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March 18, 2008

MIT Sloan MBA 1st-Year Student Interview


First-year MIT Sloan MBA student and blogger, Kaz, was kind enough to answer a series of questions. Before coming to MIT Sloan, Kaz worked for one of Japan's large trading firms for nine years. He spent three years in the Tokyo headquarters doing work in the oil and gas infrastructure business and six years in the New York office focused on IT and telecom sectors. Kaz moved to Boston with his wife and two sons last August. As some of the Japanese readers of his blog know, he is my former client.

Adam: What was the First Semester Core like? What did you learn? How hard was it?

Kaz: The core classes are basic subjects such as Statistics, Micro Economics, Accounting, Communication, Organizational Processes, and Finance Theory (Links are to Kaz's blog entries). As an E&I student, I had an extra class, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, and a study trip to the West Coast.

I felt that the learning in the Core was important, but very basic at the time. For example, the Accounting and Communication classes were relatively easy for me because I have a background in those areas based on my career. Some other people might have felt those two courses were tough. On the other hand, finance was tough for me because I did not have any knowledge prior to coming Sloan. Other people might have felt it was easy. In sum, I think the Core is important because the students, no matter what background they have, will gain knowledge for the electives taken in later terms.

Time management in the Core term was very tough. It is not because the class assignments were too hard. As I said, most of the work required in the Core is reasonable level. What made my time management tough was the fact that there were a lot of things to do outside the class. As a Sloan student, you have numbers of exciting events literally everyday: Speaker sessions featuring famous CEOs and CFOs, Socialization events, Career related events, etc. After starting my life here, I was so excited that I attended as many events as possible. But soon I found myself extremely exhausted, and there was no time to study! Then in December, I started to reduce involvement in outside class activities in order to concentrate on the classes. Here there are a number of incredible opportunities outside class, so my advice is still “go and take as many as possible,” but at the same time, I feel now that it is important to find the right balance.

Adam: What are you studying now?

Kaz: From the second term, classes are 100% elective. You can choose what you study. I decided to focus on Finance related skill development in this term, so most of the classes I am taking are related to Finance. Here is the list of the classes:
Finance Theory II
Financial Statement Analysis
Strategy Management
Marketing Management
Applied Macro & International Economics
While the Core classes were mainly lecture style (they dealt with cases only once in a week or so), the elective classes that I am taking now are mostly case discussion. So it became far more interesting than the Core classes. But still, I believe Core is valuable because it gave foundation of each subject. With the theoretical background, I think the case study became more profound and interesting.

Adam: Can you tell us about the C-Function?

Kaz: C-Function is a monthly night event for Sloan students and their families. Every month a group of students from different part of the world organize the event with cultural and entertaining activities. Some examples are “Latin C-Function” “China C-Function” “Euro C-Function”, etc. It is not only fun, but also a great opportunity to know the other Sloan students in the outside class setting. “C” stands for “Culture,” but also means “Consumption,” since we consume a lot of food and beer at the event.

“Japan C-Function” is the biggest among all C-Functions. Last fall, we had over 1,000 attendees in our event. “Japan C-Function” is also recognized as one of the most organized of all the Sloan events. While 2nd year Japanese students organized the event overall, the 1st year students, including me, performed a 30 minutes dance and comedy show. We started practice for the show two months before.
Yes, I performed in a dance and comedy show with my colleagues. Can you imagine an over 30 years-old somewhat conservative Japanese businessman dancing and doing comedy in front of 1,000 foreigners? I would say that it would never have happened if I did not come here and became a student again. “C-Function” was truly back-to Gakuen-sai (School Festival) experience.

Adam: What general advice do you have for those considering application to MIT?

Kaz: Generally, I think MIT Sloan will fit perfectly to the people who has eagerness to try, and who has action-oriented mind. The reason for it is because a lot of the opportunities are available at MIT Sloan, but you have to be proactive to get the real fruit out of it. A class project in one of the Core classes, Organizational Processes, is a good example. In this project the students are requested to identify and negotiate an outside organization (company, non-profit, public sector, etc) to cooperate. The student team (consists of 5-7) interviews and analyzes its organizational structure and present it in the class. This is not typical learning by sitting and listening to a professor. It deal with the real organization and real people, so you have to think in a way that a real business person think. Also, you have to be proactive to learn something, because it is really open-ended assignment.

MIT heavily emphasizes the value of Teamwork. So if you are comfortable with teamwork situation (or try to enhance your teamwork skills), MIT Sloan is the place for you.

In fact, I did not know before coming here, but I would say that teamwork for Sloan is leadership for HBS. It’s that important for Sloan. That is why every activity involves elements of teamwork. You need to form a team in most of the classes. For example, 4 out of 6 classes I currently have requires team formation. Numbers of people in one team varies, but in total, I am teaming up with 11 people now (3 Americans, 3 Latinos, 2 Europeans, and 3 Asians). Team members regularly have meetings to discuss the class assignments. In busy days, meetings are sometimes held on weekends.

Overall, I can say that MIT Sloan is definitely one of the best MBA schools that you can attend. There are a lot of opportunities available inside and outside classes, and the curriculum is very flexible. But most importantly, the fellow students are outstanding people. They are very smart and mature. I feel that the major part of learning in the MBA education attributes to the fellow students. So in general, the top ranked schools are better not only for branding, but also the quality of learning since you will have better chance to work with smart people.

One of the frequently asked questions is “The curriculum at MIT Sloan has rigorous mathematical element?” The answer is definitely no. While MIT is famous for its excellent engineering school, but Sloan is a business school. Quantitative skills are required, but no more or less than the other top schools. So don’t worry.

Adam: You have been actively doing a blog (MIT MBA留学日記 〜 二度学ぶブログ) in Japanese since you started at MIT. What has motivated you to do that?

Kaz: I started it as my personal diary to remember what I learned in MBA. I choose blog as the media because I am a typical Mikka-bozu [Someone who stops doing something easily] person. I hoped to force myself to continue keeping diary by revealing it to public. It fortunately worked somehow and I wrote more than 100 entries now. It started in that way, but now communication through my blog is another motivation. I occasionally receive personal questions about MBA, MIT, and Boston from somebody who knew me through my blog. Those people contacted me because they read my blog and shared my view. Sometimes they share what they think to me personally. It is a great feeling to have such interaction. It is an unexpected, but valuable learning opportunity for me
I want to thank Kaz for taking time to answer my questions.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
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