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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Learning 

Thought I would throw a couple of musings out into the ether from the learning experience so far:

It's great to get things wrong

This is a lesson I really wish I'd learnt earlier in life than I did. Getting things wrong and then understanding why, or knowing what mistakes you're likely to make, seems more effecitive than just geting things right straight off, somehow. I remind myself of this everytime I'm doing a Mgec problem for the fourth time because I still can't get a sensible answer.

There are real benefits to working in groups

From the learning team and grop work perspective so far, I'm really appreciating the different expeiences and points of view people bring. No one can be good at everything, and even within subjects people have different stengths or approaches. Not to mention that there's always likely to be someone who understands things that you don't, or who's picked up on a detail that you've missed. I know that some people find goup work overly time consuming, but personally I'm not finding that it takes too much time over and above doing things alone, and I'm feeling real benefits that more than outweigh what extra effort is involved.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Kid in a sweet shop 

I was sorely tempted to start this post off with an "Oh, I'm so busy" moan, if only in the hope that it would frustrate b-skewl enough to get him posting again, but I won't. I'm certainly doing lots, but not feeling overwhelmed in the way that I thought I might. Whether this is due to having waived one of this quarter's classes, or recruiting not having started yet, or the full impact of deadlines not quite being upon us, etc I don't know. But, at least for now, I'm getting enough sleep and not feeling like I'm drowning, which is fine by me.

The thing that definitely does have the potential to get a bit overwhelming at the moment though, is choice. A big school means lots going on, which is great in lots of ways because it means that it's pretty easy to find other people interested in doing the kind of thing you want to do and you don't have to do stuff that you're not interested in just because it's the only way to be social though. But it does mean that there are an awful lot of options available. Last week and this week most of the clubs have been having kick-off events, the Leadership Speakers series has started, and Career Management has been running various sessions. A lot of the time outside class hours I could easily have been in three places at once. But as the physical realities of the world make that impossible, I wasn't.

I've been trying to make 'focus' and 'prioritisation' my watchwords, so I'm concentrating on only doing the things that really interest me, and the things where I think I can be most beneficial, as well as where I can get the most out of what I'm doing. The plan is not to overcommit, so I can make sure that I do whatever I'm doing well, and that I'm getting a good balance between academics and non-academics. I'm not too bothered about grades, but I'm very bothered about learning, and while I know that learning comes from non-academics too, this is pretty much the only opportunity I'm going to have to learn the stuff on the academic side, so I don't want to waste it.

So overall, it has been a bit of a kid in a sweet shop experience in choosing what to do, but I think I know now where I want my focus to be. And I'm pretty good at 'no regrets' decision making, so I shouldn't be spending too much time on asking myself "what if I'd done that instead?" unfortunately, most of the major things I'm interested in doing have a competitive application process, so I may find myself not doing anything major if I don't make it through. Fingers crossed though, and more details later when I know what I get to do.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Worth thousands of words 

I had a meeting this lunchtime in Rittenhouse Square and was distracted from going back to my Corporate Finance books by an open air art exhibition. The pavements (US, sidewalks) were lined with booths in which, mainly local, artists were displaying their work. A fair amount of it wasn't my sort of thing, but there were some gorgeous peices there. I spent a long time looking at a picture of some cows, while trying to keep the phrase "I can not spend three weeks' rent on a painting" running through my head. I succeeded in not buying it, although if it's still available in 20 months' time I may have found myself a graduation present - there's something about the skewed perspective that I like, it reminds me of MC Escher somehow. There wer lots of other pieces I'd happily have given house room to as well, but they were priced at the 1-month's-rent+ level, and so were easier to walk away from. I did however give in and buy a set of three etchings, which have the subtle slightly off-beat humour which I tend to find appealing. The art-loving part of my mind is still trying to convince the financially prudent part that the purchase was entirely justified, but compared to the cows they were a bargain.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Son et Lumiere 

For the first, and quiet possible last, time in my life, I have a home with a water view. I overlook the Schuylkill river, and the view then extends to University City. Unfortunately, there's a freight rail line on the near side of the river and a busy road on the far side. Neither of them are particularly quiet, but it took probably less than a day after I moved in for them to have virtually become white noise. And I love the view. As well as the river I can see a prettily lit bridge over it, the majestic-looking railway station in it's floodlit glory, and a big new glass building just behind the station. There are evidently plans to do something with coloured lights on the outside of the new building. A few weeks ago I was sitting on my bed trying to revise statistics when I looked out of the window and saw that said building was covered in little red lights. They then went through a whole sequence of colour changes, ran round the building, ran up and down it, etc. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with them when they're being used properly.

I really like the architecture in Philly generally. There are streets to wander through with lovely Victorian buildings as well as the very modern architecture of centre city. There are three glass skyscrapers not too far east of where I live, and dusk the rays of the setting sun give them the most beautiful golden luminescence. And when I watch the sunset from home at the moment, it descends just behind Huntsman Hall, making it glow like a beacon on the horizon.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Classes 

As promised, something about the formal education side of things.

The first year is almost exclusively taken up with the core curriculum, which is pretty comprehensively explained on the website, so I won't go into further details here. Each of the two semesters is split in half to form a total of four quarters, and the majority of classes are only a quarter long, which is going to make for a pretty intense learning experience. Certainly there's practically no time to catch up if you fall behind on anything.

This quarter my classes consist of Financial Accounting, Statistics, Managerial Economics (Mgec), Leadership and Teamwork, and Corporate Finance (which is a semester long course). The first of two marketing courses also runs this quarter, but I've waived out of it. In academic terms, I'm expecting this to be the most challenging of the first year's quarters just because the majority of it is new to me. I've done nothing in the realms of Finance or Economics before and have had limited exposure to statistics, whereas a lot of the areas coming up later in the year I've already covered to some extent. Of course, by the time I get to those recruiting will have kicked in, which will provide additional challenges. Looking at things now, I'm feeling reasonably comfortable about my ability, in an absolute sense, to cope with what I'm expected to learn, the challenge is just in juggling time to spend on learning it. A six week time frame means that homeworks, projects and exams have to be tightly squashed in, and there's not much opportunity for niceties like making sure that deadlines in different subjects don't come on top of each other.

At least I'm feeling positive about all the courses, which is more than I could say this time last week. I hated Mgec during pre-term. It all seemed very conceptual, and I couldn't quite grasp what was going on or why it mattered. It didn't help that the professor we had for pre-term didn't seem particulalrly engaged or interested in making sure we were following him as he scawled equations over the blackboard. Thankfully the professor for the main course is very different. I came out of Thursday morning's class feeling interested and excited, and with a clear picture of why this stuff was useful. It probably helped that I aalso came out of the class financially better off. The professor takes the view that as economic decisions in the real world are about real financial profit and loss then economic decision in the classroom should offer that too. The homework problem had been about whether an investment was worth making, and we were given the opportunity to say if we'd make the investment and what pricing structure we'd use, and then invest $10 in it and receive the appropriate return based on our pricing decision. Four of us took him up on the offer, with two of us making money and two losing it. A class that's interesting and pays for lunch can't be bad.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

V Bad Blogger 

It's been almost two weeks since I last posted, and I'm worried I'll get out of the habit if Idon't post soon, so here's an early-Saturday-morning summary of the last twleve days or so.

So, my last post was on th elast day of pre-term classes. The day after that was my 'learning team retreat'. 400 of us (half the class went on Tuesday and Wednesday, half on Wednesday and Thursday) had to get ourselves out of bed in time to get on a bus by 6.30am and take a 3 hour journey up to a summer camp site in the Catskill mountains. The main purpose of the retreat, we were told was to meet our learning team and start to build a strong foundation for working together during the year. (To explain, a learning team is a group of five or six people who work together during the first year, particularly on group projects for lots of classes. Teams all come from within one cohort(the group of c66 people we take all our first year classes with) and are apparently formes by random selection, which is then adjusted to ensure that there is sufficient representation of women, non-US nationals, and people from different proffesional backgrounds.) Over the two days we did a range of activities, from riddles to rope swings, spent a lot of time trying to keep dry (the weather was not good) and generally 'bonded' with our team and cohort members. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, but was not too distressed to head back to Philly once it was over, taking with me a pair of very sore arms and a bashed up finger from my failure to manage a rope swing. And I'm very happy with my team. We seem to be a usefully mixed bunch in terms of backgrounds and skills, but with a lot of shared interests and goals, which bodes well for the year ahead.

Coming back from a couple of days from relative isolation to see news reports of the devestation caused by Katrina was a huge shock. That the power of nature is sometimes unstoppable is hardly a revelation, but seeing the impact it's had and the problems that the richest naion in the world is having with dealing with the aftermath is something new. Needless to say, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

The day after the retreat was 'diversity training'. The issue of living and working with diversity is one in which I'm very interested (and was pretty much the topic of one of my application essays) so I was quite looking forward to this, and it pretty mush surpassed my expectations. We started with a group of actors who performed a numbr of scenes that were used as the basis for a group discussion (I realise that this may sound cheesy, but it wasn't) and then broke up ito cohorts to have a discussion led by an alumnus/almnae. The performances in particular were very thought provoking, and it was intersting to hear both the opinions that were voiced and who they were voiced by. One thing that becomes very apparent once you get people into the realm of serious discussion is that people don't necessarily think and react in the way that you might expect from their 'social persona', and the things you hear about being with a really intersting group of people and being able to learn from them start to feel very real.

Then it was the weekend. Hurrah! I went to the US Open with a group of peopl eon the Friday. It was very hot, but great fun, and provided an opportunity to discuss economic (just how do they get us to pay $5 for a litre of water) along with watching some great tennis. The rest of the weekend was whiled a way in pottering around, cooking, shopping, seeing a bit of Philadelphia, and generally re-grouping before the start of classes.

And then this last week has seen everything begin to start up properly. Tuesday was 'case day'. We had three case discussions (I only had to go to two, as one was focussed on marketing which I succeeded in waiving), designed to introduce us to cases, learn a bit about what is and isn't useful in case discussions, and, in the 'ethics' case, discuss the Wharton ethics code. In the evening we had 'Convocation', which consisted of us having to get togged up in business atire and sit and listed to speeches from the Dean (why the teaching v research arguement is bogus and why business schools are about much more than teaching people how to be good managers), one of the faculty (the phenomenum of student grades becoming less open while faculty assesments have become more open and why we should take advantage of all the opportunites we'll have to learn) and one of the alumni (the value of getting to know classmates and the alumni network). This was followed by us all heading sheep like to the University Museum for the Convocation Reception, where we got to experience possibly the worst buffet food service ever, and some mediocre food (of which there was hardly any left by the time I managed to get to the table.

I'm going to talk about classes, which kicked in on Wednesday and Thursday, as theis post is already pretty long and i can hear my breakfast calling me. For now I'll just say that I've enjoyed starting to get my teeth into real work, but I'm glad we only had two days of them before the weekend. I spent yesterday morning putting homework and project deadlines into Outlook, and it's very evident that things are going to get pretty crazy in a couple of weeks. And looking at my calendar for next week, when extra-currics start to get going, I can see things rapidly ramping up outside the classroom too. I'm excited that everything's getting going, but a little aprehensive about just how hard the next three and a half months are going to be.

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