Thursday, February 11, 2010

Personal observations about study

I am sitting in my apartment in Beverly at my kitchen counter. In my lap is a copy of Managing_For_The_Future_Organizational_Behavior_and _Processes. I am reading a case study of a fictional MA business called Dynacorp and typing notes for the paper on this case study on my Macbook as I read.

And this is all a bit weird. For several reasons. I spent most of my undergrad career writing papers on a computer that made Strong Bad's first PC look good. I couldn't type while staring at the textbook and until October 2009, I had roommates. So this is all a set of relatively new developments. Hopefully, it will be enough to get me through this class.

I graduated from college in 1997. That was the last time I wrote a paper. I've taken classes since then, but they were classes in Access or Linux or SQL. I had problem sets for those classes-not papers. I have written things for business since 1997, but those were password policies or marketing pieces (Dear Client- here's why you should use this great new service of ours) not papers. And of course, I've written a thing or two on this blog I have, but none of it's been about Organizational Design (me bitching about work doesn't count.)

Through most of my college career I was an indifferent student. I did reasonably well in my major (French literature) because I liked it and I was good at reading things and analyzing them to extract meaning. And because I enjoyed speaking and reading French. But I didn't really apply myself. When a course I took became boring or hard I stopped paying attention and relied on my native intelligence to produce papers or problem sets that were "good enough." In terms of passing classes this worked-most of the time. I wasn't particularly worried about getting enough credits to graduate, and I didn't particularly care about my GPA.

All of my education since then has been different. In 2004 I started taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College. I did this because there were things I wanted to learn, and my employer was willing to pay for them because they fell in line with things that would make me better at my job (Computer Hardware, Access, Operating Systems, etc.) But I also knew I was taking these classes to see if I could get my mind back into academia so that I could apply for some sort of post-graduate education.

I could see the difference in myself as a student immediately-starting with the first course I took (Operating Systems in 2004 for the record). In spite of the fact that I was attending class after working a full day I was often the only one in the room taking notes (and much better notes than I'd have taken at age 18-21). Some of my friends pointed out that I was spending too much time in the "kiddie pool" (Taking undergrad classes) when really I should apply to grad school already, but I don't regret anything I learned at Bunker Hill-even the classes I sat through where I knew as much as the professor on the subject matter because I still learned something in those classes (I learned that I knew something other people were willing to sit through a class to learn-that has value.)

So now here I am in my first graduate school course. It's at U Mass Boston. It's a class that's about teamwork and organizational design. I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. I'm not 22 and starting my first desk job-I've worked in small businesses through my whole career (by choice.) I've been on task forces and long standing committees and I've learned to work with people who work in different "departments." I've learned how to get buy-in for a project from the people who might object before presenting said project to the entire staff. Surely this is going to be a class in Stuff I Already Know.


This class is kicking my ass a bit. Although I read the way most people breathe, and I'm pretty sure that if I had to I still have the skills to put together a decent, short paper on Anna_Karenina or Kristen_Lavrensdatter if I felt like it, reading the textbook for this class makes me feel like I'm dyslexic. Putting together a paper on what I've read feels like I'm working in a second language that I don't know very well. And my classmates are all pretty smart. I'm on a team with two guys who are both taking more than one class and working full time. And in spite of this I feel like I'm playing catch up ball when we meet (some of this might have to do with the 12 day work week I had last week, but still.)

When I left class with one of them I mumbled something like "oy vey so much homework!" and he replied "You knew what you were getting into when you signed up for this." Well no, I had no idea what I'd signed up for. I only knew that it was Necessary. And that's the difference between the undergraduate degree I got in 1997 and the graduate degree I am starting out in 2010. I am not just doing this because it is what one does between the ages of 18 and 21 (along with Learning to Live with Other People and the occasional alcohol poisoning.) I am doing it because I really want to put the letters MBA after my name.

Unlike my undergrad experience, I do care about my GPA. Unfortunately, also unlike my undergrad experience, I can't just take classes in subjects that come easily to me. I am at U Mass Boston to learn things that I do not yet know, not (as I had previously thought) to certify things I already knew. In spite of the fact that this makes things harder, I'm actually okay with this (although I'm awfully glad I'm only taking one class this term.)

Why am I okay with this? (In spite of the fact that as I was getting coffee this morning and talking to two of my coworkers who have MBAs I said "this is harder than undergrad work and one of them said "no it isn't." Oh dear.) Well for one, being surrounded by smart people is always a good thing. It makes you try to be smarter. For another, academia is different from real life in that it is more open and accepting and as such produces confidence. People in my class talk to each other and to me in a way they would not at a staff meeting or a Fidelity conference. In this class, as there was in my undergraduate education, there's the assumption of an even footing-we're all MBA candidates and we all met the criteria to be accepted. As opposed to the business world, where XYZ with a CFP's word is more important than Cantabridgienne's (even if the subject is a piece of software that I have spent 5 years with and XYZ has just bought.

So apparently my social life looks dim and I'm going to ave to work my ass off for class number one of 18 (I'm going to spend Valentine's Day writing a paper) but as I said, I'm okay with this because I'm surrounded by smart people who like me, desire above all else to put the letters MBA after their names.

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