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Monday, August 29, 2005

Not quite sure how I managed that 

Just got an e-mail to say that I succeeded in placing into the 'fast' financial accounting course (it's only one quarter long, rahter than an entire semester). I hadn't been entirely convinced by my performance in the exam, so this is a bit of a surprise, although a very nice one. And, as I type, the e-mail letting me know that I passed (solidly) the maths retake has arrived. So the only outstanding result is the marketing waiver exam. We were told that 'he' can be a bit slow at marking them, so I'm not holding my breath, although hopefully there'll be a decision of some sort before a week on Wednesday, which is when we have the first class.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pre-term almost over 

Exams are done (not sure how accounting went, but I'm pretty sure I nailed marketing) and tomorrow is the last pre-term class (Stats at 8am). The rest of the week consists of two days in the Catskills for the learning team retreat, then back to Philly for a diversity workshop, and then it's the holiday weekend.

From an academic point of view, pre-term is very much about getting people to where they need to be for the start of 'term-proper'. Math camp and the math exam are about making sure that we're are equipped for the math we need to do in quantatative core courses. We also have courses in Managerial Economics (known as Mgec - pronounced as 'magic'), Financial Accounting, and Statistics, which are three of the six courses that make up the first-half of the fall semester. Depending on previous exposure to the subjects, we have the choice of doing the introductory course, which assumes no prior knowledge, or a more advanced course which serves as preparation for the waiver exam (accounting offers a mid-level course as preparation for the exam to place into the faster half-semester accounting course). I've enjoyed getting back into classroom learning. The frustration of struggling to understand concpets has been more than paid off by the satisfaction of understaning something and that 'aha!' moment when it clicks. I've found the effectiveness of the teaching a bit mixed, but I think that is at least partly due to the nature of pre-term classes, and fortunately the professor I've liked the most is the one who'll be continuing to teach us next semester.

But pre-term is about much more than formal academics. There've been a whole host of optional activities, ranging from faculty lecturing on their areas of interest, to careers focussed events, to purely social activities. A particular highlight for me was a session on high performance leadership, which is something that I'm really interested in and want to see how I can explore further during my time here. And who could forget the revelation in a 'Time Management for Wharton MBA Students' session that MBAs reort the highest level of satisfaction with their sex lives (presumably that's after graduation, because I think the time and the energy for a sex life might be in fairly short supply during the course).

Away from the formally organised activities, there's been a whole load of planned and ad hoc social events. I'm not one for large, loud parties and being out till 3am on a regular basis, but if that's your thing, you can certainly do it. I've enjoyed having dinner with people, or going to the cinema, or just hanging out. I think one of the advantages of the class being so large is that there's always someone else interested in doing what you want to do, and I haven't felt the need to do things I'm not interested in just because that was what 'everyone else' was doing. Other notable aspects have been how friendly an helpful virtually everyone is. There's very much an atmosphere of people wanting to get to know others. And on Wednesday when I was juggling accountancy revision with struggling to complete a Mgec assignement, I had one conversation that started "Can I help, I was an accountant?" then walked round the corner and had another one that began "Can I help, I was an economist?". I know that it's early days and that work pressures, stress and sleep deprivation haven't yet set it, but it is good to be in that kind of atmosphere.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

That's more like it 

Finished the maths retake about an hour ago, and there'll be little excuse if I didn't manage 100%. When I got my graded paper back from the first attempt (in the end they were available from last Thursday) it was pretty clear that there were two major reasons that I didn't pass. 1 - I'd made lsome really, and I mean really, stupid mistakes, and 2- my brain had evidently gone into a bit of a meltdown and I'd just failed to do a lot of stuff right that I knew full well how to do. Looking at the marks Ii'd been given, some hadn't been added up properly and there was one part of a question that I'd got no credit for where I thought I deserved partial credit. Had I been able to succesfully argue my case I might just have scraped a pass, but I didn't want to go down that route. For one thing, I deserved to have failed it, and for another, I was worried that my brain had freaked out so much. I don't usually get paniced by exams, in fact I often quite enjoy them. So I wanted to face the exam again and prove to myself that I wasn't going to panic.

Tomorrow offers a statistics quiz in addition to an exam so that I can try to place into the fast accounting course. I've got a marketing waiver exam on Saturday and some micro economics homework to wrestle with for Friday. I want to blog about some of the other pre-term stuff, especially the non-academics, but that's going to have to wait until the weekend.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

No ego required 

I got together with some people for an economics study group last night. At one point during the evening the conversation turned to feelings about the transition from responsible, emplyed professional to student. Most of us seem to have got past the "why I am I giving up a good job and a steady income to go back to school and accumulate huge debts?" bit. But now we're struggling with "why did I give up doing something that I was very good at and where I was responsible for doing important and difficult things well, to struggle to understand things that I'm sure aren't that complicated really?" The feeling of conscious incompetence certainly stops heads from getting too big. Also, lots of us have moved from being in situations where we were seen to be particularly able to being among lots of other similar people, and therefore pretty average.

My ego check today was finding out that I'd failed the maths test. I'm in good company, I hear it's about 20% of the class this year, but I will admit that I'm surprised. The solutions were posted on-line yesterday, and although I'd seen some places where I'd realised I'd made a mistake, I'd also seem some where I'd got things right that I'd been in doubt about. Evidently though I did much worse than I thought. We can't get our graded papers back until Monday, for some reason (I'm not sure why the delay, as they've been marked), but I'm going to be interested to get that feebcak. Passing the exam is mandatory, so that mean's the weekend is now set aside to study (would be really helpful to have the marked paper as a guide for what I need to concentrate on), there's a review session on Monday evening, and then the retake on Wednesday evening. Second time lucky, I hope.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Things that go bump in the night, or in the corridor 

The plan to get a good night's sleep before the maths exam was slightly disrupted by one heck of a thunderstorm. When I was young, I was told that thunder was the sound of a giant moving his furniture. Last night, even him hurling it around the room would have been an understatement. Thor was seriously pissed off about something. I lay in bed listening to the crashing (and the constantly-sounding alarm of a car in the carpark below) and pondered on the fact that my metal bed frame was virtually in contact with my metal air-conditioning unit, which opens to the utside of the building, and what would happen if it took a direct lightening strike?

And then it was the maths exam this morning. Of the six questions, I'm pretty sure that four were fine. The fifth, in retrospect I think I got more of than I thought immediately after I came out of the exam room. As for the sixth, well I'm hoping that the fact that I wrote down the formula I was using will get me at least 1 mark, although I don't think the attempts to use it will get me any of the other 14. It has at least been comforting to know that lots of other people felt the same way, and the corridors of Huntsman Hall have been echoing to the mantra of 'partial credit'.

Concentration in the exam was not exactly helped by a. people who hadn't worked out how to disable the 'beep' on their calculators, b. someone a couple of seats down from me who had his phone on 'vibrate' and thereby treated us to the not-very-silent vibrate sound a number of times, and c. what I thought was an unreasonable amount of noise from the corridor outside. People who weren't connected with the exam I can't really blame (signs saying something along the lines of 'quiet please, exam in progress' having evidently not been deemed necessary) but the fact that the invigelator stood outside in the corridor having a rather loud phone conversation for a good few minutes, I thought was pretty poor.

Results come out later this week. Apparently c10% of people generally fail the first time and have to take it again. I'm hoping that I'm not in that 10%, because while I know that there are some things I need to do more work on I can do without the pressure of another test.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Resistance is futile 

One of the things that's struck me over the last week or so is how very natural a very radical change in lifestyle has felt. It seems a bit like I've entered a parallel universe where doing maths problems at 11pm or attempting to work out the price point for unitary elasticity at 6.30am are completely normal things to do, and where an 8am Stats class is actually rather fun (and I don't think it's just that I'm suffering from too much heat). I think that fact that it has been such a big and all encompassing change has actually made it easier - beacuse so much is different the entire package becomes the new 'normal'.

Along with settleing into the culture of being an MBA student, there have, of course, been some cultural experiences of being in a new country and a new city. Yesterday I had my first taste of both cheesesteaks (much nicer than I'd expected, but I still don't understand what all the fuss is about) and S'mores (possibly the only way to make Hershey's 'chocolate' palatable). On Friday, I'm going to a baseball game - I'm not particulalrly a sport fan, but I thought it was one of those things that had to be done.

But tomorrow starts with the maths test, so for now I'm headed to bed.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Getting into gear 

So, today marked the start of week two of pre-term and a bit of a change of gear. This morning was the last "math camp" class, which means that I've now been taught, or reminded of, the maths I need to approach the first year. The test is on Monday and I'm hoping that by then I'll just about have things straight in my head. At the moment I veer between 'this is fine' and 'kill me now', but the former seems to be becoming more frequent, so there's still hope. Tomorrow sees the start of Statistics and Financial Accounting, and also the end of my 'late' 9am starts. With the exception of Wednesdays, I'm in at 8 every morning, and I'm beginning to wonder whether 'Time Manageent for MBAs' at 8am on a Monday was really such a good idea.

With any luck today was also the last 'waiting at home for hours for a workman who turns up late', at least for a while. I dashed home from MGEC (managerial economics) so as to be there for the Comcast guy who was coming to set up our internet connection at some point between 3 and 5. He arrived at 6.30pm and left over an hour later, having failed to 'catch a signal' in one room and told us that we couldn't use our modem because it was being used by another account.The fact that the modem was physically with us and not eighteen blocks down the street (where this account is registered) apparently means nothing, and we have to get on to customer service to get it sorted out.

By the time Mr Comcast had left and I'd got something to eat I decided that I really couldn't motivate myself to go out to the Europa party that was happening this evening. While I'm all for meeting and getting to know people, having shouted 'conversations' with people in a noisy bar quickly gets tiring. In the last few days I've had a string of quieter social events (coffee with a goup of people, dinners with some of the S2S board regulars and with some of the other bloggers, drinks in a quiet corner of a bar where we were having a cohort social) and that's been much more my scene. Yelling over music and lots of other conversations just doen't work well for me.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Three days down, lots more to go 

So after months spent doing applications and more months waiting, the MBA experience has properly begun.

Day 1 started with an open air breakfast and lots of conversations along the lines of "Who are you? Where are you from? What do you want to do after school? Isn't it hot!" Or alternatively, "Good to see you again? What have you been doing over the summer? Where are you living? Isn't it hot!" Then we got to retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of a theatre auditorium for speeches from the Dean (see bskewl's thoughts on this), the University President, the Vice-Dean, and the President and Executive Vice-President of the Wharton Graduate Association. Next it was back to Huntsman Hall to pick up folders and course schedules, and wander round an information fair full of university and external organisations looking to offer us help and/or relieve us of our money. From there it was on to lunch with our cohort and an afternoon or orientation activities. As my cohort's timetable had a lunch break up until 2.30pm someone suggested that we orientate ourselves with somewhere serving marguerittas, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but possibly less so during the pre-term orientation that followed. Finally, pre-term orientated and campus scavenge hunted, it was back outside for dinner and more conversations similar to those over breakfast. I slipped off early to await the arrival or my bed, and got to spend a couple of hours inputting my timetable in to Outlook while waiting patiently for the delivery chap to arrive, only to get a phone call to say they were running late and did I want it delivered late that night or the following day? I opted for the latter.

Days 2 and 3 were the finishing off of initial orientation activities and the start of pre-term classes. I get to spend my mornings trying to follow maths in a lovely lecture theatre, the preservation of which's loveliness precludes the imbibing of caffeinated drinks within its walls
(unless you have caffeine reinforced water). The result of this is that by the end of the lectures my brain is really struggling to stay alert (I almost literally fell asleep during the section on logs, despite trying really hard to understand what was being said). MBA program staff are making a concerted effort to ensure thay we adhere to the 'concert rules' for classes (basically a code of acceptable behaviour), not always supported by the faculty (my pre-term Managerial Economics professor clearly isn't overly concerned by them). I transgresses on day 2 by being ten minutes late for my cohort orientation, but I did have a very good excuse, of which more below.

In and among all this I've been having a self-directed orientation with the healthcare service. When I dropped off my medical forms to student health they took one look at them, saw that I'd worked with a 'high risk group' and decreed that I needed a TB test. This wasn't unexpected. What was unexpected, was that when I went back to get the test checked I got questions about my travel history, a chest x-ray, a diagnosis of latent TB, a prescription for nine-months worth of antibiotics, and a good reason for being late to cohort orientation. Basically it seems that somewhere along the lines I've been exposed to a TB infection and my body's fought it off, but the result is that something now sits in my system. I don't have active TB and I'm not at all infectious, but if left untreated there's a 10% chance that it could 'activate' at some point. The antibiotics reduce that chance to 1%, and reduce my potential alcohol consumption to extremely moderate for the next nine months. I'm not one to get overly worried about this sort of thing anyway, but in among all the other changes and new routines that are happening at the moment, it's just feeling like one more thing to adjust to, like getting used to cooking temperatures in farenheit rather than celsius. And in a round about way it means that doing an MBA may have potentially saved my life (as I'd probably never have found out about it otherwise, unless I actually developed active TB), which is a comforting thought to reflect on when I contemplate loan repayments.

All in all, things are going good.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pre-pre-term 

The last few days have seen me pottering around getting things sorted and getting myself settled. Like Iceman, I've hit K-mart, although for the more mundane necessities of storage draws, laundry hamper, pillows etc. I've ordered a bed, which arrives tomorrow (hurray!) along with a bedside table and desk chair. I've attempted to find an 'averagely priced' place for buying groceries, and tried, and so far failed, to find somewhere selling nice bread that isn't $5 a loaf. I've de-mildewed my shower curtain (oh, the glamour!) and together with the newly arrived roommate and a somewhat less than wonderful cleaner attempted to get the apartment set-up and stocked-up. Today I managed to open a bank account, and then headed off to student Health Services to spend an hour or two filling out forms, waiting to see nurses, and having needles stuck in me to either extract blood or inject vaccine. (I have to go back on Thursday to waive my arm in front of someone so that they can check my TB test.)

Yesterday, was International Student Orientation, some of which was quite useful, other bits less so, but it was good to meet up with some people again and meet others for the first time. And having spoken to several people who'd flown in the day before, I'm really glad that I allowed myself a week to adjust to the time difference. Having said that, last night was, to my shame, the first time I made it out to socialise, and I left pretty early, but I think there'll be time enough to make up for that in the next few weeks.

Tomorrow pre-term starts properly, with a day of talks, introductions, and a scavenger hunt (although with a forecast of 94 degrees and high humidity I hope no one's expecting overly vigorous scavenging), and then we get stuck in to the work on Thursday with maths from 9-12. We officially find out our cohort (group of c60 students that we have most of out first-year classes with) tomorrow, but the information's already been added to the on-line facebook, so it's been interesting to browse through and see who I'm going to be spending all those hours with over the coming year. And it's going to be even more interesting getting to know them.

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