Sunday, November 7, 2010

Summer Retrospective Part II: The Classes

It's been months since the summer session ended, but I promised a second post about the LGO summer experience, and this is it. I'll follow up this post with something more relevant, probably related to the application process, so stay tuned...

How can you tell you're talking to an extroverted engineer?

He's looking at your shoes instead of his own.

You can get a lot of information about business schools from the internet, but one thing that can remain a mystery until you're actually at school is the classroom experience. Personally, I had heard many phrases about business school classes thrown around, such "case method," "participation points," "classroom discussion," "cold call," "Socratic method," and various other things that would make any antisocial introvert (like me) visibly shake. I had managed to avoid classes with these descriptors my entire life, despite attending a liberal arts college, and now I'd have no choice but to face them head-on.

Before I scare anyone off, let me assure you that MIT Sloan actually uses a hybrid approach for its classroom structure. Some sessions are solely lecture-based, while others are completely centered around a case discussion, and then balance consists of a lecture / audience participation mix. I believe this balanced system has prevented the ulcer that's likely forming due to fear of cold calls from getting too large. Also, as I'll describe in a later post about the Fall semester, our Engineering classes are mostly in the classic lecture format.

With that, I'll now break down the summer courses from my perspective. (Limor has also summarized the nuts and bolts of the summer classes in an earlier post:

Operations Management
A generally great class. I thought the professor ran an extremely efficient classroom, meaning that we covered a lot of material during each class but not in an overwhelming way. He also ran case discussions in a non-threatening way. Even I felt comfortable volunteering to speak during all the discussions, and that's saying something.
Highlight: Factory simulation exercises (group competitions to run the most profitable factory given simulated supply and demand).

Systems Optimization
For me, this was the most challenging class, both in and out of the classroom. The professor, who was younger than me(!) and intimidatingly smart (he created the highest-scoring computer simulated Tetris program in the world), liked to flex his brain during class. He occasionally shot down stupid questions and engaged in intellectual battles with anyone who dared challenge him (naturally, he always won). Sometimes, when he asked a question that no one could answer, he would allow us to chat about it for five minutes with the people around us. During these discussions, my neighbor would usually say something like, "I'm going to business school so I don't have to be the one to solve these types of problems." With that said, the material was actually really interesting to me. We were learning how to create and solve useful optimization problems, and then we got to apply them to a real-world scenario of our choosing during our term project. [My team designed a program to help my wife assign students to rooms for the 5th-grade camping trip at her elementary school, which had been a pain for her to do manually because of the many constraints and requests by students and parents.]
Highlight: The team project presentations, which were all impressive and in some cases hilarious.

Probability and Statistics
This was far and away the most boring class of the summer. Sadly, I like this stuff, so I didn't mind sitting through the lectures, but many of my classmates did not feel the same way. The most useful part of the course for me was the section on Design of Experiments, something I had never fully understood before. We applied this material to a paper helicopter design and then had a class-wide drop-off from the third-floor landing in the building stairwell. Teams were ranked based on drop time and distance from a target, and the team with the best total ranking won. My team placed third and had a fantastic time building and testing our designs. In fact, this project probably helped my team form a stronger bond than almost any other activity during the summer.
Highlight: The helicopter drop-off. (See video below for a grainy look at one of our unsuccessful drops.)

High Velocity Organizations
An interesting class about the common characteristics (from an operations perspective) of some of the most successful companies in the world. We spent a lot of time talking about Toyota, a favorite topic of the professor. Our major assignments for the semester included interviewing a "front-line worker" (someone who creates the actual good or provides the service at a company) and a project in which we analyzed a business process from our past experience using the tools we learned in class.
Lowlight: Coming up blank during my first career cold call. So embarrassing.

This a "bookend" class for the LGO program, as we get to experience it during the first summer and final spring. During the summer, we were exposed to different ways of thinking about leadership and various leadership styles. The point, to me at least, was to think about our own leadership styles, what we do well and what we don't, and develop a plan for our time in school so that we re-enter the workplace as prepared for leadership roles as we can be. The LGO program puts major emphasis on leadership, and this class was the first of many to get us to think introspectively about it.
Highlight: End-of-summer team interpretive artwork and presentations.

In summary, it was a great summer of bonding with new classmates and adjusting to the MIT environment in a comfortable atmosphere.

Next post: The LGO application -- words of wisdom from current students.

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