Sunday, September 27, 2009

Retrospective: Reflections on the Darden Q1 Curriculum from Someone Who Hasn't Quite Survived It Yet

I probably should have done more research on the Darden curriculum before I arrived in Charlottesville. However, I knew that there wasn't a lot of room for personal choice in the curriculum, and I figured that I was picking a school based in large part on fit, which for me had little to do with classes and more to do with people. (Remember, I was a sociology major at Brown. I'm touchy-feely and tree-hugging.) The faculty at Darden are consistently recognized as the best business school teaching faculty in the country. I figured if they're supposed to be that good, they could teach me just about anything. :-)

So, for those of you who actually want to know what classes I go to each day, here's my overview of the curriculum so far:

Decision Analysis (DA), or "Fun with Excel Models and Crystal Ball" - Let me preface this by saying that prior to coming to Darden, I don't think I had ever used Excel for anything more complicated than putting together a table of trial exhibits (because tables in Word are EVIL). Excel was embedded in our Powerpoint/graphics package at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named, but remember, I was in Legal, so I didn't really use Excel. Naturally, then, when I realized what exactly was going on with this class, I was horrified. Yes, I could make a spreadsheet. But it was not pretty, it was not color-coded, and I didn't know all the handy dandy Excel shortcuts. In fact, during the second or third week of class (and during the middle of my miserable bout with "the Darden flu"), I was cold-called and had to build a spreadsheet model in front of the whole class. My class oh-so-helpfully decided to nit-pick about the color I was making the input cells. I finally made the cells peach just to be a snot. After 7 weeks or so, my spreadsheets are slightly prettier, Crystal Ball (a simulation software made by Oracle that ties in to Excel and lets you run models to predict things like Expected Monetary Value for a particular decision given a whole bunch of assumptions) color codes them for me, and, I have found, usually there is an "Aha!" type aspect to each case that goes well beyond building the model. I think my Learning Team and I are usually pretty good at figuring out the big picture and getting close to the case-cracking "Aha!" moment. I still don't know all the Excel shortcuts; I may never know them, but I've decided it's just not a big enough deal to worry about.

Marketing (MKT) - Fairly self-explanatory, although I think I honestly expected more discussions about advertising campaigns and fewer mathematical formulas. We've had some interesting guest speakers from Heinz, Progressive, and Google so far, and we got to watch a bunch of Dupont Stainmaster commercials from the 1980's. Good times. I actually want to know how many Darden students switch to Progressive insurance during their first year, or how many of us went out and bought Heinz ketchup (and hot dogs, hamburgers, or french fries) after Thursday's case discussion.

Accounting (ACC) - We spent the first half of the quarter discussion Managerial Accounting (the stuff managers use internally to make business decisions - mostly focusing on issues like determining the price for which you should sell things), and halfway through the quarter we switched to Financial Accounting, which is giving me unpleasant flashbacks to senior year at Brown, when I thought it would be "fun" to take accounting. Fortunately, that prior background has probably saved me from major confusion or major embarassment in the last couple weeks. We dealt with journal entries and T-accounts last week, and this week we're moving into financial statements.

Operations (OPS) - We do a ton of simulations in this class, including one involving drawing faces, one involving building things out of legos, one involving playing doctor with a bunch of dolls, and one computerized laboratory. Basically, what I've taken out of this class so far is that the goal of any business is to make money (go read E. Goldblatt's book The Goal), Herbie's are bad, and there are also a bunch of formulas you can use to determine how many service center staff you need to have to keep wait times down to 5 minutes per customer. I don't know what else to say....operations is relatively foreign to me, but I'm muddling through. We'll see how the exam goes...

Leading Organizations (LO) - formerly known as Organizational Behavior. Basically, this is the touchy-feely class with which many people have a love/hate relationship. There's a lot of talking about feelings and self-awareness and "being in the box" and working with difficult people and managing up. We share a lot about prior difficult situations we've been in at work, difficult people with whom we've worked, etc. There's also a ton of role-playing: last week, I had to pretend to fire someone whose house had just burned down and whose daughter had leukemia. I actually really like this class; it appeals to my sociologist tendencies. Also, alums constantly say that this is the class that they "use" most often in real life.

Career Management (CarMa) - this class randomly shows up in our schedule. We started meeting in sections with one of the Career Coaches to discuss life themes, career objectives, and our 30-second stories. Two weeks ago, we broke into career-objective focused groups (I'm in the consulting group; more on that later) to discuss strategies for networking. We're also supposed to be working on our resumes now, and we'll discuss those in class on Thursday this week. Generally, I think the most valuable part of this class is forcing us to focus our attention on stuff like our resumes sooner rather than later.

Management Communications (MC) - This is another one of those "show up randomly in the schedule" classes beyond the five core class (DA, MKT, ACC, OPS, LO). We talked about email communications, story telling and knowing your audience, and then we each actually delivered a 2-minute story about a leadership experience (or, in my case, the reason I chose to pursue my JD/MBA - my section's prof let us pick any subject that might come up in an interview) and gave feedback to our classmates. On Friday, we had to turn in a short written story as a diagnostic...I don't know what we're ultimately going to do with those.

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