Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Chicago Fall Preview

"I like your shoes. Very nice style."

I have been led to believe that women appreciate nice comments about their choice of footwear. One of my friends compared a timely - read: when she is down and could really use a compliment - comment about her shoes to chocolate. Now that is a bit much, but I am happy to report that men - me, actually, to be specific - can be affected in good ways too. Early friday morning I got into the elevator of my hotel on my way to the Chicago GSB and was greeted with the above-quoted compliment about my shiny new Florsheim wingtips by a herself fashionable woman. I'll just say I didn't need much coffee to give me a buzz :) It was a good start to what would turn out to be an unexpectedly great weekend.

If you do have a chance to visit Chicago, take a moment to see the new Hyde Park Center from the corner of 58th and Woodlawn. One can't fail to notice the homage paid by the architects of the building to Frank Lloyd Wright's beautiful Robie House next door. The new home of the Chicago GSB is, in my opinion, stunning. It is built in levels with a generous use of glass both on the outside and the inside. The winter garden, which is the focal point both of the building itself and student interaction, is gorgeous. The pieces de resistance(sp?) are the glass and steel arches that are designed to mimic the gothic architectural style of the overall campus, which incidentally was bathed in fall colors last weekend. A very pretty sight indeed.

After registration, I attended a welcome speech by Dean Snyder. He talked about saying it as it is - Chicago GSB is not for everyone, in his own words. Everyone at the GSB is deeply committed to their values - a discipline-based approach to learning, a spirit of constant questioning, and business is intended for the public good. Seemed like this is quite an intense academic experience and not really the place for a two year party-and-schmooze fest.

Following this was a panel discussion with faculty. It was very evident that these folks take their teaching and research very seriously. They expect the students to be extremely well-prepared when they come to class, and for their students to expect the same of them. They usually incorporate elements of their research into their teaching. As to a question regarding teaching vs research focus, the answer was that they are actually one and the same, and that the real question to ask was teaching/research vs consulting focus at schools. Their focus is on the learning of fundamentals, not flavor of the month stuff.

This was followed by lunch and presentations on finance, strategy and entrepreneurship. My interest was the one on ent-ship, presented by Waverly Deutsch. My biggest take-away - the amount of passion she had for what she did. I must say I have not seen that in many of the professors I have had the chance to observe at various b-schools. It was motivating, to say the least. Ent-ship is the second most popular concentration(after finance, of course) at the GSB. The resources for someone interested in going down this path are impressive indeed. The coolest thing about Chicago is the unbelievable flexibility of the curriculum. Except for the LEAD program, there are no required courses and it's electives from day one. One can truly tailor a program that is in line with what they want to do.

The next session was a mock class. It was especially interesting because we were doing a short case on performance evaluation - a subject that was the topic of a mock case session at LBS. I got to compare styles of teaching. I felt the LBS session to be much more experiental in arriving at the answer. The professor used an example of calling the odds on a pin falling on its head, and once we had made the choices, flipped the pin, asked us why we had made the choices and related it to the issue of rewarding behaviors vs. outcomes. The Chicago class was different. We started with a case with limited information, followed by an open discussion with lots of questioning - us asking the prof, he asking us, students asking students - and finally we got the point of the case. I was very impressed. I would have also been a top contender if they were handing out Statue of Liberty awards that afternoon ;-)

After the class I was loitering outside and the professor who ran the class was going home, and he stopped by and said hi and we ended up talking for almost ten minutes about the school, their teaching philosophy, my career interests and why Chicago should be on the top of my list of schools to consider. Given my background, he said that I would be successful there and encouraged me to apply. I must say I was sold on Chicago by that point.

Later in the evening, I talked with the co-chairs of the Enterpreneurship/VC and High-Tech clubs. There is a growing interest in these areas at the GSB, and once again I was struck by the passion of these guys for what they did. It's not something quantifiable, but something I could feel when I was talking to them. Tons of energy.

I also met with Chicago bloggers Byron and Jeremy. It was great to talk with them over the two days - thanks guys for all the insights into life at the school. It was very helpful.

The next day I trotted back to school in time for my interview. My interviewer was an alumni who wasn't an MBA but a Ph.D. from the school, so there were some awkward moments. My career interests were something she wasn't entirely familiar with, and she didn't have answers for some MBA specific questions I had. That aside, it was a very conversational interview. I came away from it with a very good feeling. Oh, and the interview room was a glass walled corner room with ridiculously beautiful views.

Bottomline:
Chicago has been a revelation. A month ago, I wasn't even considering the school, but now I am going to apply round 1. I actually like the academic focus of the school. I also like, in a wierd kind of way, that it is not a slam dunk school for tech/entrepreurship a la Sloan or Haas or Stanford. I guess this appeals to the part of me that loves a challenge.

Final thoughts:
On the bus back to the city, the thought that came to mind was if they would actually read the essay answers on the applications. I know, it sounds screwed up. But, see, the Chicago questions are pretty whacko. It's going to take 'off the wall' answers (to quote an admissions person) to cut it. And a class filled with those that came up with those answers is going to be a pretty cool set of people to spend two years with(i hope you have noticed the incredibly cocky assumption that I am going to be one of them ;). But again, Chicago is still a school that attracts both students and recruiters primarily interested in finance. Will there be not a temptation to bring in the Wall Street crowd that graduated from Yale and scored 770's regardless of essays ? I hope not.

P.S:
One of the guys sitting next to me during the Dean's address tapped me on the shoulder asked me, out of the blue, if it was Diversity Weekend. C'mon man, why the automatic assumption that if there are a large number of African-American prospectives it must be diversity weekend ? Chicago has only preview event, open to everyone. This dude, who it appeared from his tone felt out of place, was the only person I met over the weekend that I wouldn't have wanted to go to school with.
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