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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Itchy feet 

Lack of posting in recent days due to combining having to go work with trying to see family. Somehow I think "Look, I know you've flown across the Atlantic to see me, but I really fancy an evening at home doing laundry, watching back-to-back episodes of Law and Order, and sharing meaningless thouhts on the world wide web" wouldn't go down too well.

Today, I did manage to do laundry and spent time with the relatives at Philadelphia Zoo. Watching a film in the big cat exhibit started me thinking about how much I'd like to go to Africa again. Then I started thinking about what I want to do when my internship ends (18 working days left, and counting). Apart from possibly a couple of commitments in Philly, I basically have August and the first week of September to do with as I please. Seeing some more of North America seems sensible while I'm here, but going further afield could be fun too. Anyone have any suggestions?

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Frolicking in the Blogosphere 

The project I'm doing for work has involved a lot of wading through blogs, and, despite, knowing that there are an awful lot of them out there, I've been struck by just what a vast realm the blogosphere is. The project's also involved a lot of blog reading, the sublime ones and the ridiculous (or all too often rediculous, a misspelling that annoys me intensly) ones. It's all too easy to get pulled in and away from what I'm doing - which is justifiable in some cases, but less so in others. Freakenomics - potentially relevant, Overheard in the UK - probably not.

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Safe arrivals 

The family made it here safely yesterday. They flew into Newark, and I'd ordered a car to pick them up from the airport, as with three of them it was cheaper than Amtrak. Instead of the the town car I'd asked for they got a stretch limo, which seemed to impress them. I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or worried by the fact that the driver did EWR to Philly in under an hour. They survived jet lag remarkebly well and still seemed wide a wake when I bid them good night, 23 hours after they's got up in the UK. I suspect that they might have gone to bed later than I did, and, given that their ac has thermostatic control and mine doesn't, I suspect they probably slept better than I did too.

It's good to have them here.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Putting out the welcome mat 

Tomorrow my mum, sister, and brother-in-law arrive for a ten-day visit. I've therefore spent a good chunk of the weekend running round getting things prepared for their arrival - collecting half a forest's worth of leaflets on tourist attractions, making my apartment a little bit tidier and a little bit cleaner, etc. Actually it wasn'tso much running as walking at a moderate pace appropriate for the temperature. Does anyone know of a place where the summers are reliably sunny bt with a temperature that doesn't get abovethe mid-70s and low humidity, because I think I want to move there.

I haven't seen the family since winter break, so its going to be fun having them here.

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Visual images 

While researching blogs at work I stumbled on this blog for a book called Stumbling on Happiness. Reading through the sample writing on the website was enough to convince me that I had to buy the book, which I tracked down with some little effort. It's sort of pop-academia (other wise known as the 'where on earth in the bookshop are the likley to have categorised this one?' genre), in the vein of Steven Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell, and I think is one of thosebooks that has the potentially to alter the way you look at the world. I'llpost more when I finish it.

One thing that confused me though was the image on the front of the book (also shown at the top of the blog). My first thought was "what does an upturned bowl of red currents have to do with anything?". Then I realised they were cherries. OK, bowl of cherries = happiness and upturned = stumbled, but to me an upturned bowl of cherries suggests lost happiness where as the premise of the book is more along the lines that you stumble but keep your bowl of cherries intact, or that it's the stumbling that alows you to find the bowl of cherries in the first place.

In a similar vein, while looking for the book I was directed to the 'Self Imporvement' section of Barnes & Noble (I eventually found it in Psychology) where I spotted a prominently displayed book entitled "All the Good Ones Aren't Taken" (link to it on Amazon here) with a picture of a cupcake on the front. Now, to my mind, a good cup cake is light and sweet but insubstantial, and is gone from your life in a few moments, which doesn't really seem to fit with the getting a good man theme that I presume the book is about.

For anyone looking for good cupcakes in the Philadelphia area, I recommend the Flying Monkey in Reading Terminal Market. Di Bruno Brothers has ones which look beautiful but taste less good. For anyone looking for good men, do let me know if you find where they are hiding - apparently they're not all taken.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

And about time too . . . 

City Council bans smoking in city's bars and restaurants

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Request for Requests 

Somewhat to my surprise, people appear to have continued to visit this blog despite my abysmal lack of posting over the last few months. I'm planning to do some summary posts of the first year expereince, but if there's anything in particular you want to know then please ask away in the comments section.

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Mid-term 

Coming from the British education system, one of the biggest differences I've noticed at Wharton is the frequency of exams. In undergrad, I started courses in late September and finished them with the one and only exam (per course) in June. At Wharton, most core courses are only six weeks long and many of them have mid-terms, which means exams every three weeks.

I'm accomplishing my US work authorisation through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which basically means you can work because you need to in order to fulfil a course requirment. In order to cover the academic side of things, Wharton provides an on-line summer course that's basically 'workplace skills'. You do an initial an assesment to judge your exisiting skill level, the computer program recommends which modules you should do, and you then do a short (ie <5min) lesson every day. It uses up a quarter course credit, or contributes a quarter course credit to those you need to graduate, depending on how you look at it, and its not a course I'd choose to do normally, but it serves its purpose and is certainly easier than the alternative way of getting work permission.

We have to do two modules and we were told that each of these was roughly 20 lessons, with an assesment at the end. My first module was only 15 lessons and assementless, but I logged on this morning to find that the second module was giving me a mid-term. It's the first time I've taken a mid-term before I've got out of bed. I'm pleased to report that I passed, although given that the questions were the same as on the initial assesment and I'm pretty sure that I gave the same answers, I'm not sure why the program, in its infinite wisdom, decided that this was a module I needed to do.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The adjustment back to the working world 

After almost ten months out of the office environment, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to feel about being back in it when I started my internship. Yes, school's work, a lot of work, but it's not the same. Plus I'd had three and a half weeks since the end of classes. Week one of those three was a reading week for exams and week two was the exam week itself, so it wasn't as if it was all vacation, but it was three weeks of not having to get up at a fixed time or be anywhere at a fixed time (for the most part, exams being an obvious exception) and generally being able to structure my days however I wanted to.

That first 6am alarm was a bit of a shock to the system, not helped by the fact that it was a grey and exceptionally rainy morning. The prospect of commuting again did not thrill me (after ten years of almost daily train travel, not getting on a train for weeks or even months at a time was a real tonic). And the office setting is rather less practical for taking a post-lunch nap, if I feel the need, than is my apartment.

All that said, I've slipped back into things pretty easily, although todays headache and sore neck and shoulders remind me that spending an entire day sitting at a computer and staring at a screen is not the most civilised thing in the world to do.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Good heavens, I've learnt something 

After my last exam (which was almost six weeks ago now, I'm shocked to realise) I had a not-entirely-sober conversation with a group of friends about what we'd learnt during the course of our first year in the MBA program. The consensus was 'a lot' - even if we couldn't necessarily remember the detail of absolutely everything, we at least knew that there was detail out there, where to find it, and how to use it. Since then, I've had moments of realisation when I've noticed that I'm thinking about something in a differnt way or looking at something in a different light compared to a year ago, for example seeing a news story about Wal-Mart asking its suppliers to do something and thinking 'oh, they're trying to use their rent chain'.

Over lunch with some colleagues the conversation turned to financial investment, and I found myself explaining arbitrage and diversifying risk, and actually knowing what I was talking about. Corporate Finance was probably the subject I've found least professioanlly relevant (not completely irrelevant by any means, but I learnt a lot of stuff I'm pretty sure I will probably never use in my working life), but I felt like there were a lot of things in it that I, as an intelligent, informed, adult ought to understand. And at lunch today I felt all grown up.

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Where I am now 

I'm spending the summer (at least until the end of July) interning at a foundation just outside Philadelphia. For those who don't know, foundations are basically charitable organisations which exist to give away money. Having spent ten years as a fundraiser for organisations that constantly had to worry about where the cash was coming from and if there'd be enough in the bank to pay the next months salaries, it's a nice change to be somewhere that's struggling with how to use the resources it has available.

My official role here is working on strategic communications projects, but I'm also using the opportunity to find out more about how the organisation (and the foundation sector more broadly) operates, and treating it a bit like an anthropological study - observing how things like organisational culture operate. So far the overall exoperience has been a bit mixed. There was a huge event last weekend, and I spent my first three weeks doing basic admin for that, which wasn't exactly what I signed up for or the best use opf my abilities. Since that's been got out ofe way though I'm on to more fulfilling and intereting things.

The internship recruitment experience was 'mixed'. Post-school I want to do consluting in the non-profit/philanthropic sector. It's what I said I wanted to do in my admissions essays and what I've stuck with all the way through. There are very few internships available in this area though, and those there are generally want people with consulting experience (which is understandable, given the cost of supporting a non-consulting-experienced intern), so I decided to look at a mixture of mainstream consulting jobs and internal strategy jobs in non-profits. The mainstream consulting side of the equation meant the standard round of on-campus rectuiting Emloyer Information Sessions (EIS's), coffee-chats, networking events etc., etc. , which I didn't enjoy in the least. The whole experience just felt like a big time sink that I was getting very little out of. And it didn't help that I wasn't particulalrly excited about the jobs for their own sake, they were pretty much a means to an end. When it cam to applications and interviews, people seemd fine about my non-profit background, but less fine about a non-American without strong exisiting ties here wanting to summer in the US. I can understand the logic (they don't want people who just want to be with them for the sumer, then head elsewhere full-time) but I wish they'd give people the benefit of the doubt a bit more and not jump to conclusions - people were very happy to see me for London jobs, but I know that there's no way on earth that I'd every accept a mainstream consulting gig there. Anyway, between the wanting-to-summer-in-the-US factor and the second-round-interviews-in-the-same-week-as-a-major-extracurricular-commitment factor (advice to others: a 90-hour week is not good straight before a full day interview) I came out the other side of the on-campus recruiting experience with non job, but experience that I think will serve me well for full-tinme recruiting. Looking for non-profit strategy jobs couldn't have been more different - there are a lot of them around and they don't care where you're from as they're not looking to recruit you full-time. My biggest challenge was finding something where I'd be getting some genuinley new experience rather than just doing what I've done before for a different organisation. As it turned out, it took the grand total of two e-mails and a ten-minute interview to get this job which, now that I'm passed the initial admi work, is proving to be a great fit.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I'm still here . . . . 

Yes, I know its been a while.

Not quite sure what happened, but I just seemed to fall out of the blogging (and blog reading) habit. So, after months of a guilty conscience periodically telling me that I really ought to do something with the blog, questions from various quarters about whether I was still blogging and subtle, or not so subtle, hints that I ought to re-start, my summer-internship boss has given me a strategy project on blogging, and I've taken it as a sign.

So, I hereby give an undertaking to get back to blogging regularly about what I'm doing, and hopefully fill in some of what I've been up to during the past nine months.

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