Wednesday, December 29, 2010

End of Year Reflections

Here we stand at the end of 2010, already 3/5 of the way through the MMS program. Recently, I've gotten a few e-mails with general questions such as "How do you like the program?" Although I hope my discrete and spontaneously written posts below address this question in bits and pieces, I thought it would be helpful to take a step back and write a quick general reflection of my experience thus far.

But first, some good news! As an update to my latest post, we actually have had quite a few students receive job offers in late November and early December. At this point, students have gotten offers from IBM, LEK, Credit Suisse, Capital One, Cisco, Apple, and BoA Merril Lynch, along with several smaller companies. Moreover, many students have secured "winternships" over our month-long winter break, opportunities that will help with the job search next spring.

Even more exciting - Duke's MMS program has recently been ranked third in the world (first in the US) among masters in management programs! The ranking comes from a website dedicated to these types of programs. Also, employment stats have been updated and released for the inaugural MMS Class of 2010, complete with salary information. Look out for more information in the "helpful links" section on the right side of the page.

Back to the main topic - a personal reflection of my experience with the MMS program. Much of this will be a rehash of what I've already written, but I hope that some of you looking for a brief summary will find it useful:

I came into this program knowing precisely what I wanted to be doing next year - namely, management consulting in San Francisco (where my girlfriend lives). I was willing to make compromises if need be, but luckily that won't be necessary: I'll be working for Accenture next year out of the SF office. While I hesitate to call this my "dream job" because I don't think I have a "dream job" at this point in my life, Accenture is perfect for what I want to do in the next several years. That being said, a masters in management degree is not a prerequisite for getting a job at Accenture, and I would be wasting my money (or rather, future income) if the sole benefit I gained from this program was a good job. This brings me to my next point:

Personal Growth and Job-Seeking Skills
I touched on this in a previous post, but I can't emphasize enough how much this program has helped me grow from a clueless college kid into someone more confident, focused, and overall quite adept at the job search process. Last year I half-assed the job search and just sort of expected that with good grades and decent interpersonal skills, I could just send my resume out to a bunch of companies and something good would turn up; besides, I had a decent job in advertising that I could fall back on from an internship after my junior year. The economy slapped me in the face, and during my last semester, I came to the realization that I would have to take some initiative if I wanted to find meaningful employment that really fit my interests and career goals. By taking a chance on the MMS program, I not only increased my attractiveness as a candidate but also had the opportunity to grow professionally and learn life skills that will be invaluable for the rest of my career. I improved greatly in public speaking, resume and cover letter writing, and interviewing techniques, but most of all I learned how to network, definitely the most important skill one can have when developing a career. As opposed to undergrad where resources exist but have to be sought out to help with these skills, the MMS program brings the resources straight to us. With classes in business communications, numerous job search skill workshops, mandatory career counselor appointments, and the support of the MMS faculty and staff, it's really hard to slip through the cracks. While my development has largely been due to personal motivation, the MMS program has been the catalyst.

Business Acumen
In undergrad, there's a maxim that goes something like: "Your education is not meant to teach you specific knowledge, but rather to teach you how to think!" This concept has been a great way for me to rationalize my time spent learning economics, despite the fact that I can no longer explain the Solow Growth Model, much less tell you the best way to fix the economy (a question I get asked all the time from relatives and pesky strangers on airplanes alike). Fortunately, Fuqua does not have to rely on this saying to justify its curriculum, for we do indeed learn specific skills that will be directly applicable to our future jobs. Many courses employ the case method, which uses real business scenarios (in the form of case packets, typically from HBS) to illustrate academic concepts, quite refreshing for those tired of learning theories that rely so much on "assumptions" that they lose validity in real business decisions. Despite having 50-student classes, the classroom feels intimate and a lot of discussion takes place; sometimes an entire class will be pure discussion of a case. Furthermore, our professors are very accessible, with some serving multiple roles within the MMS program. We also acquire at least some degree of technical skills through the use of Powerpoint for presentations and Excel for decision modeling, resulting in more than just increased intellectual horsepower to show for our education.

In addition to classwork, I am working with the Durham Chamber of Commerce throughout the year, will soon begin work on a startup with a Fuqua MBA grad next semester, and will most likely spend next summer interning in Beijing. While none of these opportunities are due directly to the MMS program per se, all of them came about through being a Fuqua student. The MMS program is demanding, but there's still time for extracurricular involvement. I fully expect that my coursework, combined with these congruent extracurricular and work experiences, will allow me to start work at Accenture a step ahead of new undergrad hires.

Class Culture
Though perhaps not a primary reason for spending a year in grad school, it helps to be part of a social culture to keep sane during the hectic combination of demanding classes and recruitment. We spend a lot of our time doing team work throughout the year, and you will get to know your 5-person teams very well. While teamwork has been a point of frustration for some, I think it's a great chance to get some experience navigating this aspect of project work before entering the workforce, where most entry level employees will function as part of a team. Group work can also make some otherwise dry work (e.g. accounting) a lot more manageable.

Outside of class, the MMS program is fairly social. While I've been more focused on recruitment and academics this year, I've still found time for nights at Shooters (Duke students' beloved and simultaneously reviled night club in Durham, complete with a cage and mechanical bull) and almost always make it to Fuqua Friday, a weekly pan-Fuqua event with free food and drinks. Through the late nights studying accounting, going to Duke Basketball games, and getting drinks at The Joyce, I've met a cool group of people who appreciate some balance to life. Don't expect quite the same social life as undergrad, but we're still a bunch of 20-somethings who like to have fun and make the whole experience more than just learning and getting a job.

As for the Rest...
Clearly, I've had a great experience with the MMS program, and I hope that potential students will find my postings useful. I was honestly quite borderline in my decision to matriculate, with fears about joining such a new program with a paucity of information available and mostly hearsay to base my decision on. With more than half the program over with, I am absolutely sure I made the right decision: this program has surpassed my expectations, and I will graduate next May as a much more prepared young professional than I was after receiving my BS in Economics 7 months ago.

At the same time, I recognize that this program is not for everyone. I've spoken to potential students who are older (late 20's), international, hold advanced degrees, are married, etc. and their situations are very different from mine. To provide some additional insight, I hope to get a few diverse guest writers next semester to share their experiences. In the meantime, I'm going to try to figure out how to stay motivated in classes with a job already lined up!