Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer Retrospective Part I: The Summer Team

As promised, the following is the first in a series of posts about my first LGO summer. Before going any further, I want to point out that a few of my classmates -- Annie, Limor, and Paul -- have already done a nice job summarizing their summers, so please check those out before reading on.

This first look back on my summer will focus on the summer team experience. At MIT, as in many MBA programs, group work is not only encouraged but is often required. To avoid those uncomfortable moments that accompany student-selected groups (you know, when the people sitting around you all buddy-up with the classmates on their other side, leaving you in a group by yourself -- does this happen to anyone else?), MIT assigns the teams for us. As I mentioned in my previous post, the team assignments are made in such a way as to maximize diversity, the theory being that we will learn more from our classmates as a result. However, in "diversifying" these teams, the school has available a limited amount of information about us (from our application materials, I assume), meaning that a team could consist of six people from different countries (something they would know from our applications) who are all allergic to peanuts (something probably not on an application, though I guess it could have been brought up in the Sloan cover letter: "My experience with peanut allergies has made me an ideal candidate for your school..."). More realistically, there could be unforeseen personality clashes among the group members. This has the potential to result in tension among group members, which could obviously adversely affect a student's experience in the program. These things are inevitable, and they happen every year. On that note, let me talk more specifically about my team.

Before meeting my new LGO teammates, I was a bit nervous about my future group experience for a few reasons:
  1. I tend to be quiet in group settings. This is exacerbated when I am in a group with at least one dominant (loud, bossy, overbearing, opinionated) member or when uncomfortable (due to unfriendly, disrespectful, tactless people).
  2. I am extremely non-confrontational, so tensions within my group, especially when they are at the surface, would be a nightmare.
  3. I am afraid of looking or sounding stupid (however, this was unavoidable, since I was starting a program in which most of the material would be completely new to me)
With these fears in mind, I was assigned to Team 8, a name that we nerdily changed to Team Infinity (as in an '8' on its side -- get it?). We were certainly a diverse group -- of the six members, there were five guys, two international students, five engineers (I was the sole non-engineer), one sponsored student, one married student (me), one person born during the Carter administration (me -- by 15 days), and, fortunately, six likable, polite, understanding, motivated people. Thanks to these characteristics, we got along extremely well (maybe we were all hiding our true feelings inside), and, likely as a result, performed quite well on our assignments. Interestingly, one of the things that initially seemed like it could be a hindrance to our team's success -- the fact that we had two non-native English speakers -- turned out to be one of the things that brought us closer together. For instance, we all learned the material better by helping interpret some of the difficult English terms for our international teammates, and we bonded and laughed over all of our cultural idiosyncrasies and misunderstood phrases. It was an eye-opening experience for me, as I hope it was for the rest of my team. We have had it repeated to us innumerable times already, and I am beginning to think there's some truth to the business school promise that we will learn at least as much from our classmates as we will from our professors.

Next time: I will write about the classes and teaching methods we were exposed to over the summer.

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