whisky Saigon. Impromptu trips to Istanbul and Iceland for some of us, and consulting networking events for many of us. Somehow, amid the insanity, we made it from our first decision trees to our final finals in the Core. Like many of the sea birds associated with our Core teams, we went from just keeping our heads above water to learning to fly.

In second semester, our story received more shape and structure. Our lives at Sloan became less defined by our Oceans and more by the classes we chose to take, the activities on which we chose to spend our deviously finite time and energy, and—let’s be honest—to some extent, the roles and cities we sought for the summer. Let loose on the open “seas,” we more fully discovered the diversity of our classmates, whose intelligence and drive would make us feel as if our admission might have been a mistake.

After a summer away, halfway back in the working world, our story achieved depth. Coming home to campus after a summer apart, we knew better what we wanted from the rest of this experience, personally and professionally. We remained susceptible to committing too much and sleeping too little, but came into second year with more conviction and somewhat less FOMO. We were determined to focus on ourselves while making the most of these people and this place while it was still ours. It wasn’t always easy here, and certainly wasn’t cheap, but the ups and downs—and sometimes extravagant details—made our story together such a good one.

We started as names on cards in classrooms. Now we’re fully-formed characters—or perhaps “continuously improving” or “iterating” ones—set to go back out into the world and we get to choose how we let the story of the last two years define us in what comes next. And as someone who spent the past two years helping many of you share your personal stories, here’s what I hope you remember about stories as you graduate.

1. You have a story worth telling. A lot of you have also told me you don’t have “good enough” stories for something like the Yarn or “good stories” period. You may think you have nothing important to say—you’re wrong. Your stories have impressed me and they have and will impress others. How you were resilient in the wake of tragedy. How you found courage in the face of fear. Never underestimate the power of your story: just be brave enough to tell it, because you never know who else you’ll inspire.

2. No good “success story” is perfect. Tempting as it is, don’t compare your story to someone else’s, especially on social media. Think of the people you admire the most in the world—it’s likely they’re far from perfect. Being perfect is boring and it stops you from taking risks. No good “success story” is perfect. And while you’re on the grind toward that story, remember that you deserve your happy ending. When things aren’t happy, it’s just that they haven’t worked themselves out yet.

3. Learn from the stories of others. Through your hard work and luck, you get to call yourself a MIT graduate by this the end of this week, but your story is just as special as someone else’s. When you’ve “made it” and you’re flying high in business class, remember: the person pouring your champagne has a story, too. As you climb, stay grounded, listen, and learn from the stories of others—they’ll keep you honest and have something to teach you.

4. Your story is more than the places you work, the people you know, the titles you earn, or money you have. It’s about what you use all of them to do. You’re a “principled, innovative leader who will improve the world”—but the world you improve doesn’t need to be one thousands of miles away. It could just as easily be the world of the person sitting next to you as of someone on the opposite side of the planet. You will have an impact by doing good work and just as much by being a good person. Bring the values of this community—intelligence, humility, and integrity—out into the world with you.

5. Write a story you’ll be proud to tell. I always joked when I was a casewriter that one day I hoped someone would care enough about what I did to write a case about me. Maybe you want someone to actually write your story one day. Even if you don’t, write the story your kids will be proud of. Your community will be proud of. The story you’ll be proud to tell and will be empowered to tell by virtue of the success you will achieve.

Class of 2016, I hope this place cracked your head open, filled it to burst, and that you’ll never see the world the same way ever again. I hope your story will become richer with time and that tomorrow, 5 years, and 50 years from now, you will believe as truly as you do today that this was all worth it.

I hope these years will not the best years of your life, but just the beginning of the best years of your life. And I hope you’ll appreciate the greatness of what you’ve accomplished and what everyone here to celebrate you knows to be true: that even if just for today, you deserve to celebrate.

As you move your tassel on June 3 and turn the page, take advantage of the great start you had from attending MIT, and go out and make the rest of your story a good one.

Here’s to the next chapter,


Originally published at on April 17, 2016.

To the Class of 2017: Get Ready for Your Second Chance

While I don’t have regrets about my MBA experience, I’d be lying if I said there was nothing I wish I’d done differently. There are plenty of things I’d have changed about my second year, in particular, from classes I wish I’d taken to places I wish I’d traveled. If there were any business school in the business of time travel, MIT Sloan would be the one, but the reality of it is that my two years here are done and there’s nothing I can do to set the clock back and do it again.

I generally avoid dwelling on the things I didn’t do or should have done at MIT, but in meeting up with my handful of friends in the Class of 2017, the question of how to do second year “right” inevitably comes up. And while my advice is completely subjective, here’s what I have to say on the subject—and it’s a list of three because this is business school.

1. Break the “senior-freshman” barrier with the people in the incoming class. It’s worth it for them and for you.

Being a second year in business school is like being a senior in college—you walk around confident in how to get from place to place and what’s generally expected of you. Being a first year, at least during the core semester, is a lot like being a freshman in college—you’re both excited and confused as you adjust to a very strange and new experience.

As former freshmen and soon-to be seniors of business school, I urge you to find time to hang out with next year’s freshmen. Looking back, I wish I’d made an effort to get to know more of the first year class—for all the wonderful people there are in my year, there are just as many magical people in the class below that I’ll never get to know. I have to admit: I often forgot that all of the first years who were “younger than me” (on account of being in b-school for less time) were actually older, wiser, and more seasoned than I am in topics I wanted to understand, work I wanted to explore, and life experiences I wanted to have.

Whatever that “gateway” looks like for you to connect to the incoming class, whether it’s TA-ing a course, participating in a club, or partying after a C-function, take advantage of it. Your experience here will have been richer for having done. While I believe I made the most of getting to know 400 people in my class, I could have made more of the opportunity to know a bigger chunk of the 400 in the class above mine and the 400 in the class below mine.

Some of my most meaningful friendships from MIT are with people who were second years when I was a first year. They offered invaluable advice, perspective, and kindness on many things regarding the MBA but on many more things regarding life, and I can’t imagine my Sloan experience without them. For those of you in the Class of 2017 reading this who know me, I hope your Sloan experience was better for having known me, and I hope you can make a few people in the Class of 2018 feel the same way.

2. There’s a wide world outside of E40, 51, 52, and 62. Explore it!

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experience cross-registering at HBS and how valuable it was within my greater MBA experience. While I’m glad I learned a few things across the Charles River, if only I’d ventured beyond East Campus to take a course at “Greater MIT,” or at least walked a few blocks to take a class at the Media Lab.

Administrators speak so often about “One Sloan” and the power of the MIT community, but the reality is that the number of people who truly take advantage of it is relatively small. It’s far easier and more convenient to swim in our “Sloanie pond” with people whose backgrounds and experiences—even in all their diversity—resemble one another’s far more closely than they resemble a PhD’s or an undergrad’s. I’d argue that MBAs and students in other Sloan portfolio programs have more in common with one another than they do with anything you’d find on Main Campus. If you really want to learn from people who are different from you, step outside your comfort zone yet again and spend some time away from Course 15.

That said, I’m grateful for the MIT memories made outside of my Kendall Square shell. I taught a couple cooking classes for the Food and Agriculture Club. I went on a Birthright trip to Israel with many MIT undergrads, recent alumni, and current graduate students. I performed in this year’s Vagina Monologues, where I found myself regularly inspired by my smart and spirited cast-mates—I only wish that I’d taken the chance to really be their classmates.

You may be a graduate student, but you’re still part of a world class institution and a culture that goes with it. Go study in the library under the dome. Attend a lecture you find on a poster in the “Infinite Corridor.” Take a class if you feel called to it. Whatever it takes for you to appreciate that you don’t just go to Sloan—you go to MIT Sloan.

3. You do you—and feel no shame or FOMO for doing you.

I never took Finance 2, Macroeconomics, or the other 5 or so classes highly regarded for their famous faculty. I didn’t go on any study tours or treks abroad. I didn’t do G-Lab. I don’t think I went to BHP more than 3 times during my MBA. These are just a few of the things I chose not to do and about which I sometimes wonder, “What if I did?”

Then I remember: not doing Finance 2 or Macroeconomics made room for “enActing Leadership” and “Building Successful Careers and Organizations.” Not going on study tours and treks allowed me time to reconnect with people from the non-MBA world and return enriched with the balance and perspective I needed to make it through the rest of my MBA. Choosing the lesser-known L-Lab over G-Lab gave me the most valuable education in teamwork and systems thinking within organizations from my entire time at Sloan. Every time I chose to go home and rest instead of staying up for social events, I had more energy to put into people, organizations, and causes I cared about during my MBA, writing this blog among them.

Just because we’re all in the same program doesn’t mean we all have the same goals for earning a MBA. So don’t feel so pressured to learn what others are learning, apply where others are applying, or do what others are doing during their time here. This time is yours to use in the way that’s best for you, and the money you paid for your MBA is an investment in yourself. Instead of using that time and money comparing yourself to others, find the courage and hold onto the strength to focus on what you want from your experience here, especially in your second year. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. And your best friends here will be those who support you in doing you.

A bunch of 2017s have asked me, “How do you feel being done?” I’m not sure I can answer because it hasn’t hit me yet: That in two weeks I’ll be donning a graduation cap and regalia. That in two months I’ll be looking at Sloan from the other side of the Charles from the office of my new job. That all these people who’ve defined my last two years will return to their respective corners of the world and we’ll be living our lives apart once again.

Even though the end hasn’t completely dawned on me (and when it does, it’s likely I’ll feel sad), my response to the question of how I feel is this: “I feel ready.” I’m ready to take on what’s next in my career and put my mind, hand, and heart into it. I’m ready to see how far around the world and into the future these friendships go. Class of 2017, I’m ready to watch you seize your second chances in your second year. Live it up so much that this time, next year, you’ll feel ready, too.

Congratulations on finishing your first year. Have a wonderful summer. Stay in touch, get in touch, and get ready,


Originally published at on May 20, 2016.

To the Class of 2018: Prepare for the Extraordinary

Most of you won’t get the chance to know me unless you choose to listen to “The Business of Being Awesome” podcast I started with a fellow Sloanie (highly encouraged) or choose to reach out to me for alumni networking purposes (happy to connect). But in hopes of having you get to know me in some way that’s useful to you in your current circumstances–deciding whether to attend Sloan–I wanted to tell you how I spent my yesterday:

  • I caught up on like 40 emails scheduling hangouts with classmates before graduation (incredibly enough, that’s 5% of the entire MBA program). Some of these dates are with people I know well. Some are with people I don’t know as well and hope to get to know better. All of them are people I’m really excited to meet with one-on-one.
  • I took a workout class taught by second-year friend of mine who recently got her Zumba teaching certification (#sloanieshelpingsloanies become coordinated). I know I’ve reached a certain level of closeness with people here when someone can get me to dance to reggaeton in broad daylight and total sobriety.
  • I heard an incredible speaker at an Afternoon Tea event with Sloan Women in Managment discussing how her relationships with Sloan women supported her as she rose in her career the last 14 years since her MBA.
  • I stopped by a neighborhood MBA patio party with abundant wine and cheese, two great dogs, and even greater classmate company. I note that at patio party, I was still wearing my sweaty workout clothes from the Zumba class. One or the many things I love about this community? No one judged how I looked–they just complimented me on my rainbow sneakers.
  • I spent the evening at a Sloan reception at my favorite venue in Boston with some of my closest friends in the class of 2016. Even without the open bar and plenty of music, I’d have felt high on life.

When I attended Sloan’s AdMIT weekend in April 2014, I left most of the events exhausted, anxious, and frankly, a little skeptical. About the 2nd- and 1st-year students I met, I wondered, “Will I ever feel as excited about this place as they do?” About my fellow 2016 admitted students, I wondered: “Am I really going to become friends with these people for the rest of my life, let alone for the next two years?”About the MBA, I wondered, “What on earth am I getting into?”

Two years later, I’m trying to distract myself from the thought that my days and nights like these, surrounded by people like this, are numbered. If you told me as an AdMIT that I’d feel the way I do now about this place, this program, and these people, I never would have believed you.

If you’re still deciding or already decided on Sloan, I want you to know my yesterday was far from atypical: in the context of my MBA experience at MIT, this extraordinary day was an ordinary one. Every day, you can learn something from your peers, whether it’s financial modeling or Latin dancing. Every day, you can find support for your dreams here, so long as you have the courage to share them with others. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there will be times where you will feel stressed completing homework or contemplating your career, but every day, you can take comfort in the fact that you will not be alone in anything you’re going through and, in opening up to people about how you’re feeling, will find solidarity unlike any you’ve ever experienced.

By virtue of your admission to the Class of 2018, as a member of the Class of 2016, I have to return to the real world and make space here for you to begin creating your MBA memories. The choice is yours, but I hope you’ll choose to make those memories at Sloan.

If you do, prepare for the extraordinary to become your ordinary.

Originally published at on April 17, 2016.

“Across the River and Out of my Comfort Zone”: A Sloanie Sits in at HBS

With less than 3 months until graduation, I’m actively crossing things off of my MBA bucket list. One of the biggest items I wanted to do before I graduated? To cross-register for a course outside of MIT.

If I had one more year, I’d try to get into the “Making of a Politician” course at the Harvard Kennedy School or the January negotiations seminar at Harvard Law School, both of which are supposed to be excellent. But those who know me at Sloan or otherwise know about my background know I used to be a research associate at Harvard Business School. So for the sake of a poetic ending to my MBA experience and a final farewell to my academic life in Boston, I felt compelled to make my cross-registration experience happen at none other than HBS.

Mapping out my otherwise full spring semester at Sloan, I found a few interesting classes at HBS that, despite the eccentric X-Y course calendar, worked in my schedule. I entered the lottery and had the luck to be admitted into a very popular half-semester course called “Launching Technology Ventures,” taught by two professors-practitioners of entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Part of the appeal of Sloan for me was that it didn’t teach everything in the case method: I’m really glad I learned leadership by way of Action Learning in L-Lab and learned accounting and finance through problem sets. And I wouldn’t trade my experience at MIT for that at another school—I have no doubt that MIT was the place I belonged, culturally speaking, these last two years, and that MIT set me up better for my post-MBA goals than any other top MBA program could have.

Had I ended up at HBS for my MBA, I know I’d have gotten sick and tired of reading cases to learn in all my classes. But getting to experience one class of flawless case teaching and consistently-strong case discussion as a cross-registrant at the institution that invented it was a real treat. Moreover, witnessing an approach to teaching entrepreneurship that was very different from Sloan’s was valuable—if I had to summarize it, Sloan’s approach is more detail-oriented,  data-driven, and operationally-inclined, HBS’s is more “big picture”-oriented, go-t0-market-driven, and strategically-inclined.

The last 6 weeks I spent at HBS, more often than not, I walked into class feeling totally out of my league—when I read the cases to the best of my ability, I still felt underprepared. When I finally spoke, I felt anything but eloquent and choked a bit when challenged to defend my opinion. As the Professor called out peers with relevant industry experiences to weigh in on the discussion of the day, I felt the return of that unrelenting sense of imposter syndrome from my first semester at Sloan.

But that’s kind of a great thing. At Sloan, more often than not, I walk into a class feeling confident in my ability to do what’s expected of me and comfortable with the people surrounding me. I had forgotten what it was like to feel really, really uncomfortable—the kind of uncomfortable that makes you grow.

I’m not sure what my HBS classmates thought of me in the rare moments I felt self-assured enough to speak or how those beyond the delightful four seated near me felt about my presence in the class. Not like I have control over any of this, but I hope they don’t think I was a complete idiot or feel like my seat should have gone to someone they already knew.

And even if they do, I hope they’d listen long enough for me to thank them for pushing me to a new “stretch zone.”

As I near the end of my MBA, I’m adding this to the list of pieces of advice I would give to 1st-year MBAs or would-be MBAs: if you get the chance, take advantage of the chance to cross-register. When you do, expect to learn more than just the course material. If your experience was anything like mine, you’ll learn more about ways of learning and more about yourself than you would ever expect. 

Originally published at on March 17, 2016.

Saving the best for last (semester): resolutions for a final term at MIT Sloan

I often tell people that business school is the college experience I never had, academically, personally, and professionally. As an undergraduate, my academic life was overly tied to my GPA, my social life largely circumscribed to the people I sang with or who shared my meal plan, and my would-be professional life an ostensible failure since neither Goldman Sachs nor Google cared for my “quirky” background.

In business school–or at least since the core ended–I’ve thrown three sheets to the wind regarding the letters I’ve received for my “performance,” I’ve gone out more times in the past 1.5 years than I did all through college (though I’m definitely on the lower end on the socializing spectrum), and when the tendency to compare myself to others kicked in during the job search, I did my best to listen to voice that said, “You deserve to feel excited about your job 4 out of 5 days a week and working at [insert any major company that recruits at a top MBA program that burns out b-schoolers within 2 years] won’t make you feel that way.”

Part of my problem with college was I didn’t really start embracing the college experience until after I submitted my thesis, finished my departmental exams, and sang in my last a cappella show. I woke up on May 11, 2012, the day after that show, shaken by the realization that I had about three weeks until graduation to seize nearly four lost years.

While I think I’ve been far better at taking advantage of my graduate school experience, there are still things I want to do to make sure my time as a Sloanie, MIT student, and MBA, more broadly, to feel as if my time here was worth it. I want to walk past the Dome on June 3 having seized every opportunity that I could: because save for being a perpetual student of life, unless I go for a PhD at the end of the road, this will be my last time as a full-time student.

So in the same way people have “New Year’s Resolutions,” I’m making New Semester resolutions for living my last months here at MIT to their absolute fullest, again: academically, personally, and professionally.

Academically: In previous semesters, I’ve settled for classes I’m not totally in love with for the sake of having a stable schedule. This semester, I resolve to add and drop until I’m only taking courses I’m excited about–even if it means my schedule isn’t totally clear by the end of week one, and even if it means taking a class that meets on a Friday and dashes my dreams of four-day weekends all semester. I’ve already cross-registered for one course I adore, so I’m off to a good start, and the more I can tie in my academic work into my personal and professional ambitions below, the better!

Personally: Beyond having as much fun as possible with all the people I already know well, I resolve to get coffee/drinks/a meal with at least one person I don’t know very well per week–first year, second year, professor, whoever. My stance is that the value of a MBA is the people in the program with you more than the classes you take with them. Every time I’ve taken the risk to spend my time with someone new, I’m categorically impressed by what I hear. If I had a “regret” about my time at Sloan so far, it’s that I didn’t approach getting to know my peers with a greater sense of structure or deliberateness. Luckily, it’s not too late. My life at Sloan has revolved around storytelling and I intend hear many more, tell many more, and create many more stories before my time here is through, both with the existing friends and “untapped” potential ones.

Professionally: My MBA allowed me to achieve my goal of transitioning industries and it’s now official–I won’t be a professional casewriter/research lackey after graduation. But it was a really bumpy road to get to where I did last summer and to where I’m going after graduation, and while I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, the recruiting journey from “Sick and tired” to “Wait, I’m hired?” felt unnecessarily desperate, unsupported, and solitary. My professional goal this semester isn’t around my career so much as the careers of others: to do whatever I can to help peers in their process, offer kindness, perspective, and interview prep, where needed. I want the talented and capable people in this community to never settle, to hold onto the “do great things, change the world” vision that got them here, and to never feel as hopeless or lost as I felt last year if I can help it. This is part of why my cohost and I got started with our podcast (and essentially startup) “The Business of Being Awesome.” Even if we don’t reach celebrity status, I hope we have already encouraged at least one person to keep chasing fulfilling work even when an unconventional post-MBA path seems highly improbable, seriously impractical, or downright ridiculous. That’s where the magic happens, after all.

To my fellow 2016s: here’s to a final semester full of joy, replete with stories, and without regrets. Carpe Sloanem!

Originally published at on February 1, 2016.

Action (Un)Learning

As we’re reaching the end of winter break, IAP, and the Action Learning journey, I’m prepared for the conversation that will plague me for the first two weeks of the spring semester and looks something like this:

[Erica and Sloan Friend make eye contact in E62, E51, or the newly-renovatedE52. Smile, exchange hellos, stop to embrace. Converse]
 Sloan Friend: Hi!!! How was your break?
 Erica: Hello! So good to see you! Good. Good! How was yours?
 Sloan Friend: It was great. Where did you go?
 Erica: Israel for ten days and then New York for L-Lab.
 Sloan Friend: Oh, cool! What were you doing for L-Lab?
 Erica: You know how H&M lets you drop off your old clothes in stores and then gives you a discount? The furniture company, west elm is looking to do something similar with old rugs and bedding. We investigated what it would take, logistically speaking, for west elm to start a product recycling program and then the implications for marketing the program to customers online and in stores. Where were you for the past six weeks?
 Sloan Friend: (Answer is some combination of travel, time at home, course work, job hunting, or all of the above)
 [Conversation ends or turns to “What classes are you taking?” sequence]

When I signed up for L-Lab, I was “killing two birds with one stone” on my Sloan “Bucket List”:
 [Numbers 1–5]
 Number 6: “Do an Action Learning Class!” Check.
 [Numbers 7–14]
 Number 15: Have a substantial ‘One Sloan’ experience.” Check.
 [Numbers 16–20]

Beyond checking these boxes, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I attended the first session of L-Lab in September 2015. I knew it was an Action Learning class focused on helping large companies implement sustainability initiatives and that it attracted a lot of MSMS, Sloan Fellow, and SDM students. I didn’t know — and wouldn’t know until mid-October — who would be on my team, what client we’d be working for, and what strategic project would be absorbing our brainpower until January.

As the stars would have it, Silvana Lopez, Jarbas Pinheiro, Shuichi Maeda and I would be spending IAP at the west elm headquarters in Brooklyn and a handful of recycling facilities and retail stores around the tri-state area.

The beginning of the end (of our on-site final presentation)

The beginning of the end (of our on-site final presentation)

I could go on and explain the final recommendations we presented to our client, but the more interesting part of the L-Lab experience comes from the time off the clock. It’s a little like the beginning of a stand up segment or a riddle:
 “What do you get when you take a Colombian lawyer, a Japanese beer brewer, a Brazilian dad, and an American writer and have them spend 3 weeks together in New York winter with most of their waking hours confined in an ubermodern office that looks like a furniture catalog?”

  • Face-numbingly cold morning commutes to the office
  • Really well-executed choices of Japanese restaurants for team dinners
  • Plenty of frustration with not being able to completely solve our client’s problems, offset by…
  • Plenty of humor and the occasional episode of Shark Tank
  • And so on.
Evidence of team culture: the writing on the wall from favorite team quotes to L-lab “awards”

Evidence of team culture: the writing on the wall from favorite team quotes to L-lab “awards”

Returning to the beginning of this post, the questions of where I was over break and what I was doing for L-Lab are the easy questions to answer. The harder one, but the more valuable and interesting one, is “What did I learn?” — aside from the logistical complexities of shipping and recycling furniture.

In a line, I don’t think I spent Action Learning “learning” so much as “un-learning.” Everything I know and believed about leadership, teamwork, and myself was questioned during the L-Lab course and then completely thrown out the window over the past three weeks:

I learned how the best leaders aren’t always the ones who move things forward, and that being a good follower can be a form of leadership in itself.

I learned what it was like to feel balance on a team in terms of how and when work gets done, and that I could really take a lunch break as a break.

I learned that even when I’m not the most experienced person in the room, I can still contribute value to a team — even if it’s just being the resource of embarrassing dating stories.

Coming into January, I had three personal goals:

  1. Attempt to make lasting, sustainability-oriented change on an organization with deeply entrenched ways of thinking about and doing business.
  2. Remain open-minded to client changes in scope.
  3. Work productively, peaceably, and patiently in a team with absolutely no overlap in age, background, culture, or general experience.

Concluding this experience, where I stand on these goals:

  1. Hard to say.
  2. Did my best
  3. Didn’t kill anyone!

But in all seriousness on the third one: completely and totally achieved.

The (Nearly-Frozen) Fantastic Foursom

The (Nearly-Frozen) Fantastic Foursom

Originally published at on January 20, 2016.

Outsider on the Inside

Business school is a place where a handful of successful people in their twenties and thirties are handpicked by the Admissions Gods to receive a free pass to acting ten years younger for two years.

It makes sense. Take people who’ve spent the last few years of their lives hacking it at the office, put them back in a classroom, and they’ll start acting in a way that feel familiar to them: the way they did back when taking notes and drinking cheap beer was their only certainty for tomorrow.*

When lunch hour rolls around, I find myself back in high school, an outsider again scanning the room in search of empty seats. While the groups change somewhat based on special lunch talks, ad hoc group meetings, and company presentations, there are definite cliques in business school. Even though I feel I could sit pretty much anywhere in E62 Cafe, I could easily draw a ‘Mean Girls’-style map of the natural groups and seating patterns in the school lunchroom.

There are many more groups than these, and these types of groups are by no means unique to Sloan, but to call out a few: the first years still adjusting to school and stressed about core classes and cover letters; the partygoers who mysteriously manage on minimal sleep and make unfairly intelligent remarks in class; the international students bound by a shared culture, region of origin or language spoken; the inevitable and impenetrable “Bro” cohort.

In business school, as in high school, it’s tempting to follow the herd in order to feel a sense of belonging: to stay out one more hour and down one more drink even when your body is desperate for sleep and sobriety. To sign up for that class or go on that trip that’s supposed to be “amazing” but doesn’t really interest you. To drop your resume or go so far as to accept a job out of the collective pressure to get hired somewhere, anywhere, “it’s only for a few years!” To give into the fear of missing out and the fear that you’ll end up with nothing to show for your education save for a few good stories and empty pockets.

I’m guilty of doing or considering doing all of the above.

Despite the abundance of groups and cliques, and despite having a handful of people I feel close to, I often feel like an outsider. I couldn’t tell you where I “belong,” and to be honest, I’m not sure if I even belong anywhere. The only thing I am sure about is that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

This is what nobody will tell you about business school: even with all the fun, it’s two years of feeling adrift: academically, professionally, and personally. It’s a social crucible that can confuse you to the point of forgetting who you are and why you came here to do — not just school-wise but life-wise. While I’ve found support and solidarity in my peers, I’ve also blindly adopted others’ thoughts and actions as my own and absorbed their ideas of “what’s best for me” even when they’re out of whack with my sense of self.

So to my peers in MBA programs and to those reading who will eventually be in MBA programs: I challenge you to be selfish. I don’t mean stepping on others to get ahead or by willfully hurting people. I mean taking the time to reflect on what you, separate from the words and deeds of others, really want. I mean finding the courage to choose yourself and your priorities, whether that looks like taking a night to yourself to watch Netflix or waiting a few extra months to apply to your dream job instead of someone else’s dream job. I mean not apologizing for who you are and what you want.

The people in business school are remarkable and it’s true, you should seize every opportunity in your two years of enrollment. But you don’t have to be friends with everyone — you don’t even have to like everyone. For whatever it’s worth, remember you’re a MBA student for only two years. You’re you for the rest of your life.

And for whatever it’s worth, if you’ve ever felt like you just didn’t fit in here, you were never alone.

The outsider on the inside,


*The main differences now? The notes live on computers, and the beer doesn’t come as cheaply: the money for it comes directly out of your own bank account and the hangovers don’t go away as quickly

Originally published at on December 17, 2015.

The Business School “Balance Sheet”

Speaking as a MBA with plans to enter the retail industry after graduation, I couldn’t help but spend my Thanksgiving break thinking deeply about shopping. I’m a notorious bargain-hunter and well before business school was constantly fascinated by why and how people buy what they buy, and by the manifold tactics retailers and brands use to turn closed minds into open wallets. If you’ve done your job well as a consumer, be it on Black Friday or any given shopping day, you leave the store with some degree of confidence in what you’ve bought, what it’ll do for you, and the price you paid for it.

I’d argue shopping for business schools is much the same as any shopping experience. You reflect on the things you want from your MBA experience and your post-MBA life and you seek the places you believe will give them to you. You learn as much as you can where you can by perusing websites, visiting campuses, sitting in on classes, looking at job placements, and talking to students and alumni. Eventually you decide on the schools for which you’ll risk the money, time, and energy to go from “prospective candidate” to “admitted student.” Once you’ve gotten in, you undergo another round of research before deciding on the school that will have the privilege of transforming you from “admitted student” to “1st-year MBA” and your bank account from “healthy” to “hemorrhaging” on account of the typical and atypical expenses of student life: Tuition? Paid, of course. Impromptu trip to Turkey? Not taken. MBA trip to the British Virgin Islands? To be determined.

Sometimes, I experience buyer’s remorse about doing my MBA. I think, “When you’re paying for medical school, you’re ultimately paying to become a doctor. When you’re paying for law school, you’re ultimately paying to become a lawyer. When I’m paying for business school, what am I ultimately paying to become? For all the classes in accounting and financial analysis I’ve taken here, how do I put this education on a balance sheet and assign a value to the MBA, especially when many of the people in my prospective field don’t have one? Was this opportunity worth the opportunity cost?”

It’s problematic being a bargain-hunter and going to a business school that is particularly obsessed with numbers and data when there are so many parts of the MBA experience that are near-impossible to quantify: the teachers who irrevocably changed the way you see the world; the internship that broadened your lens of possibility and changed the course of your career as you knew it; the classmates who could be your cofounders tomorrow or ten years from now; the privilege of collaborating and making memories with diverse people from all over the world, all over the world. Can you really put a price on something like this, especially when what people want and expect from their MBA experience can vary so much from person to person?

If anyone can find the optimal price for the MBA, it’s someone at MIT Sloan, but I’m not sure the value of an experience like this can be completely measured — at least not in the same way that I can measure the value the snow boots I just bought to survive my next winter in Boston.

But if my quantitative classes have taught me nothing else in business school, the reality of the situation is this:

  • By now, all but one semester of my MBA costs are now sunk
  • My post-graduation decision tree of opportunities is larger for me now than it was when I came here
  • The intangible assets are hard to measure but account for everything that’s worth it about being in business school
  • While I can’t wear my education the way I can a new pair of snowboots, I have to have faith that this investment in myself has a positive net present value.

Originally published at on November 28, 2015.

Testing Your Parachute: Reflections on Teamwork in Business School

Ask students in top MBA programs across the country and they’ll tell you there’s no shortage of teamwork in business school. Working on teams for courses is so common that it should cease to be a selling point for any given institution. And it’s with good reason that MBA programs, despite their diverse requirements and teaching styles, unilaterally emphasize teamwork — no great business is built alone. Adapting the words of my favorite author, I most admire the leaders who “jump off the cliff and build their wings on the way down,” and somehow manage to get others to go jump off that cliff with them. Whether jumping out of a plane or into a new market, the best leaders are those who can appreciate the value of teams and leverage their power.

Though almost every business school program has a teamwork component in its curriculum, one of the things that attracted me most to MIT Sloan was the focus on group projects from the very first semester. You’re assigned into a core team of 6 or 7 and have problem sets and reports you hand in with all your names on it. The biggest test during the fall semester of first year for many core teams is a research project for the Organizational Processes (OP) class notoriously due the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Speaking from my own experience, last year the Pacific Petrels were generally “on top of it” throughout the semester: we were organized and fairly timely when it came to researching and conducting interviews at the lunch delivery company we had selected for the OP project. Still, for half of our team, more time was spent writing about the organizational politics of delivering turkey sandwiches — at least more than we would have liked — than on eating turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving. Better teaming could have prevented this situation.

That experience didn’t stop me from working in teams at Sloan. More traditionally, I’ve worked on team projects for classes and on marketing teams for at least two conferences at MIT. Less conventionally, I’ve worked on a team to produce a MBA production of Julius Caesar and — because this is MIT — on a team that used masking tape and corrugated cardboard to make a bridge, the stability of which we then proceeded to test by driving over it with golf carts. Again, because this is MIT. Even less conventionally, I just started a podcast with a classmate of mine, Lily Chen (MBA 2016) on MBA students with nontraditional backgrounds and unconventional ambitions after business school.

If you saw me interview for MBA programs and internships the past two years, when someone asked, “Tell me about a time when you worked in a team,” you’d have seen me struggle in coming up with answers. Not so anymore. If you watched me answer that question now you might witness the peculiar sight of me asking my interviewer to “be more specific.” That’s because in this past year, I’ve worked with more teams than I can count and more diverse teams than I can describe in the scope of one blog post: startup teams and corporate teams, big teams and small teams, international teams and domestic teams, old teams and young teams, male teams and female teams, and so on.

Working on many teams doesn’t mean that working on teams and with teams is easy. Far from it. Especially for me. In my work experience prior to MIT, I didn’t work often with other people, and in the few cases where I did, working with them affirmed my heavily-ingrained mentality of “if I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done.” My self-motivation and self-starting spirit have served me so far and surely will continue to do so in my career. But in the past, it often came at the cost of tremendous stress and alienated me from others and the good ideas and ways of doing things that I could have learned from them.

One of my greatest personal challenges at Sloan so far has been learning not just to trust others but really to go one step further and rely on them. When I start working on teams now, more than ever before I’m transparent and blunt about my shortcomings (over-bluntness being one of them). I trust them both to accept me as I am, with all my moments of control-freaking and impatience, and to put my growth in their hands. Appreciating the failure of self-centered work has opened me up to the wisdom of others. It’s what Prof. Otto Scharmer here at Sloan might call the movement from “ego-system to eco-system.”

Interpreting the learnings from my Sloan experience so far: you can’t feel your team help you until you take the risk of letting them help you. Or, as I prefer to illustrate it, you can’t really test the parachute if you never jump out of the plane.

Originally published at on October 19, 2015.

“Building on that”: MBA Life in 2nd Year and Notes to my 1st-Year Self

Coming back for your second year of business school is a lot like being a senior in high school. Especially at MIT, where the majority of students in Course 15 are here for one-year programs, being a second-year MBA can make you feel like “Big Kid” on campus. Returning from a summer away, your step has every reason to be springy. You’re joyful at seeing your friends again after what feels like forever ago even though it was only three months. You’re giddy with the freedom to pick whatever classes you want. And unless you were out in San Francisco working in anything other than technology, you’re high on the feeling of a slightly fuller wallet after a summer working again.

If you were a terminal outsider in high school, as I was, you’re a little bit thrilled by the taste of something resembling popularity. That extra year of knowledge and experience (or in my case, of messing up and getting back up) goes a long way under the Dome, transforming you from the academic equivalent of the awkward freshman with braces into the breathlessly cool Varsity jock. You go from being the person seeking advice to becoming the source of it. How to get through Class X. Why to sign up for club Y. Whether to explore roles in industry Z. All this simply by being one year “older” and wiser.

There’s a little bit of the Spiderman complex at play: “With great power comes great responsibility.” People are hungry for information and those 12 months put you in the position where others just starting out really respect your insight and trust your opinion. I’m a huge proponent of paying it forward and having these types of conversations but it feels uniquely uncomfortable.

Sure, as a second year you come back from a summer away, excited to reconnect with your classmates from your time apart traveling and toiling around the globe. And there’s no question I’ve grown tremendously over the past year and have stories to tell from when my skin was less glowing and smile less gleaming from a summer out west. But when I talk to first-years and others new to Sloan seeking advice, I liken my feeling to the feeling some couples I know had when they decided to have their first baby, the frazzled feeling of, “Are we really cut out for this job?!”

As I said in a club event recently to some first-years, “I hope I made the mistakes so you don’t have to.” Still, the truth is I don’t know what will work for others and can only speak to my own experience. But if I could go back and tell my awkward, braces-bearing “freshman” self at Sloan anything, it would be these:

  1. “The classes you’ll love the most may surprise you.” My best class was the one I thought I’d get the least out of and was a game-changer for the rest of my time at Sloan.
  2. “Find the courage to say ‘no,’ even when you and everyone around you is saying ‘yes.’” It was only when I cut out my extra social and academic obligations and opted out of 80% of the club leadership positions I hurriedly signed up for last fall that I was able to spend my time on one initiative, the Yarn, and really make it my mission here.
  3.  “Your time is gold.” Inspired by the Whole Foods ad campaign, “Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love,” “Treat your time like it belongs to someone you respect.” You wouldn’t want to waste the time of someone smart, busy, motivated, doing the things you want to do — so don’t waste your own. Whether you spend it on the extra hour of sleeping, socializing, or sending emails, make it count.
  4.  “You WILL get a job.” I didn’t believe it then. My second-year self struggles to believe it now. But it’s totally true and the best roles are the ones worth waiting for. Citing a different blog post I wrote months ago, I remain a believer in being open to opportunities but unwilling to settle.

I couldn’t have predicted my last year if I tried, but that’s the beauty of this experience. So until graduation happens and I find myself in “Freshman Year of Real Life,” asking for advice all over again, I’m here to help and here to say that at a certain point, you have to stop asking and let it all unfold. The only thing you can expect is the unexpected.

The good news? You can’t really go wrong.

Originally published at on September 26, 2015.

[Re]-Apply Yourself

After talking to many prospective students in the past year and seeing friends of mine consider Sloan and other business schools as the next step in their career paths, I often think, “Phew, I’m glad that’s all over.” But between this thought and the frequent ask from peers about how to position their applications, I got to thinking–what if I had to apply all over again? Or reapply to earn my place in the Class of 2016 between first year and second year?

So in the spirit of solidarity with this year’s applicant class, reflection on my summer internship, and of new beginnings in a new school year, this is what I’d say in my 500 words. It’s hard to say what Admissions would do with this “re-application” but in speaking authentically, seeking to showcase something that couldn’t be directly interpreted from my resume, I’d hope they’d let me in all over again.


Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer).

Most people come into their first day of work at an entry level ready to input data into spreadsheets or, in my case at a beauty company, fetch coffees for well-/high- heeled executives looking like something out of ‘The Devil Wears Prada.” As things turned out, on my first day on the job, learning to master a “cat eye” would be the least of my challenges: I’d be spending the summer saving an idea from the chopping block.

My manager told me to pick a line off an Excel of abandoned projects for our under-resourced team. Selfishly, I went for the one involving the beauty issue I suffered from the most, figuring if nothing else I’d be able to add a new trick to my regimen within three months. The more I researched, the more I discovered that the problems I faced were not unique to me and that this project could do more for the company than tap into new business — it could solve a problem frustrating millions of women. Motivated by the possibility, I became determined to move this project off the spreadsheet and into stores.

I started by analyzing customer need and exhaustively scoping the competitive landscape, lining up the findings and illuminating the company’s potential financial opportunity for the next five years. But lacking a favorable budget and significant expertise, I knew the strategic analysis wouldn’t be enough: the only way to push this through was by finding partners to support the effort. I aggressively asked my manager for every name of anyone who might care–or at least be curious–about the project. I connected with colleagues from various functions over cold emails and hot coffees, drawing on their diverse experiences and access to data to build my case. I asked their perspective in helping me check the inevitable “blind spots” in my research of things or people I had yet to consider.

Finally, I felt confident that I had found a way to combine everything I had learned from everyone I had met into a cohesive narrative. On the day I assembled the senior stakeholders into the room to present my recommendations and field their questions, I was bringing the insights of at least fifty others along with me.

The coming days were met with emails saying I had “gotten people thinking.” When the time for budgets came, I had changed their minds: my project made it above the line and my team would receive the resources to see it through.

One success was rescuing an idea left for dead. Another, moving the gears of the organizational machine. The biggest success was bringing people together. I started my project with a problem I thought I suffered alone and would have to solve alone. I ended my project leading a tribe, leaving my role assured that the community I had created would champion my work within the company and–assuming no delays on the roadmap–would soon help millions of women feel a little more beautiful.


I’m often asked for advice on how applicants should position themselves to their desired programs, and preface every answer with, “I’m not affiliated with Admissions. I just like writing on the blog and being a resource to others.”

Still, when asked, the best advice I can give is this: Apply yourself. Apply your self. Because being yourself is your best shot at ending up at the place that you belong. Butchering the words of Woody Allen, “You wouldn’t want to be part of a club that wouldn’t want you as a member.”

To all prospectives, I wish you the best of luck in finishing up Round One applications. Wherever your process takes you, I hope you find the place you can call home.

Hoping it’s here with me under the Dome,


My MBA cohort, live from the scene of this summer success story

My MBA cohort, live from the scene of this summer success story

Originally published at on August 31, 2015.

When the Core Pays Off: A Summer Internship Story

When the Core Pays Off: A Summer Internship Story

It’s Sunday morning in San Francisco, where I’m both over halfway through my internship and over halfway through the Philz Coffee menu. It’s no coincidence on the caffeine front, as I’ve been working my way through the company’s divisions over coffee chats with a smorgasbord of staff, week by week, half-hour by half-hour, “Julie’s Ultimate” by “Julie’s Ultimate.”

Four weeks left, all the work is as much to put on a good show in the MBA final presentation session as to align all the relevant stakeholders on this project. While we MBAs all get real projects to work on, unlike the projects of some of my fellow interns, mine isn’t something for which I’ll get to witness the impact while I’m here: my end-of-summer goal is to build the business case to move a line item on my manager’s manager’s spreadsheet off the prioritization chopping block and onto the product roadmap. My one-year goal is to hear from my manager that the timeline slide on my powerpoint was not in vain, that my work this summer gave the product legs and it’s moving into a “crawl phase” to become a real, consumer-facing thing. My two-year dream is to see it move from “crawl” to “walk” to “run”, rolled out in stores, online, and on my phone.

The thing I’ve discovered I like about Product Management at the place where I’m interning this summer is it’s the most actively cross-functional job in the company. I’ve already had to pull together opinions and insights from marketing, operations, merchandising, IT, and at least five other teams spread out across three buildings, and I still have four weeks to go.

It isn’t much compared to what my friends are experiencing at the vast campuses of Big Tech companies, the peerless skyscrapers of financial institutions, or the factories of the world’s industrial monoliths, but for me, hustling from floor to floor for meetings and navigating the complexity of an ever-changing org chart of a fast-growing retailer was a huge change from my past in a one-woman show of entrepreneurship and a self-directed career in case writing.

My bosses and mentors told me before starting Sloan to approach the MBA experience with an open mind: “be a sponge and soak up everything.” I received the same advice for my internship and taken it seriously. Going through the process of asking every major stakeholder for their thoughts, feelings, and reactions on the project I’m working on, I’ve learned more than I anticipated about as much as possible about how greatly culture differs by function, team, and role within the organization.

The question of whether I should come back to this company is an important question, but the equally important and more interesting one is what team I’d want to come back to within it. I’m learning plenty about retail but if there’s anything I’ve been reminded of on a daily basis in the last six weeks, it’s that culture truly matters.

Ask me what class from my MBA has been most valuable so far, I’ll argue — and many alumni will agree — it was the class on organizational form and dynamics. The little things that people sometimes write off as fluff quietly and significantly reveal the personality of every company. When people show up in the office and how on time they are for meetings. The dress code in the office and the layout of the workspace. The length and language of the emails and even their timestamps revealing how people communicate and when they’re getting their work done. What people are drinking about during company happy hours, out of celebration or frustration.

For any prospectives reading, getting “meta,” you can learn a lot about the identity of a business school based on what they call the core class on organizations. At one school, it’s Organizational Behavior. At another, it’s called Leadership in Organizations. Some schools don’t have it in their core, and that says something, too. But at Sloan, operationally-inclined and implementation-ally inclined as we are, we call it Organizational Processes, or “OP”. The school motto “mens et manus,” “mind and hand,” isn’t just Latin on an empty symbol that nobody considers beyond the logo on the T-shirts you buy at the university store. It embodies a whole culture of putting theory into into practice that defines MIT. Taking a step back, it’s easy to witness what I learned in one of our first OP classes and experienced in working at one business school and attending another: schools are organizations, too.

Whether you’re a prospective focused on understanding the differences across MBA programs, a first-year MBA contemplating your possibilities for full-time employment, or casually considering your personal and professional development, I assure you: OP changes everything. OP is everything.

So, applying what I learned last fall onto the job: What will it take for the product I’m working on project this summer to truly happen and succeed?

If I network effectively with the right stakeholders on my case,

If I sell my idea in a style that best suits their interests and styles of communication,

If I tap someone with strong power (both formal and informal) in the organization to champion my case once I’m gone,

And if a hundred things I haven’t even begun to consider “go right,” then maybe this grand project will all happen sooner.

Once my internship ends, it’s likely I’ll return to Cambridge more confused about my career than ever. But there’s one thing about which I have no doubts from the summer: my core semester has officially paid its dividends.

Originally published at on July 26, 2015.

“Diamonds in the Rough”: Hidden Gems of the MIT Sloan Experience

Leaving the Bay State for the Bay Area 3 weeks ago for my internship, it’s easy to feel as if my first year at Sloan was an elaborate dream. The stress and smiles of the core semester, the convoluted ask for informational interviews and coffee dates, the thrill of a rare, well-rested night amid the schoolwork and the socializing.

Did all that really happen?

Since I’ve been out on my stint in San Francisco, it sure doesn’t feel like it. All the more reason it was so great to have the opportunity to connect with a prospective student yesterday afternoon on my way home from work. We quickly got to talking about her decision making process with regard to what she wanted out of business school and whether Sloan would be a place she could get it.

It was a worthwhile moment of realization to see what’s truly been sticking with me from this first year. The specifics of what I learned in the classes? Not so much. Echoing Lakshmi Kannan’s recent, eloquent post on this blog, you can learn about double marginalization or accrual accounting anywhere. Whether it’s at another top program, an open courseware platform, or Wikipedia it doesn’t matter: anyone in a serious MBA program will tell you that the material is a true part but not the true heart of the experience.

My conversation with this prospective student focused on what the main MIT Sloan website and Ambassadors events, for all their merits, couldn’t tell you about the experience here. Here’s what we ended up discussing on our call: my three most influential “hidden gem” memories from the past year, from inside the classroom to out in the wilderness.

1. The Yarn: I’m grateful that there have been not one but two MBA student blog posts speaking to the power of The Yarn this past year. If there’s one thing I want to be known for and to have as my legacy at Sloan, it’s organizing and continuing to grow the Yarn, a student storytelling event inspired by the Moth in which people from across the Sloan community tell true stories about experiences that shaped their lives. I’ve heard about near-death experiences and indescribable hardships, about inspiring moments of hope and stories of incomparable joy. It’s amazing what happens when you can create a safe, welcome space where people can be comfortable to be vulnerable and speak their truth. For an event that lasts a little over an hour and happens only three or four times a semester, it packs a serious punch in terms of seeing the bigger picture of your life and the bearing witness to the wholeness of your peers as people beyond their in-class personas. It’s not to be missed, and if you want to learn more, here’s a link to the YouTube pageof past speakers’ stories, my own among them.

2. Camp Sloan: This is another experience that was a secret game-changer. Much like the Yarn, it doesn’t pack a big time punch when compared to the hours you spend on formal coursework but delivers in the quality of experience within a short period of time. Maybe it’s something in the water in New Hampshire, the beds we sleep in at the lodges, or the air up on the mountains the counselors make the campers hike the morning after a night of bonding. At any rate, these outings crossing all the programs at Sloan from MBA to Sloan Fellow to MSMS really set the stage for you to genuinely connect to your peers. Without the help or convenience of technology, you’re are uncomfortably, unconventionally, and wonderfully compelled to learn about the people around you very quickly and very intensely–for all the coordination required to make the trips go off without a hitch, Camp Sloan barely lasts over 24 hours. Camp Sloan this past year fell around fall midterms and spring finals, and I always got nervous that I wouldn’t finish whatever needed to get be finished before I get on the bus. But Camp Sloan was always worth it, and the thing always got done, even if it didn’t get done perfectly — and that’s ok. Adapting what I’ve heard in speeches by the universally-loved Roberto Rigobon, while I can measure the effort or time it took to do better on the assignment, I can’t measure the impact and the meaning of authentically connecting with classmates over a campfire far away from the E-62 cafe. In the end, people matter more than papers.

3. 15.282: enActing Leadership: I’ll be the first to say that acting and performance are more than within my comfort zone. They’re well within my “joy zone.” I was a comparative literature major in college whose independent work analyzed contemporary significance of classical literary texts and an a cappella singer who missed the thrill of public performance. Leaning toward the humanities, I came to MIT Sloan in order to balance out my skillset with a more technical lineup of electives. As such, signing up for 15.282 was a decision I made in part to offset the quantitative material in my schedule this spring after surviving the core semester. Given my background and interests, I thought I wouldn’t learn too much but would have a good time in enActing leadership. I also had to believe that the kinds of people taking this class were the kinds of people I would want to befriend during my time at Sloan. I’m pleased to say I was both right and wrong about this class in all the right ways: I was challenged in ways I never would have expected and grew more aware of my leadership style throughout the process by studying and performing Julius Caesar and by reflecting on how it relates to my future outside the Forum and in the executive suite. Ask anyone in the class — we all understand why theater companies are called “companies” after the 18 of us had to produce an abridged work of Shakespeare from start to finish, lights, music, lines, and all. Ask anyone who saw the show — we broke a leg or two and knocked ’em dead. And looked great in togas.

Castmates from 15.282: Elana B., MBA ’16, Ali R., MBA ’15, and yours truly

Castmates from 15.282: Elana B., MBA ’16, Ali R., MBA ’15, and yours truly

Those of you reading considering your MBA and MIT Sloan: please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about the website, the above, or anything else on your mind about the admissions process and life at Sloan.

Darling ’15s: congratulations again and wishing you all the best in your endeavors. Stay in touch!

Beautiful ’16s: I wish you continued joy and success throughout your internships and can’t wait to hear about your adventures come September.

Now back to work!

Originally published at on June 25, 2015.

Dusting off Old Dreams: On Being Lucky to Be at Sloan

Heading to my college reunion this weekend and bombarded with Facebook posts about graduations, I was inspired to dive into the Zendell archives and dig up my college application essays, in which I discovered the following rhetorical gems, among others:

“When the phrase ‘self-discovery’ comes to mind, I can’t help but think of nose rings and chunky-heeled boots emblazoned with the British flag”

“I get up and hypnotically follow my mom, equipped with her Barbie-pink fanny pack, as if my pursuit for Italian ices were a quest for the Holy Grail.”

Whether you’re only just seeing the above or you’ve been following my posts over the course of this year, you can tell that I love to write, and it probably doesn’t surprise you that I was a humanities major.

What you probably didn’t know is that I had intended to study electrical engineering for my four years of undergrad. I applied to college with big dreams of changing the world through technology and wrote my personal statement animatedly describing my experience building a metal detector (which at the time I found positively thrilling and which, of course, I submitted to MIT. Apparently I was destined to spend a part of my life “Under the Dome,” but for two years instead of four.) In many ways, I was a poster child for prospective women in engineering. I loved all things STEM, finishing the rigorous math requirements for the engineering program at my college by the end of freshman fall. But I knew I owed it to myself to see what else I could love aside, and by my sophomore fall, I’d traded in physics for Foucault and differential equations for Dostoevsky.

I will never regret my college major: I rank writing my senior thesis among my three proudest accomplishments, starting my own business and getting into Sloan being the other two. But you can imagine that unless you want your Ph.D. in the field, a degree in comparative literature can be a challenge to sell to potential employers, especially when you want a business role and not just a writing gig for businesspeople. Needless to say those big dreams of changing the world through technology were put on the highest shelf, well out of my reach.

In the continued spirit of reflection on college and commencement, I dug around for Michael Lewis’ Baccalaureate speech from my graduation on following your passion and acknowledging the role of luck in success: “Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

When asked by friends, family, and prospective MBAs, “Why Sloan?” the half-joking response I often offer is, “I never wanted anyone to question my ability to do math ever again.” Because despite the past life of chemistry and calculus that preceded the Chinese, no one seemed to believe my analytical skills could go beyond distilling big books into short blurbs. There was only so much I could do to rebrand myself out of a career that was clipping my wings. After doing my research, I decided it was “MBA or bust.”

If the MBA didn’t work out, I didn’t have a clue what I would do, but I’m lucky that I never had to find out.

I’m lucky that Sloan believed in me enough to let me in through these doors. I’m lucky that MIT put the dreams of changing the world through technology not just within reach, but in the palm of my hand. I’m lucky that I get one more year to make the most of what the MIT community has to offer and put it toward realizing those dreams. And if I continue to be lucky, I’ll get the chance to run into Michael Lewis while working in the Bay Area this summer.

Signing off for the semester and sending love to the graduating Class of 2015: Keep dreaming. Stay lucky. I’ll miss you!


Originally published at on May 28, 2015.

Engineering Identity: Reflecting on (Almost) One Year at MIT Sloan

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was in the same shoes of the eager beavers (pun intended) who joined us last weekend as AdMITs to next year’s MBA cohort at MIT Sloan. Spending last Friday night with lovely MBA ’16s and likely ’17s, glasses full of sangria and table full of tapas, it was hard for me not to be taken back to the memories of my own AdMIT weekend. Sloan didn’t have to sell me–among the schools to which I applied, there nowhere else I’d rather have been. So AdMIT weekend for me wasn’t about distinguishing between options but rather an opportunity to get a head start on meeting people in my class.

I remember my dinner at Rendezvous in Central Square, which I spent fascinated by two of my soon-to-be classmates for completely different reasons: one was sipping a coke with Fernet Blanca (apparently a thing they do in Argentina) and casually mentioning going for a 20-mile run the next morning; the other, hailing from Russia, was talking between bites of tapas about his times working for the Mexican government, his tone stoic relative to the drama of the stories he related. I remember the SWIM brunch at the Liberty Hotel, where my sense of self alternated between utterly intimidated and painfully boring as I listened to future classmates describe their lives before Sloan and exciting summer plans they had in the run-up to August. Worn out from the activities the previous two days, too tired to make small talk, I spent my time meditating on the architecture of the venue, a jail-turned-boutique hotel architecture (and one of my all-time favorite places in Boston). The last thing I recall doing is feebly brushing up on my Chinese with a visiting student and a MBA ’15 who also knew Mandarin and who, at the time, terrified me (who is now one my favorite people at Sloan and among the five MBA ’15s students I will miss the most.)

Much like the rest of my first year here at Sloan, the weekend was a whirlwind. And more than the moments above, I remember my feelings from that weekend. In particular, I remember the feeling of self-doubt.

All the people with whom I interacted over that weekend and I had the obvious in common–a desire to earn a MBA to advance their careers and a “yes” from MIT Sloan. This cohort, statistically and artistically engineered by the nebulous AdCom, was to be “my tribe.” Yet the more people I talked to, the more anxious I felt. I wondered how I could ever connect with these people who seemed so different from me. Better educated. More experienced. Better traveled. Older. Wiser. And so on.

I had no idea what AdCom had seen in me. I had no idea how I could possibly contribute to this place. I certainly had no idea what my role would be in this this cast of characters.

Over time, my identities have shifted. In college, I was “the a cappella singer” and “the language kid,” studying 6 different languages, feet traversing no more than 400 meters but mind jumping across at least three continents from class to class. Prior to Sloan, I was both “the gluten-free baker,” “the entrepreneur” and “the China expert.” Long ago, I was the “closeted beauty nerd” whose allowance was strategically allocated across skincare products and makeup brands (a part of myself I’ll get to seriously indulge again at while working at Sephora this summer). Always, I was “the overachiever.”

As for who I am a year later at MIT Sloan? Based on feedback from friends: “The Yarn Organizer.” “The blogger.” One of “the food people.” “The HBS casewriter.” But the thing I’m proudest of my identity here is the part I share with so many others. It’s that I’m here. I’m a Sloanie. And I get to take that part of my identity with me well beyond my two years on this campus.

So snap back to last Friday when I sat near two MBA ’17s who served in the military, reflecting on their AdMIT weekend thus far. One cited the challenge of “learning the lingo,” with which I immediately sympathized, coming to my MBA from a similarly unconventional (but totally different) background. Another mentioned his awe at the “diversity of thought” here was encountering at Sloan after 8 years of service. It seemed they felt what I’d been feeling: that their conversations with their peers left them more confused than reassured about their MBA mission and about what they were bringing to the table–or into the boardroom, more like.

Running on little sleep, my ability to restrain my stream of consciousness from future Sloanies was especially off, and I recall blurting out a whole mess of advice, which may or may not have been helpful. Still what I was going for was communicating something like this: “Don’t forget what you’re feeling and thinking right now. It will be easy to forget when you get so busy here. But don’t. Write everything down now, and while you’re here, reflect as often as you can. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll remember who you were and take pride in who you have become.”

Half-thoughts aside, I smiled thinking about them being in my place this time next year, reflecting on all the ways in which their lives will have changed since this April. And I’m smiling now, thankful for the opportunity to take my own advice here and now on this blog, two weeks away from the end of my own incredible first year.

Originally published at on April 28, 2015.

"There is no box."

While spring break took many of my peers to the Great Wall and Taj Mahal, the beginning of my vacation took me down to Deep Ellum.

Finding myself in a sudden interview for a summer internship two Fridays ago, I was in the home stretch of the second of two conversations with SVPs of Marketing. Finishing up a well-practiced answer to “What words would your teammates use to describe you?”, I took a long sip of my root beer, feeling calm. I was just one question away from the Q&A portion of the interview, and having spent the plane trip to Dallas poring over the company’s 10-K, I felt more than prepared to “seal the deal.”

But just as I was getting comfortable — maybe a little too comfortable — my interviewer pulled a Sharpie from his pocket and palmed a sheet of white paper in front of me: “You have five minutes. I want you to draw me your personal brand. Avoid using words.”

No mock interview at the Career Development Offices could have truly prepared me for what I had just been tasked to do–I may be creative but I’m no artist–but with a little grace under pressure and some quick thinking, I came up with a sketchy collage of images a few moments later. This is what I drew:

Center: A bicycle and stick figure doing yoga, representing the interest in health, wellness, and personal care at the heart of all I do.

In the Corners: The MIT Dome, representing my sense of identity and respect for the nerdy, world-changing spirit of the Institute; a cupcake, symbolizing my entrepreneurial exploits in the food space; a television, illustrating my love of entertainment and marketing; stylized X’s, which I called intersections, demonstrating my desire to stand crossroads of art and science, of the creative and the calculated (Being perfectly honest, I initially drew the X’s to be multiplication signs to show off my quantitative side, but, figuring the rest of the interview did enough to support my math abilities, I called them intersections instead).

Right of Center: After about two minutes into sketching, the page still felt incomplete. Seeing an open space, I had an idea of something to do. Sure, my interviewer told me to not use words, but my favorite saying of all time is “Remember the rules: there are no rules,” and suddenly inspired by Rene Magritte’s Treachery of Images (the painting of a pipe, below which the artist writes “this is not a pipe”) I added five words: “This is not a box.”

While part of me wishes I was off sandboarding in the Sahara or pounding back Pisco Sours in Patagonia with classmates over the break, I’m grateful for having stayed in Boston for most of the past two weeks because it gave me time and space to reflect. And especially as other business schools release their round two decisions, I’ve been able to reflect specifically on how I knew Sloan was right for me.

While it’s fun to speculate, I couldn’t tell you what the folks in admissions saw in me between an awkward (but endearing?) video of me singing Elton John and my essays on case writing and gluten-free baking that made them believe, “Erica should be here.” But I’d like to believe it’s because they believed what I believe: that this is a place that embraces all of me, the whole “personal brand” I drew on that page and so much more.

As I explained to my interviewer: I know myself well enough to know that I don’t fit into a box. I don’t think the way other people think. I don’t solve problems or do things the way you’re “supposed to.” That’s the spirit I bring to my work every day, and at MIT Sloan, I’m surrounded in classes by people who do the same.

I belong here because I don’t belong. I fit in here because I don’t fit in. It’s a carefully-curated environment that lets me be completely and contradictorily myself. It’s what makes MIT Sloan feel precisely like home.

I couldn’t be more grateful to be here, and there’s no place else I’d rather be.

And in case you were wondering, I got the offer.

Originally published at on March 31, 2015.

Beyond Core Competencies: Academic Life Outside the First Semester

Aside from inching closer to springtime in the Boston area, one of the best things about the second semester at MIT Sloan is getting to choose your class schedule. For real, this time. Not just one optional elective–in my case this fall, 15.900 Competitive Strategy– the choosing of which gives you a small sense of academic empowerment but is really the last thing to which you have the energy and brainspace to devote when orienting yourself into b-school life and handling the rigor of the core.

In contrast to the first semester, your remaining semesters at Sloan are a true tabula rasa deal: a blank canvas for you to paint. While I miss seeing my dearest Pacifics every day and working in the steady groove of my Core Team, it’s been wonderful to test out working in different teams, interact with new people–both from across Sloan and across the Institute–and to get on with reaching some of the goals I set for myself here at business school.

Wanting to balance my poet and quant, here’s what’s on my schedule this spring:

1. 15.518: Taxes and Business Strategy: Prof. Michelle Hanlon goes on sabbatical next year and hearing nothing but positive things about her, I set aside my reservations of signing up for a class on taxes and enrolled. While I can’t say I’ve wrapped my head around the half of it, I certainly feel more informed about savings vehicles, compensation, and options than I did a few weeks ago. And it takes a rare professor to keep students awake for something as dry as tax first thing in the morning.

2. 15.281: Advanced Leadership Communication: I liked 15.280, but I adore 15.281. It’s been worth every one of the many points I bid for it. Despite being very comfortable expressing myself through writing, I’m far less comfortable with public speaking–at least in contexts outside of The Yarn and similar storytelling events. Between the challenges of delivering speeches to motivate others and presenting to a hostile audience, I’m hoping I’ll come out of this semester a more confident speaker, or at least one who sways a little bit less from side to side when she speaks. I didn’t have Prof. Ben Shields in the fall, but he’s excellent, and I’m already planning to take his social media class the next time it’s offered.

3. 15.353: Business Analysis Using Financial Statements (BAUFS): I knew I was going to like class with Prof. Christopher Noe when he made a “Dr. No” James Bond joke in his PowerPoint on the first day of BAUFS. More seriously, if there was one skill I wanted to gain out of Sloan, it was getting comfortable with reading financial statements and gleaning insights from them. Taking me leaps and bounds beyond Financial Accounting, this course already has me feeling more confident about reading between the lines and numbers and assessing company performance. And we’re only a third of the way through.

4. 15.761: Introduction to Operations Management: Part of my pitch coming to Sloan was to learn about operations in the food industry, so you can imagine how excited I was to walk into class and hear our first week would involve cases on analyzing the processes for McDonald’s and Burger King and evaluating their operational strategy. From queues at Space Mountain at Disney World to bottlenecks in hospital waiting rooms, there’s no question that everything I learn in Ops will be uberrelevant to my life in and outside of business.

5. 15.810: Marketing Management: I didn’t sign up for any Labs this semester and wanted to get a project-based experience without the logistics of client meetings and the like. I get to have that in Marketing, where my team and I are working on a 5C’s and 4P’s analysis of a local insect-based food company and their strategy moving forward. How do you get people to eat bugs–and get them to be willing to pay to eat bugs? We’ll have the answer for you in two weeks–this class is a H1, so it’s done right before spring break!

6. 15.282: enActing Leadership: Shakespeare and Performance: Last, but certainly not least, I love telling people I’m taking this course at business school. I remain a humanities major at heart and this is the class where I spent my points after Advanced Communication for Leaders. I’m loving every minute of thinking about management through the lens of Shakespeare. Again, I’m not in any labs this semester, but this class might very well be Action Learning at its best: our 18 students will transform into actors as we put on a full-scale production of Julius Caesar at the end of April. Classmates, if you’re reading, we’ll have a ‘save the date’ for you soon, but do get ready: it’s two months until opening night!

My friends here some overlap on courses, but many of them are on totally different adventures with their academic lives this semester, which is a a remarkable thing. I don’t know anyone else with my exact semester schedule, and that makes my MIT Sloan experience truly my MIT Sloan experience. And with a drop of the hashtag #myMITSloan, on a rare Thursday night without a C-function, I’m going to take advantage of something I didn’t get to enjoy too often last semester: an early night’s rest.

Until next time!

Originally published at on February 27, 2015.

January at Sloan: IAP, DIP, and other things MIT

First off, congratulations again to the Round 1 AdMITs: we can’t wait to meet you in February and April! And to the Round 2 applicants who submitted their applications earlier this month: congrats to you, too. You’re one step closer to Sloan!

My favorite photo from IAP: Hanging out with some MBAs at a recruiting event for L’Oreal’s consumer products division in New York City

My favorite photo from IAP: Hanging out with some MBAs at a recruiting event for L’Oreal’s consumer products division in New York City

When asked by friends and family–and more often, prospective students–what MBA students do in January, I echo the locally-famous words of Anna Costello, my accounting professor from the core semester when referring to just about everything in business: “It depends.”

The short answer, though, is that here at Sloan, two acronyms define our January: IAP and DIP.

IAP, or the Independent Activities Period, is the official name for MIT’s January term. During this time you’ll find Sloanies doing some combination of working, traveling, and recruiting–often simultaneously.

For those who already miss being outside of the classroom, there are plenty of course offerings during IAP across the Institute, from more structured modules to casual film screenings. A member of my core team, for example, took “Beyonce: Black Feminist Thought in Popular Culture” last week, and another friend of mine took a “Distributed Leadership” seminar.

Many Sloanies do monthlong internships with companies in and outside the Boston metro area. If part of your MIT dream involves getting hands-on work at a startup, IAP is a great time to do it, with many companies at the Trust Center for Entrepreneurship keen on leveraging some business brainpower for the month. In a parallel universe version of this month, you’d have found me studying French, taking the Beyonce class with my core teammate, and interning with the folks at Grove Labs.

A good number of Sloanies can be found traveling around the 50 states and around the world during IAP. Abroad, you’d find 2nd-year MBAs visiting their G-Lab clients and 1st-year Sloanies wrapping up their SEID social enterprise projects all across Latin America and Southeast Asia. Within the States, you’d find many students on club treks visiting different companies–mostly on the West Coast. Earlier this month, the Tech Club was touring Seattle and San Francisco and the Entertainment and Media Club was studio-hopping in Los Angeles. Right now, Healthcare and Retail Clubbers are soaking up sunshine in San Francisco while we in Boston are shoveling snow.

As for DIP? DIP refers to Sloan’s Dedicated Interview Period during which a select group of companies host interviews on campus during the month of January. While much of campus is quiet, the MIT Sloan Career Development Office stays busy, conducting mock interviews with students and entertaining recruiters looking to snag some Sloanie talent for the summer.

Students participating in DIP tend to be those who are recruiting for internships in finance, consulting and big tech, though there are a some retail, healthcare, and industrial companies that interview on campus later in the month. For the first two weeks of January, in particular, study rooms of E62 teem with Sloanies poring over case preparation materials and practicing their responses to the old standby of, “Tell me about yourself,” and more challenging behavioral questions like, “Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it.” At times, interview prep was as exhausting as my standard coursework, which meant indulging in a proportional number of study breaks to balance things out.

My favorite IAP study break: making homemade cereal from scratch!

My favorite IAP study break: making homemade cereal from scratch!

I’ve been fortunate that for me, DIP and IAP weren’t mutually exclusive: I was able to interview a little bit and travel a little bit. Even as my summer plans remain uncertain, I’m grateful for a January that has taken me to California and New York for both business and pleasure, and–weather permitting–will take me to Colorado before the month is through.

Pending further flight delays, tomorrow I’ll be heading on my first big trip since coming to business school, the annual “Breck Trek,” where over 200 Sloanies will be ringing in the new semester slopeside with a healthy dose of skiing, snowboarding, and socializing.

In short: January at MIT Sloan can be many things. Boring isn’t one of them.

Originally published at on January 28, 2015.

My MBA experience so far: I thought I knew. I had no idea.

Turn back the clock to last November when my interviewer asked what I want to do during and after my time at Sloan. Before I begin to answer with lglowing descriptions of the well-researched ways I’d contribute to the MIT community in and outside the classroom and in the world beyond Sloan, he adds: “Let’s pretend you actually know. Because you really don’t.”

By virtue of my admission, I must have given him a good enough answer. But he was right. I had no idea.

If there’s anyone in the Class of 2015, 2016, (and now 2017!) who should have had a clue about the MBA life, it should have been me. As many of my classmates know and as anyone who does a Google or Linkedin search of my name can discover, in my life before MIT Sloan, I was a Research Associate at Harvard Business School. I wrote case studies and teaching notes to help professors teach the cases I wrote.* I worked as a TA for two semesters, creating slide decks, evaluating student participation, and grading exams. I got lunch in the same cafeteria, worked out in the same gym, and locked my bike on the same racks as the 1800-plus MBAs across the Charles River.

Even if I’d never worked a day at HBS, I’d have had plenty of time to familiarize myself with the conventions of the MBA experience and prepare myself for all the charms and quirks of the b-school life. Between the day I was admitted to Sloan and the first day of orientation, I had eight months to reach out to current students and hear about their experiences. On at least one occasion, I got off at the “Kendall/MIT” T stop, sat in E62, and soaked in the culture that within the year I’d have the pleasure and privilege of calling my own.

Based on what others had told me, I knew that there would be extremely late nights for parties and projects. I knew that my crowd of peers was going to be insanely diverse and accomplished. I knew I was going to struggle when it came to grasping the technical pieces of a business education — and then I was going to struggle more because learning accounting would be the hardest thing for me since learning Mandarin Chinese. And yet no amount of experience, preparation, or knowledge could have made me truly ready or able to expect what was in store for me the past semester.

Four months ago, walking into orientation, I was surrounded by four hundred strangers. Two weeks ago, in the dim Wednesday night lights of the Beacon Hill Pub, I was embraced by many of these no-longer-strangers toasting the end of the Core. And while I’d have to dig up my slides to tell you the balance sheet transaction for retiring a bond, I could tell you the name of just about everyone who was in that bar.

There were times this semester when I felt I just couldn’t do it. I broke down from the stress of solving cases for DMD. I panicked like no other in the run-up to my Communications for Leaders presentations. I felt utterly useless when sitting with my team to go through financials for group cases for Competitive Strategy. The list goes on.

Just a semester in, I can say this program is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Because every time I was willing to be push myself into the notorious “stretch zone” and be uncomfortable, I learned. Because every time I was willing to rely on my peers and ask for help, I was met by incomparable kindness and support. I am beyond grateful to the people in this program for reminding me that I was never in this alone.

As my interviewer said: I thought I knew what this would all be like. I had no idea. And that’s a wonderful thing.

To all these those reading and especially the “beautiful Sloanies” who’ve entered my life this year, I wish you nothing but the best in 2015. Happy new year!


*Because people often want to know, these are the titles of the case studies I wrote. N.B.: You probably haven’t read any of them: “Kunshan, Inc.: The Making of China’s Richest Town”; “Teach For China and the Chinese Nonprofit Sector”; “Wanxiang Group: A Chinese Company’s Global Strategy (B)”; “From Beijing Jeep to ASC Fine Wines: The Story of an American Family Business in China.”

Thanksgiving at MIT Sloan

If you ask me, there’s no better place to indulge in Turkey Day traditions than here in Boston, with Plymouth Rock just a short drive away. The Puritans would be happy to know that nearly 400 years since the they arrived on the Mayflower, wild turkeys still run amok through piles of fallen leaves, winter is still winter, and people are still grateful here in Massachusetts.

Last Wednesday was the First Year MBA Thanksgiving Dinner, which brought together all the diversity of Sloan over a complete American Thanksgiving meal from cranberry sauce to carved turkey, and from stuffing to Sam Adams. All that was missing was the pre-gluttony mealtime moment where people share something they’re grateful for — and I was determined to bring that to the table, so to speak.

It’s challenging to get 400 or so students to sit at one table and have everyone say what they’re thankful for, especially with “free” food lying before them. But because this is MIT, because this is business school, and specifically, because this is the MIT Sloan School of Management, in true data-driven fashion, I went around and surveyed a sample of my peers in the Class of 2016. And made them hold up a silly sign, too.

Here’s what a few of them had to say:

David: I am thankful that Sloan has opened my mind to envision my future in places and careers I had never imagined.
 Rosie: I am thankful for the opportunity to attend Sloan.
 Blair: I am thankful for the opportunity to help others…and pumpkin pie.
 Anders: I am thankful for AMERICA!
 Jean-Pierre: I am thankful for meeting an insane, incredible and intelligent group of people at Sloan who, within three months, I’m already sure will be lifelong friends.
 Juan-Pablo: I’m still thinking!
 Lakshmi: I am thankful for all the people who have encouraged, supported, and mentored me over the years. I am grateful to be in a place where I can bring my whole self in.
 Michelle: I am thankful for my family, my new Sloan friends, and my winter coat!
 Alaina: I am thankful for having the opportunity to learn from such a diverse group of classmates in a very supportive atmosphere.
 Laide: I am thankful for the amazing folks I’ve met so far and the insane amount of experiences I’ve been exposed to–mainly due to FOMO!!!

As for me, I’m grateful to share stories about my new family here at Sloan with my other family and loved ones back at home in New Jersey.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Originally published at on November 24, 2014.