Just over two months ago, I started an MBA program at the Yale School of Management. I started the MBA program for reasons that I’ve come to learn are fairly common: I wasn’t satisfied with my career, and the MBA seemed like the best way to pivot, given that I possess only the vaguest notion of what I want to pivot into. The MBA program feels, in some ways, like being inside a particle collider. It’s a place where you have hundreds of people on very different paths and trajectories, converging in the human equivalent of high-energy plasma for a brief time before they ricochet back out.
So far, it’s been exhilarating. The thing that I’ve been most struck by in these past few months is the diversity of the people in my program compared to other educational settings. As an undergraduate, everybody was a former high school student. Conversely, in PhD and professional programs, the people are on mostly parallel courses to careers in their discipline or industry.
Not so in the MBA. People come from a much wider variety of professional backgrounds, at different stages of their lives, aiming to pursue a variety of different careers. To illustrate what I mean, here are the backgrounds represented among the people in my nine-person learning team (who I work with for group projects):
• Soldier (US military)
• Elementary school teacher
• Engineer (from Nigeria)
• Data Analyst
• Market Researcher (that’s me)
• Financial Auditor
• Banker (from Peru)
• Think Tank Analyst
The thing that we all have in common is what I mentioned earlier. Most everyone in my class has spent several years pursuing a profession. Most of us also feel dissatisfied by their professional track in some way, and are looking for a path to something new, even if we aren’t sure what just yet.
My decision to go to business school at Yale specifically bears discussion.
Yale, of course, is one of the most recognized and highly regarded educational institutions on the planet. However, the business school is, to crib from one of my classmates, a “top 13 business school.” This is to say (if one will forgive my candor) that it doesn’t have the same pedigree or history as many of its peers. The Yale School of Management is actually quite young, having been started in 1973 (for comparison, Harvard Business School was established in 1908, Sloan at MIT in 1914, Columbia in 1916, and Wharton in freaking 1881).
As such, the School of Management tries to position itself somewhat differently from other business schools. The school’s mission is to “educate leaders for business and society,” with extra emphasis on the “and society.” It hopes to distinguish itself from other business schools by being 1) more globally oriented, 2) more closely integrated with its parent university, and 3) more focused on professional tracks that prioritize social impact. It makes sense, when the reputation of the parent university for educating society’s leaders is one of the school’s major selling points.
In practice, seems to have manifested in a culture that is less focused on traditional MBA career paths in consulting and investment banking in favor of policy, non-profits, and other “social impact” organizations. It also means that there is more exposure to people at other professional schools (such as the school of public health, or the school of forestry and environmental studies, as well as the other graduate programs). The sense of diversity that I described earlier is a feature of the Yale experience. It seems like its easier to have unique experiences here, easier to avoid the fierce competition to be the most Polished, Composed Professional™.
This isn’t to say that I am without reservations. The Yale brand comes with a certain set of elite pretensions. We are told that we are the future leaders. We are also told that we are going to be taught to comport our business conduct with a strong sense of social responsibility. But how does this story actually play out? How much of it is hot air? For me, these are still open questions.
I want to take a moment to talk about why I I’m taking the time to write about these experiences. After all, writing takes time, and one might reasonably ask why I think that composing essays with quadruple digit wordcounts, in addition to homework, recruiting, other extracurriculars, and having a social life is a good idea.
There are three reasons.
The first is because of writing helps me think. It forces me to think a little more clearly and precisely about my experiences, and select when elements make the most sense to discuss. These next few months are going to be something of a fulcrum in my life, and I want to be thinking as clearly as I can.
The second is because writing is another way for me to connect with people. If anyone reads this and finds what I have to say interesting, that’s one more person who I might be able to connect with and collaborate with in the future. This will hopefully be a way to meet interesting people who I haven’t had the good fortune of bumping into.
The third is because a blog is a uniquely good place to compile and connect ideas and experiences from disparate places and settings, with the time and space to properly contextualize them. For example, here I can present, side by side, an interesting newspaper editorial, a video essay, a paper I read in undergrad, and an anecdote from last week.
This last reason bears some additional elaboration, because I think making these sorts of connections is an important part of the business school experience. I’ve already discussed the importance of the diversity of MBA program. However, I think that in order to reap the benefits of the diversity, it takes some amount of effort, and a willingness to go beyond the strictly professional when engaging with my peers and with my institution. If Yale wants us, as business leaders, to integrate social and ethical priorities into our lives and careers, it stands to reason that we should also integrate these priorities non-traditional priorities into our business education.
These are interesting times, I’m in an interesting place, and it would be a shame not to write about them.