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.

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