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.