Sunday, March 20, 2011

School Sports

Most of my previous posts have focused on the academic side of the LGO program, but to leave it at that would be to describe only part of the LGO experience. LGOs actually have quite a bit going on in the extracurricular world, too. There are clubs, social events, music, sports, and who knows what else. This post will look at just one of these -- the world of the LGO athlete. I'll touch on what I consider to be the four pillars of LGO sports, starting with the most important...
  • Intramural Sports - There is no better way to bond with your classmates (and to find out their true personalities). During the current academic year, the LGO program has had/will have teams or players in at least eight sports: flag football, hockey (more on this in a minute), basketball, softball, water polo, table tennis, real tennis, and volleyball. The existence of most of these LGO teams has been the direct result of one or two overly enthusiastic students (different ones for each sport), who are able to motivate an unsuspecting group of LGOs to play a sport in which they have no experience or skill. Such is the case with this spring's Water Polo team, which I was foolishly tricked into joining by being shown totally cool pictures like the one on the left. There is one sport, though, that has become something of a tradition among the LGO classes: Hockey.

    LGO hockey is one of those "perks" of being in the program you hear about as a prospective student. You are told great tales of epic games between utterly terrible teams, and you think to yourself, "I might not know how to skate yet, but I bet I could be the star of that team." At least, that's what I thought around this time last year. Then, upon lacing up the skates and trying to do something -- anything -- with the puck, you suddenly realize, "I'm actually really bad."

    True to tradition, the LGO '12 team was mostly dreadful at the start of the season. Our two players who had played previously looked like NHL stars skating around with a bunch of 3-year-olds on the ice for the first time. It would take some players about five minutes just to skate to the faceoff circle. It reminded me of watching Bambi try to walk on the ice, legs splaying in all directions. Fortunately, we played our six-game season in the MIT D-League, which should tell you something about the skill level we were up against. As bad as we were, we still managed to win a couple of games and come very close in a few others, including a tie against the LGO '11 team that had annihilated us in our first meeting. It was fun to watch everyone improve, and we left excited for next year and our match-ups with the LGO '13 team.

    [Note: Hockey was not all fun and games. As the picture on the left shows, the learning curve was not without its bumps. This is me, after I fell while practicing and broke my face. I now have some really nice titanium plates and a lot of people who think I'm an ultimate fighter.]

  • Working Out - The LGOs are a generally fit group of people, and we are fortunate to have some great indoor and outdoor options for keeping up our impressive physiques (see water polo picture above for accurate representation of LGO bodies). On campus, there's an older gym and pool relatively close to Sloan, and this is where many of us go to lift or swim. We we are feeling especially enthusiastic, we sometimes venture to the Z-Center on the other side of campus (see picture on right for mostly useless view of the exterior). The Z-Center is where the ice rink, indoor and outdoor tracks, an amazing swimming pool, squash courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, etc. are located. All of these facilities are free to students and are really quite impressive.

    MIT also offers a huge number of phys ed classes and fitness programs for very low prices. I've been thinking of taking the massage class just so I can get a back rub for half of the class time.

    Off-campus there are a bunch of other options. Running along the Charles is extremely popular, and for good reason. The scenery is beautiful, the paths are easy on the legs, and it's right off the MIT campus. Many of my classmates also take short excursions to do indoor and outdoor rock climbing. We're also not too far from great skiing and hiking in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, and kayaking/sailing in the Charles or off the coast is always fun when the weather is nice.

  • The Boston Sports Scene - As a New Yorker, I can't even pretend to root for the Boston sports teams. In fact, I dislike the teams even more after being surrounded by their fans for the past few years. However, I have to admit that this city has a passion for their teams unlike anything I've ever seen, and it is enjoyable to be in that atmosphere. The MIT campus has a great location for local sports fans, as it is within walking distance of the TD Garden, where the Bruins and Celtics play, as well as Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox.

    College sports are also pretty big in Boston (though not really at MIT), and we're right down the road from BU, BC, and Harvard.

  • Fantasy Sports - I couldn't write about the sports in my life without including the ones that aren't real. It might sound strange, but the LGO '12 fantasy football league was actually a great bonding experience for the subset of us that played, and I'm sure it will be a nice way to keep in touch while we're away on our internships next fall.
As busy as we are with school, taking the time to be active, especially when doing it with my classmates, has proved to be some of the most valuable time I've spent during this first year. Expect some short updates this spring as the Softball, Water Polo, Volleyball, and Table Tennis seasons get underway. And no matter how bad we are at any of them, at least they're not on ice!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Back to School

We are now a month into the Spring semester, so it's about time I talk about my classes. Since I never did this for the Fall semester, I'll add on some comments about those classes at the end of the post.

The Spring semester is the only semester that we, as LGOs, have full control over our schedules. For indecisive students, this means weeks of agonizing over possible combinations of classes. It took me about ten iterations of my schedule before I was satisfied (i.e., ran out of time). What I ended up with is six classes, totaling 59 credits. [Note: credits at MIT are different than credits at any other school, as far as I know. They include hours in class, lab, and doing outside-of-class work. So, my 59-credit load means that I should expect to do 59 hours of class-related stuff per week this semester. This is down from last semester's 64 credits.]

This semester, my classes are heavier on the Engineering end than on the Business end. In fact, I'm taking only two classes at Sloan: Finance I and Managerial Accounting. Here's my take on each so far:
  • Finance I: We have the option of taking this or Marketing, and I think that most people take Finance; this is particularly true of the LGOs. Also true is that most people take it during the Fall semester, since Finance II -- the next class in the series -- is a prerequisite for most of the interesting finance classes. As a result, the students taking Finance I this spring tend to be less-than-interested in going any further than they have to in finance. This is good news for us finance newbies, since there likely aren't any finance-whiz curve-busters in the class, as there were during the Fall semester. In terms of class material, Finance I is a lot of basic math and some slightly confusing concepts that get more intuitive once you see them enough. I am a big fan of addition and multiplication, so I think I'll end up liking this class.
  • Managerial Accounting: As the professor said, this class is not designed to make us into accountants, it's designed to help us avoid being made to feel stupid by the accountants we will eventually interact with. This is a class where the concepts are simple and math is even simpler. It seems like my grade for the class will be a function of the number of stupid mistakes I make, which, based on past experience, will be many. The professor is bizarre and hilarious, and he makes the potentially boring material a little less so. I am glad I'm enjoying this class, since we were told multiple times last semester by our Financial Accounting professor how critical the material in this class is for LGO students and anyone else interested in going into operations or general management.
On the engineering side, my classes are all pretty similar. That is, three of them are related to sustainability, while the other is on energy policy. Here are some more details:
  • Industrial Ecology: I had no idea what Industrial Ecology was until about the third class meeting. Turns out, IE is a way of thinking about industry using the frameworks normally applied to ecology. In ecology, one organism's waste is another's fuel; in industry this is rarely the case, and, as a result, we have an inefficient industrial world (lots of useless waste, pollution, emissions, etc.). This class helps us understand how to create processes and products that are more sustainable than the ones that are already out in the world.
  • Energy, Materials, and Manufacturing: This class has a ton of overlap with Industrial Ecology, but is a bit more general in its approach. The bulk of our grade for the class comes from our final project, for which most students perform a Life Cycle Assessment of two products or processes (e.g. using hand towels or a hand drier in the restroom) to compare the relative impacts of each on the environment.
  • Strategic Sourcing: This is a procurement class that normally should have little to do with the previous two classes, except that I was assigned to a project dealing with helping a food company assess the greenhouse gas emissions of their suppliers and products. Fortunately, the material I'm learning in the other two classes will help immensely with this project.
  • Energy Policy for a Sustainable Future: Probably (and unexpectedly) my favorite class of the semester so far. It's a small class, where we have a ton of great speakers who work on local, state, or national energy policy. The material is all new to me, while many of the other students have worked in policy previously, so I feel somewhat disadvantaged, but it's also helping me learn more quickly.
All in all, I'm satisfied with my course selections this semester. I've left myself with a hole to dig out of next semester in terms of my business school class requirements, but I will also have completely met my engineering course requirements by the end of this semester, so I should have a fairly normal course load next semester.

Now, as promised earlier, I'll quickly write about my Fall semester courses, most of which were required as part of the MBA first-year curriculum. Those required classes were:

  • Communication for Managers: One of the two "soft" classes of the Fall. A lot of the analytical-minded students despise classes like this, but I actually enjoyed it. It gave me many opportunities to practice doing something I normally hate doing -- talking in front of a large group of really smart people -- and forced me to get comfortable in those situations. There were some useful writing exercises that I found beneficial, as well.
  • Organizational Processes: The other "soft" class. The material was very similar to the things I had learned in an undergraduate Social Psychology class I took many years ago, but with a business-oriented spin on it. Most of the workload for the course was in our consulting project we did in our groups with a local company of our choosing. The projects allowed us to assess a change or initiative at the company using the three organizational "lenses" we were taught in class. It was a rewarding experience for my team, and I think many other teams felt similarly.
  • Financial Accounting: My favorite class of the semester. The material wasn't exactly riveting, but the professor was great and kept us all awake with his frequent cold-calls. I think I got cold-called every class for a period of about five weeks, until I finally pre-empted the calls by actually raising my hand (I guess that was the professor's goal). The class gave us experience reading financial statements and interpreting the information inside, something I had absolutely no experience doing before this.
  • Economic Analysis for Decision Making: This class, also known as Microeconomics, had a lot of potential because of its interesting material, but the professor was young and inexperienced, and he wasn't able to convey things as clearly as we needed him to. Many of my classmates ended up hating the class, but I guess my stupid optimism allowed me to see past the professor's flaws and enjoy the material.
I also took two elective engineering courses:
  • Sustainable Energy: A great class that covered just about every basic topic within the field of sustainable (and unsustainable) energy. The best part was that the professor didn't try to teach all of the material himself. Instead, he deferred to MIT's many experts in the various fields we covered. We heard from MIT's solar guy, wind gal, energy storage guru, etc. It was the perfect class for someone like me who is interested in energy but didn't have a lot of the necessary background knowledge. It was not good for anyone looking for a class on advanced energy topics, including one of my LGO classmates.
  • Modeling of Electric Power Systems: As you might guess from its name, this was my hardest class of the semester. We used an unfamiliar (to me) programming language to build optimization models to simulate electricity generation and distribution decisions at various time scales. I learned a ton about the electric grid, but I was in the class with a bunch of Ph.D. students who are writing their dissertations on this stuff, so I was the dumb kid in the class. I get the impression that this happens to almost all LGOs at some point during their time at MIT; I was just hoping that I'd make it through my two years without having this experience.
That's it for this post. In upcoming posts I'll cover the LGO sports scene and admitted student decision-time.