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May 29, 2008

U. of Virginia Darden 1st Year MBA Student Interview

Naomi Uchida, a first year MBA student at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and my former client, was kind enough to answer my questions. Naomi has her bachelors from New York University. She subsequently worked for a Japanese bank in New York City and then a real estate investment firm in Tokyo prior to joining Darden's Class of 2009.

Adam: Darden is often referred to as the boot camp of MBA programs for its intensity. Looking at your first year schedule, I can kind of see why. So how hard has it been?

Naomi: I learned very quickly that they were not joking when they said Darden is a boot camp. First of all there is the workload. We have 3 cases a day, which means 3 cases we need to prepare for on our own prior to our learning team. Apart from the cases we need to squeeze in recruiting briefings and guest speakers in our afternoons. In the early evenings we get together in our learning team and go over the cases again. The next morning these cases get discussed in the classroom, which is an intensive and engaging environment where we get cold-called and our ideas that we worked through with our respective learning teams get challenged day in and day out. You have to be willing to work hard, because Darden will not be a 2-year vacation from your job. But I have found it to be a constant battle between sleep, getting cases done, recruiting events, and squeezing in time for yourself (workouts, social events).

Adam: Can you explain the role of the Case Method at Darden?

Naomi: Darden trains us to think and act like managers. In a case method classroom, everyone is prepared, ready to jump right into the case when class begins. We argue with each other about certain key aspects of the case, and defend our positions to our classmates who often have opposing ideas. The professors' role is to be the moderator, not the lecturer. The case method is what defines Darden, and what gives this program the intensity that is often spoken of. I have learned to explain myself very well, since they teach us that the process is more important than getting the right answer.

Adam: What was your Learning Team like?

Naomi: I am very fortunate to have ended up with an incredible group of people in my learning team. There are 6 of us: 2 international students, 2 women, and all of us have different professional backgrounds. During the first 3 quarters at Darden, we met almost every night at 7:30pm before a school day ( which typically was Sunday through Thursday). We would have done our cases on our own by then, and be ready to discuss the cases. Since we have different strengths and weaknesses, I felt that we really depended on each other at times for knowledge in certain areas such as accounting, operations, and marketing.

This is a big time commitment for all First Years. Beginning in Quarter 2 the Darden program gets even more intense, and we were spending 3 hours every night in our learning team. However, I came away feeling that I have a special bond with these 5 people, and we tried to get together once in a while in Quarter 4 for dinner.

Adam: Would you mind explaining the role of the Honor Code?

Naomi: It is because of the honor code that we have the privilege of being able to do certain things at Darden. For instance, we can leave our laptops anywhere at school and know that it will be right where we left it. It is the reason why our exams are take-home, open notes and open-book. By signing the honor code prior to beginning each exam, we pledge that the work will be our own, and that we have not exceeded the time limit (typically 5 hours).

Adam: Do you actually have any time for clubs? If so, which ones are you active in?

Naomi: To be completely honest I have not had much time for clubs for the first 3 quarters. In Quarter 4, I got elected as the Vice President of Events for the International Business Society so I have been organizing the remainder of this year's events for the club and planning next year's events (guest speakers, international food festival, etc).

Adam: Are there any common characteristics you find amongst your classmates?

Naomi: We are a very diverse crowd, but one consistent characteristic I found was that everyone is willing to help each other out. We are graded on a forced curve as First Years at Darden which puts us all in competition with each other so that we do not end up in the bottom of the forced curve. Despite that, students lead the review sessions we have prior to exams and offer the limited time that they have to give tutoring lessons to those who are struggling with the course material.

Adam: Since you did your Bachelors at NYU, I was wondering what it was like for you to now be studying in a relatively small college town.

Naomi: Living in a college town is a lot of fun. The town is defined by UVA (for e.g., the local restaurants are closed during home football games). You do not have the advantage of anonymity --whether you are at the grocery store or the driving range, you will always find someone from school there. It certainly is a world of a difference from my life at NYU--at NYU I recall going to classes, occasionally having lunch at the student center, and going home directly after classes. At Darden I am completely immersed in school, and almost everything I do has to do with Darden or UVA. I attend home football games, represent Darden and volunteer in Charlottesville, go to a professor's home for dinner….these activities also gave me a lot of opportunity to get to know my classmates.

Adam: What are your favorite MBA related blogs?

Naomi: I cannot say I have accessed MBA blogs lately (meaning after coming to Darden) to tell you the truth. But here's an interesting article written by a classmate of mine--it really sums up the life of a Darden First Year.

Adam: Anything else you would like to tell us?

Naomi: Darden is tough, and you will most likely miss your job/hometown/friends/pets when you first get here. But once your routine becomes a well-oiled machine, you realize you are surrounded by an incredible group of classmates, professors and staff who are always willing to help you. The case method, honor code, learning teams are all key components of the Darden program. However, it is the people that make the program great.

I want to thank Naomi for taking the time to answer my questions. Japanese who are considering application to Darden should most certainly visit the Japanese language Darden MBA Blog.

Question? Comments? Email me at adammarkus@gmail.com
-Adam Markus
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