Student Experience: Getting Out of My Own Way

Friday, January 13, 2017

MBA students tend to be overachievers. They drive themselves to succeed in school and at work, including earning their MBAs in the first place. I was no different in that I always tended to achieve academic success, but I never really pushed myself to truly achieve the way many of my classmates have. I decided as I began my graduate program that I was going to change that and see what I could accomplish when I set my mind to it, and show my kids the power of that work while I was at it.

Of course, it’s easy to say “Nothing will stand in my path to success!” when you’re succeeding. It’s much harder when you’re struggling, as many graduate students (and business leaders) discover.

This term was my second with two courses, Statistical Models and Marketing Management, taught by Morgan Wise and Jill Slupe, respectively. I was excited for both subjects. I tend to be that way, as you may have noticed if you’ve read my first, second, or third blogs. I’ve always enjoyed numbers that mean something, and Stats would help that. I often work on marketing projects, so I knew I would gain insight from Marketing.

Both professors were excellent and passionate about their subjects. They wanted us to walk away with information we could use in our day-to-day work lives, and they both succeeded. I have already used concepts from both courses multiple times since the end of the term, including today.

Even with my excitement about the subjects and the right people in front of the room, however, about a third of the way through the term, I realized that there were topics I didn’t understand in each course thanks to my old habitual apathy creeping up on me. Deadlines slipped by, “close enough” was submitted instead of refined, and I was seeking answers instead of understanding. I had to admit I was behind or I knew I’d drown.

When I was in high school or undergrad, I found myself in these situations with what many would consider an alarming frequency. My solution tended to be a variation on “I’ll make it up later.” The terms in the MBA move too quickly for that to be a solution, so I knew I had to make a choice: Do I do what I’ve always done? Or do I suck up my pride, swim into uncharted waters, and ask for help?

I decided that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. I found help in each course through different channels.

My teammates were invaluable in Statistics. When I was confused about how (or why) to calculate a confidence interval, one of my teammates helped explain it to me outside a dedicated homework session. When we were confused about how exactly a hypothesis test works, we dug in and figured it out together. When we found ourselves hopelessly lost, Professor Wise made himself readily available to help us get to the next step. A younger me would have ended up underwater, but my teammates kept me from drowning.

In Marketing, it was Professor Slupe who protected me from myself. The entire course was built around researching a single firm, understanding both the firm and the market it plays in, and delivering a marketing plan at the end of the 9 weeks. When I didn’t have answers for some questions because the firm I chose was in its infancy, Professor Slupe didn’t let me get away with not knowing. The comments on my early work in the course led me to change what I was doing later, and eventually I resubmitted my earlier work and improved both my grade and the marketing plan. As that plan is for my wife’s small business, Professor Slupe’s insistence on excellence will prove profitable in both the short and long term.

When I began my MBA, it was with a renewed appreciation for the power of education. Now that I’m about halfway done, it’s easy to fall back into that feeling of school being a habit. My struggles and the help that I received this term were a reminder that this process takes effort.

It is also comforting knowing that when a fellow student is having some of these same issues, I’ll be able to point them to their resources from a place of experience. Professors, teammates, and friends want to help. All you have to do is let them.

Jack O’Connell, Midland MBA Class of 2017

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