Author Archive


A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Posted by: Rebecca
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A classmate of mine sent me an email today with the following subject line: Ultimate Procrastination Tool.  The email consisted of a single link:   Thanks Mirwais, you were right – I managed to waste a lot of time playing with this captivating site that creates visualisations from text. You can enter in text yourself or link it to websites and blogs.  The size of each word is determined by its frequency.  Being the nerd that I am, I played around with all sorts of texts – all the emails from an ex-boss (the words NOW and MUST were very prominent), an entire chapter of my favorite book (thanks Google!) and last but not least the LBS MBA blog.  I thought you might find the last one interesting so I've posted it here. I was struck by the size of words like "great" and "group". 

MBA Blog

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Posted by: Rebecca
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This is a very busy time of year.  I know, all the bloggers are starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but it’s true.  The amount of work and activity seems to increase with each passing semester.  At the moment I’m juggling three upcoming exams, a report for our Managing Organisational Behaviour Audit client, plus all the activity that comes with being an Academic rep and involved with the Media Club.  And then there is the small matter of my 1st Year Project. 

Each year professors post research topics of interest to them as 1YPs.  Students can apply, and if selected, earn an elective credit after successfully completing the paper / case study / analysis.  One of them caught my eye: the Evolution of Organizational Forms and Employment Patterns in the Film Industry (1900-2008).  I applied and was awarded the project. 

This happened back in February.  Since then I have learned several “fun facts”:

  • In 1990 over 36,000 scripts were registered with the Writers Guild of America; less than 1% was made into movies.
  • While everyone enjoys playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” he is not, in fact, the most connected person in Hollywood.  That honour belongs to a porn star.
  • I am the only student who signed up for a 1st year project.

All of these findings are interesting to recite, but somewhat intuitive including the last fact.  I say this because all of my fellow classmates are bright enough to know the basic math for return on investment.  I apparently skipped that Finance lecture and neglected to calculate that an 8,000 word research report on what I will call a niche topic may not be the best use of hours and hours and hours of time. 

So why did I sign up for a 1YP on this particular topic?  That seems to be a popular question.  A number of conversations have followed a similar pattern.

Friend: “want to grab a drink?”
Me: “can’t. I have to write another 5,000 words of my research paper for my 1YP.”
Friend:  “what’s a 1YP? And why would you sign up for more work?”

Or this one –

Me: “can you help me find a book on power networks?”
Librarian: “sure. Is this for a second year project?”
Me: “no, a first year project.”
Librarian: “They’re making you do first year projects now, too?”
Me: “no, I signed up for one.”
Librarian: “wow.  Why?”

One of the things that drew me to the 1YP was the flexibility to work on an elective credit on my own, at my own pace.  Of course, in reality that means waiting until the 11th hour to start researching and writing (if you are one of those people who stick to a disciplined schedule and finish things on time, I’m sorry but we can’t be friends). 

But as I approach the homestretch (1500 more words to go!), I realise that the answer to the question “why?” is because this obscure topic interests me: I want a job in media, and this is what the paper is about after all.  And there is something oddly satisfying about writing a report with a word count in the thousands with a bibliography that goes on for pages.  Sort of like running a marathon (not that I’ve done it) – mildly masochistic but somehow rewarding. 

This fall the faculty will no doubt post another slate of 1YPs, and for any MBA 2011 thinking about applying, feel free to come talk to me.  In the meantime, information sessions are being held for the 2nd Year Project, which are mandatory for graduation.  I think I'll finish this one before thinking about the next one.   

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Hungry Hungry Hippos

Posted by: Rebecca
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Business school is really a series of very difficult choices.  It starts when you must decide which school(s) to apply to, and carries on as you accept an offer of admission, select clubs to join, choose your electives, decide whether to go on exchange and ultimately pick a career path.  Some decisions are easy, while others will truly test your character.  One of the most difficult decisions you will make is determining what to do for Spring Break. 

Yes, the life of a MBA student is tough.  I spent many sleepless nights agonizing over the choices. (Actually, that’s a lie.  I may have forfeited a nap here or there, but that’s about it.)  It boiled down to three options:

1. Thailand Sailing Trip*: 30 students, 3 boats, 7 days on the open water. 
2. Japan Trip*: 30 students take on all you can eat sushi and sake in Tokyo and Kyoto.
3. Africa Trip: 30 students + lions + hippos + cheap beer = amazing adventure. 


Ultimately I chose the Africa trip because I have always wanted to visit the continent and figured it is unlikely that work will one day take me there.  The trip was organised by two fellow MBA students, Vata and Gil, who did a phenomenal job both in planning the itinerary and herding 32 unruly students across five countries in 13 days.  Our itinerary was action packed: Sun City, South Africa; Gabarone, Botswana; Kasane, Botswana; briefly to Namibia; across the river to Zambia and Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls; and finally to Cape Town, South Africa. 


What was the best part of the trip?  Two weeks later and I’m still thinking about it.  Africa was truly a trip of a life time, but it was also full of extremes:

  • Visiting the DeBeers diamond operation in Botswana
  • Spending time playing with kids at an orphanage in Gabarone
  • Going on safari and seeing so many elephants and hippos that we stopped taking pictures of them**
  • Seeing Victoria Falls at the highest water levels in the past 25 years
  • Buying a 100 Trillion Zimbabwean note for £1
  • Eating some of the best seafood I have ever tasted in Cape Town
  • Standing at the Cape of Good Hope, the furthest point south on the continent


But after reviewing the 600 pictures I took, the most memorable shots are the ones of us bonding as a group: piling into very small and potentially unsafe minibuses. Us looking very sceptical about crossing into Zambia on a speed boat amid piles of luggage.  Or when we challenged a group of Booth MBA students also visiting Botswana to a beer boat race (we won, obviously).  Making pirate hats while on a sunset boat cruise near Victoria Falls.  32 students and partners shared this adventure together, and that’s what made it such a great trip.  It would have been a totally different experience and not nearly rewarding had I done the exact same itinerary by myself.

*I hope that fellow bloggers on the Japan and Thailand trips post an account of their Spring Break – from what I’ve heard, they had excellent yet completely different adventures. 

**A word of caution: baboons are dangerous.  They will beat you up and steal your lunch if you’re not careful.  Take it from us.

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Venturing into New Territory

Posted by: Rebecca
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Sometimes people do things that I really don’t understand, like finding the motivation to enrol in an early morning boot camp fitness program, or making their own sushi at home when there are plenty of excellent restaurants just waiting to deliver.  I include case competitions in this category.  Give up a weekend to do more work solving a hypothetical (or improbable) business situation under time pressure with a team of type A personalities under the watchful eyes of outside experts for the glory of winning a certificate?  I must be missing something, because case competitions are a staple of business school life and invariably dozens of people sign up for each one.

So it was with an open if somewhat sceptical mind that I agreed at the last minute to join a team for the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC).  VCIC is different than most classic case competition formats in that it attempts to model the venture capital experience in 48 hours:

  • The teams are given 3 – 5 business plans from real start-up companies.
  • The actual entrepreneurs give their pitch to the group and then each team has 15 minutes to conduct a Q&A due diligence session.
  • Each team then must pick a start-up, decide how much money to invest and on what terms. The entrepreneur and the team meet one last time for a 15 minute negotiation on the term sheet in hopes of striking a deal.
  • The whole process is observed by experienced venture capitalists that grill each team’s thought process and term sheet after the negotiations.

As someone who knows very little about venture capital it was a great learning experience both in terms of evaluating a start-up as well as structuring an early stage investment.  But for me the best part of the experience was our team – I got a chance to work with a group of very talented people whose backgrounds and strengths are very different than mine, and I learned more from them in 48 hours than I did in several weeks of class.

The first round was a frenzy of internet research, financial modelling and late night brainstorming sessions.  We were the underdogs compared to other the teams with prior VC experience, but in the end we surprised ourselves by winning both first place and the Entrepreneurs’ Choice award. And we won a lot more than a certificate: two bottles of champagne and an expense paid trip to represent the school in the next round at NYU Stern.

After heeding some advice from our VC judges, we jetted off to NYC for round two.  The semi-finals were equally intense and the competition was fierce.  We spent one day holed up in the New York Public Library thinking about the merits of iPhone applications versus cloud computing.  We didn’t win in the end, but we had a lot of laughs along the way.  Better yet, we got to enjoy the rest of the weekend in NYC. This is not to say that I will be signing up for every case competition, but it goes to show that it’s worth trying something before passing judgement.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going shopping for raw fish and rice.

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The Medium is the Message

Posted by: Rebecca
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I first read Marshall McLuhan's book Understanding Media (apologies for the unacademic referencing) back as an undergraduate.  At the time I thought it was one of the best books I had ever read and I was naive enough to think that I understood what he was talking about.  It was enough for me to seek out media projects as a management consultant and waste countless hours reading everything related to the media industry, from Pew to Trendhunters to Adbusters. 

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the first club I joined was the Media Club.  They had me at "multi-channel content".  I quickly learned that I know only a trivial iota about media, barely enough to compete at pub quiz night relative to many of the other Media club members.  The Media club is one of the largest on campus with over 600 members. Its mandate is two fold: to help students learn about and engage with the media industry and to educate the media industry about the value of MBA students.

The Media Club organises different events to serve these two mandates.  The biggest single event is the annual Media Summit held each November (captured in an episode of MBA TV). This year we were lucky enough to have a stellar line-up of guest speakers, including Mark Thompson (Director-General of the BBC) and Bill Roedy (CEO of MTV Networks International) and over 200 delegates.

Twelve of us also went on a trek to LA in December, visiting 14 media companies in 5 days.  We met with NBC Universal, MTV Digital, Yahoo! Sports, MySpace and CAA to name a few. I think my personal highlight was having dinner next to Larry David, but that's just the star-struck tourist talking. 

On a smaller scale, the club organises weekly lunches with media executives.  Each week we invite a different person to join 15 of us for lunch on campus.  It's an informal event where we can learn about what's happening in digital or television or social networks to name a few topics.  I've made it a habit to go each week and I'm never disappointed – I always learn something new and leave with something to think about.

Up next we're gearing up for our Meet the Media event in March.  We're inviting an equal mix of students, alumni and industry execs to join us at Soho House for a night of chat and cocktails.  It should be a lot of fun and chances are tickets will be in hot demand.  

Blog MTM Invite

I'm one of the hopefuls looking for a media internship this summer, which is typically more of a "make your own job / choose your own adventure" deal as opposed to a structure programme like banking or consulting.  These types of opportunities tend to come later – May or June – and I know the wait will be agonizing.  It's already weird sitting out while everyone marches around in suits and cracking cases. But I know that when the opportunity presents itself I'll be armed with more than a Marshall McLuhan quote, which is a lot more than what I started with in September. 

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Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Posted by: Rebecca
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December! Finally the heart of darkness (November) is over, miraculously the sun is shining and the Christmas lights are twinkling.  There is something magical about London at Christmas, something akin to the holidays that have been immortalized in so many movies.  The streets are coated with blue and white lights (Westminster is particularly proud of its street decorating ability), the pubs are serving hot cider, and there is enough mincemeat to sink a ship.  Last week I was brave enough to venture into Harrods’s Christmas floor, and its tacky glory was enough to tip me over to full-on holiday cheer mode.  My iPod has been on “Swinging Holiday Playlist” ever since. 

On Saturday I went to Borough Market, which might as well be Christmas headquarters: dozens of mulled wine booths, Christmas tree stands, mandarin oranges, roasted chestnuts, Christmas pudding, choirs and Salvation Army jingle bells.  It put me in the right mood for what was the pinnacle event of my holiday season so far: Santa Pub Crawl.

Okay, close your eyes for a moment. Actually scratch that because you need to read this, so open them again.  Imagine you are a weary shopper taking the tube home, when all of a sudden you run into  430 people clad in Mr. and Mrs. Claus outfits pouring into Baker Street tube station, riding the escalator and singing Jingle Bells in unison. At this point, they are orderly and mostly sober Santas:


Later on you venture out into Piccadilly Circus and run into the same 400 Santas (there were some casualties), only they have been hitting the eggnog a little hard and have hijacked several unsuspecting tourists (some Santas forgot that Christmas is about giving, not taking).  They seem to be singing two or three different carols at once, and is it just your imagination or is Mrs Claus’ skirt  a little shorter?



'Tis the season to celebrate, and no one takes partying as seriously as b-school students.  I am grateful for our three week break coming up – it will give me time to recover and prepare (both mentally and physically) for whatever 2009 has in store. 

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Hop Skip and a Jump

Posted by: Rebecca
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It’s amazing how far you can get from London in two and a half hours.  You can hop on a train or a plane and be in an entirely different place: new language, new scenery, new culture.  I’ve travelled a lot, but usually it took a little more time and effort to get to somewhere really different.  As a kid growing up in Calgary, we would drive for 3 hours and get to… Edmonton.  Or for a real thrill you could drive east and hit… Saskatchewan.  Woohoo!  Road trip to Regina!

This is the second time I’ve gone to school in London, the first being London, Ontario.  Sure, a two hour drive from London (ON) will get you somewhere very different: Detroit.  For many Canadians, this is indeed an adventure into foreign territory (“quick – roll up the windows and drive the speed limit! Don’t brake until we make it back to free healthcare and Tim Hortons!”).   Things were a little more interesting when I lived in San Francisco. Several hours in a car will get you deep into wine country, skiing in Tahoe or across the bridge to Oakland during rush hour.  Seattle and Phoenix are both two hours away by plane – rain or shine, a change of scenery.  But this pales in comparison to the adventures on London’s (UK) doorstep.

In early October I took the Eurorail to Paris for the weekend.  This was only about 2 weeks after the fire in the Chunnel, and you could still smell the smoke as we passed underground.  When we emerged, the sun was shining in France and I swear there was a waft of fresh baguettes and cigarettes.   New language, new currency, new country – all mine for the weekend. 

A few weeks later I hopped on an Easyjet plane to Barcelona.  In less than three hours I was drinking Spanish wine and eating manchego cheese in a restaurant off Las Ramblas.  We spent the weekend walking around the city, visiting the Picasso museum, shopping at ZARA and enjoying more Spanish wine.  On Friday I’m going back to Spain, but this time to Madrid.  

I realize all this travelling may sound indulgent.  You might be thinking “when does she study?” Sure there’s a lot of work – assignments, group work, and exams.  But it’s also true that the MBA experience is more than just classes and networking events. Next semester our stream has Thursdays and Fridays off and we would be foolish to waste this good fortune, particularly given the Ryanair and EasyJet seat sales.  Flights to Rome for £20? Marrakesh for £40? I’m in. 

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Last week we were asked to bring a sample of our writing in preparation for a workshop titled “Writing with Impact”.  While I would like to think that I’m a decent writer, the truth is that I’m likely to get the most impact if I bundle up all my drafts and hurl the stack at someone.  I’ll take all the help I can get.

My London Business School application essays were the easiest examples to find, so I opened up v11 (the final version) and selected an essay.  But if the purpose of this workshop was to examine our true writing skills, surely I wasn’t going to learn much about my writing from a sample that had been so carefully edited and agonized over.  I wondered if v1 wasn’t a better reflection of my true craft, so I opened up the dusty file – created exactly a year ago today. 

Oh the horrors!  The first essay was littered with run-on sentences, meaningless adjectives and terrible passive tenses.  My efforts to disguise real client examples were so good that even I didn’t know who or what I was talking about. I had stop after reading halfway through for fear of falling asleep. It’s not as though I didn’t make a genuine effort on this first draft. I spent countless hours at my favorite coffee shop (The Grove on Fillmore) carefully crafting my responses to “in what role do you see yourself immediately after graduation?” and the like. 

Fortunately I had lined up two readers to help mitigate these fatal flaws: my mother, a language arts teacher, and Sarah, a friend who is a talented writer with experience editing MBA applications. 

My mother had the first crack at reading my essays.   She was kind but firm with her criticism: “Were you ever taught any grammar at all?  You have sentences that last entire paragraphs.  And by the way – commas serve a purpose.  You can’t just sprinkle them on for decoration.”  Interesting and duly noted. 

Sarah’s feedback was constructive and devastating.  Application essays can turn into an intensely personal manifesto, particularly after you have spent so many hours on them.  To hear her say that my draft was “middle of the pack” in terms of quality made my heart sink even though I knew she was right.  However, she gave me two great suggestions that I want to pass on to this year’s applicants:

1.       Show, don’t tell.  Or, as Mark Twain said, "Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream!" If you say you’re "different" or "interesting", that word alone proves nothing. In fact, it seems to disprove your point purely by being boring and typical. Illustrate with a story or example instead.

2.       Be memorable. Imagine that the admission essay reader is seven hours into an admissions-essay-reading day. You are application #112 and frankly, #1 through #111 were mind-numbingly boring and she is waiting desperately to go to dinner but just has to finish your application before she can go home. You want to be memorable and worth her time.

This advice made a lot of sense to me, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to incorporate. In fact it took me 10 more drafts to get a version I was comfortable with.  So other lessons from this experience are to give yourself plenty of time to complete your application and find readers who will give you honest and constructive feedback.  And be careful where you put commas. Good luck!

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Parlez-Vous Francais?

Posted by: Rebecca

One of the main reasons I applied to London Business School is because of its global ambitions, of which the language requirement plays a very important role. Everyone is required to speak at least a second language.This can be a very ambitious goal for Brits and North Americans, but I have many classmates who are picking up a 3 or 4th language “just for fun”. Why stop with just Portuguese, English and German? Why not learn Japanese, too?

Originally I had ambitions to learn a new language from scratch.  Sometime in April while I was working in Dubai I thought it would be cool to study Arabic.  In August, inspired by the Olympics, I got excited about learning Mandarin.  Then September rolled around and the reality of both the workload and all the great electives on offer set in: do I really want the most stressful part of my MBA experience to be the language requirement?  So I decided to be a lazy Canadian and brush up on my French instead. 

Je suis desolée, mon amour, mais je ne t’aime plus.  Je suis infatuée avec Jacques Cousteau.*

In order to meet the language requirement, you must pass a test for Level 2 in any language you choose. The definition of Level 2 is a bit ambiguous, but at a minimum you should be able to talk to native speakers without making a total fool out of yourself (note: this could prove challenging for me as I sometimes struggle with this in English).   

Excusez-moi, madame.   Vous avez un morceau de jambon entre vos dents.  Un moment – je vais vous aider.*

The school offers elective courses in most languages or you can choose to pay £1000 for each course.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend an elective credit on French, so my roommate Dan (another Canadian) suggested an alternative: take classes through Alliance Français and try to pass the requirement early.

L’habit ne fait pas le moine, mais les talons hauts font la femme.*

Enrolling in classes required writing a paragraph (topic: talk about a recent trip you took with a friend.  My friend and I went to la piscine, we ate une baguette, rode le Metro and we also watched Amelie), and have a brief conversation with an instructor. He talked for about 5 minutes, of which I understood very little, and then looked at me expectantly.  Only two words came to mind: 1) Something close to "zut alors".  2) D’accord.   With that I ended up in French classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Pamplemousse. Pamplemousse. Pamplemousse.  Pamplemousse.* (seriously, one of my favorite things about learning French is having a legitimate reason to use the word “Pamplemousse”on a regular basis). 

Clearly I have some work to do.  My advice for any “monolingual” people applying for next year is to start studying now or take an intensive language course over the summer.  It will save you a lot of time and money once school starts.

*Apologies to all the French speakers for my appalling grasp of your language.  Hopefully I’ll improve!

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Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Posted by: Rebecca
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I don’t get along well with Greek letters. I am terrible at anything involving them (no matter how hard I try) and I usually don’t have any fun, either.  Math is a classic example.  I once accidentally enrolled in advanced calculus for engineers and pre-med students – it was the most harrowing experience of my life. Some people freak out at the sight of bugs or vermin, but µ ≥ β is what sends a chill up my spine.

So needless to say, I had to resist the urge to vomit when I saw our class schedule for the month of September: 5 full days of Business Statistics. 9 am – 5 pm.  I prepared for the worst, but was pleasantly surprised after our first day of class.  It helps that our professor, Kristin Fridgeirsdottir, has managed to make statistics practical and interesting, using examples that are relevant to what we’re reading in the news (e.g., polling for the upcoming U.S. presidential election).  She also has a great sense of humor, which keeps us awake and laughing.  The class format helps – it’s not 8 hours of straight lecture as I originally feared, but broken up into four segments: 90 minutes of lecture, 90 minutes of exercises in our study group with a PhD student, lunch, 90 minutes of class discussion, and finished by a 90 minute workshop in the computer lab. 

Not only do the stat days pass by pretty quickly, but I’m actually learning something, too. I used to be highly skeptical about regression.  In my previous job as a management consultant, I noticed that new MBAs attempted to use regression to answer every single problem – we called it “Regression Aggression”.  But now I’m starting to see how statistics could help shed light on relationships in our daily life:

·         The further away your apartment is from campus, the higher the probability you will be late to class (1 tube stop = 1 standard deviation)

·         There is a strong positive correlation between total daily beer consumption and average weight gain

·         57: the mean number of clubs each student has joined so far (skewed slightly by an outlier who joined every single one)

·         For every bank that fails, an additional 100,000 people will apply to business school next year (95% confidence interval, +/- 12,893)

I’ll be sad when Business Statistics finishes on Friday. 

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