10 Things We Learned in Mini 1 and 2

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley

It’s been a tough year, which makes the end of the year a great time to reflect on what you accomplished and what you can improve on. Your accomplishments can show you that your year was worthwhile, and your lessons learned can motivate you to succeed next year. For myself, I want to reflect on my first two Mini Semesters to collect my thoughts, improve my own MBA experience, and help you to have a better experience.

Going forward, I am launching this blog series called the “5 Things We Learned this Mini” to identify the most important lessons that other classmates and I took away from the Mini. It will come out around the time when each Mini ends, and I think it will be worth checking out. To get it started, here are the 10 Things We Learned in Mini 1 and 2:

  1. Building Smart Teams Improves Team Collective Intelligence
  2. Leadership Coaching Helps You Apply the MBA To Your Career
  3. Probability Helps You Make Better Decisions Amongst Uncertainty
  4. Statistics Allows You To Infer Relationships Between Variables
  5. Case Competitions Expose You To An Industry
  6. The Accounting Equation Is Fundamental To Business
  7. The Pandemic Has Opened Up Clubs to Part-Time Students
  8. Microeconomics Helps You Model Business Strategy
  9. An MBA Mentor Can Help You Navigate the Experience
  10. It Takes Two Mini’s To Get Into The MBA Groove

1. Building Smart Teams Improves Team Collective Intelligence

Teams are fundamental groupings of people to get the work done for an organization. In our Managing People and Team class, Professor Anita Woolley showed us that the collective intelligence of a Smart Team depends on three basic components:

  • Right People: The team needs to have the right people in place. There needs to be the right number of people, a diverse set of perspectives, and a balance in expertise.
  • Right Goals: The team needs to have defined goals that are challenging and SMART (simple, meaningful, actionable, realistic, and trackable).
  • Right Coordination: As everyone has something to contribute, the team needs to be able to communicate and work together well.

2. Leadership Coaching Helps You Apply the MBA To Your Career

One of the coolest perks of the Tepper degree is having the opportunity to work one-to-one with a leadership coach to develop professionally. In the real world, this service can be expensive, costing at the median around $500 per hour. Also, many schools do not offer executive coaching, so I recommend that you take advantage of it. Leadership Coaching is offered through the Accelerate Leadership Center and you can schedule up to two sessions every Mini with any of the coaches during the length of your MBA!

The coaches take time to get to know you, your goals, and your needs as they pertain to your personal and professional life. I have done a few coaching sessions with Laura Maxwell, who has been awesome! We broke down my leadership assessment results and discussed my communication and presence in teams. Schedule time with different leadership coaches until you find one whose style works best for you and then meet with them regularly to grow. 

3. Probability Helps You Make Better Decisions Amongst Uncertainty

Businesses typically have to make decisions in environments that have elements of uncertainty and randomness. Probability is the likelihood that an event will occur. In our Probability and Statistics class, Professor Gerard Cornuejols showed us how to use Probability to provide a framework to quantify uncertainty and to measure key business outcomes.

4. Statistics Allows You To Infer Relationships Between Variables

Probability and statistics go hand in hand, as statistics builds on the probability framework to extract information contained in data. In our class, we learned how to use statistical models to infer the strength and plausibility of relationships between key variables by:

  • Using observed data to infer characteristics of an underlying random process;
  • Testing claims made about the process;
  • Inferring relationships between co-varying values; and
  • Providing a measure of confidence for our answers to these questions.

5. Case Competitions Expose You To Various Industries

Is there an industry that you always had a curiosity about? Maybe it’s tech, space, consulting, or venture capital? There’s great news, because there are case competitions for those sectors and many more. I personally got involved in several case competitions:

  • Small Business School Challenge: Our team worked with a struggling local business in Pittsburgh to help them improve profitability and customer engagement.
  • The Money Table: This collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and CMU allows one to pretend to be angel investor and vet local start-ups in Pittsburgh.
  • Deloitte National Case Competition: Our team had 48 hours to help a food brand devise a go-to-market strategy for one of their new products.

In each competition, I had to work with others to conduct research, devise recommendations, and pitch our idea to industry professionals and academics. We were exposed to three different fields of small business, venture capital, and consulting. In the process, we learned a lot, were challenged by the scope of the competition, and were advised by industry insiders. For example, we got valuable mentorship from someone who does customer experience at Microsoft. If there’s a field that you check out, case competitions are a great way to do so!

6. The Accounting Equation Is Fundamental To Business

In our Financial and Managerial Accounting I class, Professor Pierre J. Liang taught us accounting principles to observe what is happening within a business. Specifically, we would look at a balance sheet, which shows a company’s financial position at a point in time. The fundamental building block of accounting is the accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Owners’ Equity

Any transaction that occurs in the business will impact the accounting equation, which is made up of the following elements:

  • Assets – the resources owned or controlled by the company that will produce economic benefits in the future
  • Liabilities – the company’s debt or obligations to pay a third party for resources provided to an entity
  • Owners’ Equity – the owner’s claim on assets, which include funds contributed by owners and profits generated by the business; impacted by revenue and expenses:
    • Revenue – the money earned from providing goods or services to its customers
    • Expenses – the costs incurred from providing goods or services to its customers

7. The Pandemic Has Opened Up Clubs to Part-Time Students

For many years, it was tough for Part-Time students, especially for those not local to Pittsburgh to participate in clubs. The pandemic has changed that as mostly all club events are virtual for the time being. Clubs make the MBA experience memorable and will connect you with students who have similar interests. I have explored several clubs, attended a bunch of virtual events, and made some amazing connections. One of my favorite events this fall was the Graduate Entrepreneurship Club talk with serial entrepreneur and Shank Tank titan, Mark Cuban, over Zoom. That was cool!

8. Microeconomics Helps You Model Business Strategy

In the field of economics, microeconomics specifically examines decision making and resource allocation at a local level, including individuals, households, and firms. In our Managerial Economics class, Professor Fallaw Sowell taught us microeconomics and how to apply it to make better business decisions related to three general topics: 

  • Consumers make decisions on how to spend their money based on their individual preferences and budget constraints.
  • Producers make decisions on what inputs to take in and combine them to create goods and services to maximize profits and minimize expenses.
  • Markets allow for consumers and producers to exchange goods and services. The prices of goods and services are determined by supply and demand.

9. An MBA Mentor Can Help You Navigate the Experience

Imagine that you had an older brother, sister, or close friend looking out for you in your MBA journey. They have been there and now it’s your turn, and they want to help you succeed. However, this could totally be a reality if you signed up to be paired with an MBA Mentor at the beginning of the year. For myself, I got paired up with Nick Ryan, a second-year MBA student, and the experience has been so helpful.

During our short time in this mentorship, Nick and I have become friends and he has helped me really get the most out of my MBA. We share a lot of similar interests like entrepreneurship, real estate, and travel. Only a year ago, he was in my shoes and has provided me practical advice, encouragement, and support. Nick helped me figure out how to tackle my coursework and what opportunities to take advantage of. I highly recommend getting an MBA mentor, contributing to the mentorship, and taking action on your mentor’s advice.

10. It Takes Two Minis To Get Into The MBA Groove

My MBA mentor told me that it took him the first two Mini Semesters to manage the MBA in his schedule. After going through it myself and talking to classmates, I totally agree with him. Not only does CMU front-load the difficulty in the first set of classes, but many of us have other priorities (work and families) and also been out of school for some time.

Thus, I recommend that you give yourself time to get used to having the MBA experience be a sizable portion of your life for the next three years. Over time, you will figure out how you learn, what to focus on, and what is most important to you in your experience. If you find yourself struggling with productivity and time management, you should check out my Poets & Quants article or productivity blog.

I hope you enjoyed the first blog post in the “5 Things We Learned this Mini” series. If you have questions or suggestions for this post or future posts, feel free to reach out by email! Good luck!

Dev Chandra | Part-Time MBA 2023
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