Life as an MBA

“Yes, it was totally worth it.”

Monday, January 17th, 2011

For the last four months, my family, friends and colleagues have all been asking me the same question: Was it worth it? For my personal situation, this question is asking a lot more than, “was it worth it to start the evening program at Foster business school?”

Four months ago, I decided (well my husband and I decided) to move across the country, change the terms of my employment and join the Foster community. After four years in Washington D.C. working as a advocate on Capitol Hill it was time for a change – and we decided to go all out.

Trust me, I looked at programs on the East Coast. From Dartmouth to Georgetown and everything in between, I scoured the East Coast for programs that might be a good fit. But after meeting the professors, talking with admissions staff and literally grilling current students about the program, everything told me that Foster was the best choice despite the fact that it was on the other side of the country and more than 3,000 miles away from any immediate family member.

And yes, it was totally worth it. There is a laundry list of reasons why Foster is “worth it” but a few that are of great importance to me. First, is the community. The professors, students, and administration all combine to create a supportive, smart and accessible group of people. Second, is the program. The strong core of “business basics” along with the flexibility to create and shape your MBA provide students with the ability to design the ideal MBA experience. Third, the challenge. Foster does an amazing job of challenging its students both inside and outside the classroom. From professors who push you to learn and apply new knowledge to engaging with the Seattle business community and working closely with other students (and yes this was all in the first ten weeks), it is clear that Foster was and will be a great choice.

Guest blogger – Tyler Edgar, Evening MBA 2013

A light at the end of the tunnel

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The summer before beginning the Foster MBA program, graduation and the job hunt seemed a long way off.  Though I knew in the back of my mind that pursuing an MBA would change the career opportunities available to me, the return to school in itself seemed like the impactful change I needed, not so much the new job I’d take on afterward.  Just over a year after joining Foster, I’m fortunate to have landed a post-graduate job I’m thrilled about, though the process of getting there was not what I expected.   

Figuring out the right position and right employer begins the moment you set foot on campus.  For my first two quarters, I felt like I kept adding options instead of narrowing my search.  Anytime I spoke to someone who was passionate about their past or future career, I began to add it to the list to explore it as an option for me.   Looking for the ideal post-graduation fit became a process of elimination.  At Foster, you will feel like you have too many options, from clubs to internship choices to social events.  You’ve certainly heard before that you should take advantage of as much as you can handle, and I agree with that.  But pay special attention to how these experiences make you feel.  When you’re working in your core team first quarter, what role do you naturally fall into?  When you try to push yourself outside of that role or take a lead on a project that is not in your traditional skill set, how do you feel – does it excite you, make you want to work harder, or just frustrate you? 

In the end, what made the biggest difference was to try things I wouldn’t normally label as “me.”  Though I had initially focused on product management internships and a few positions with logistics companies, I decided to work with a small marketing strategy consulting firm, Bridge Partners Consulting, as part of a work stream for a beta launch with Microsoft.  I had been adamant that consulting was not a good fit for me; and as a late-adopter, I never thought that technology was right either.  By the time Fall quarter began, I felt as though all the little discussions I had with classmates, team experiences, and mini-projects I had taken gave me the confidence to know that what drove me. 

Reflecting on my summer internship, I realized that the things that made me tick there were the same that had made me tick in my previous work; the people.  I spoke with a number of alums and contacts at a variety of consulting companies, spoke with the mentors I’ve made through the years to discuss the ways they’ve seen me be successful in the past, and made the decision to join Bridge Partners.  Having a job lined up after graduation is of course a weight off of my shoulders.  I’m afforded the chance to continue to strengthen the amazing friendships I’ve made here, and begin to plan a fantastic summer trip.  At the same time, there is a bittersweet edge:  signing the contract has made me come to terms that my stint at Foster is almost over.  It’s a mix of excitement and pre-emptive nostalgia, that I think will make me appreciate the next few months that much more.

Guest blogger – Lacey McCann, FT 2011

How to describe the first quarter of an MBA?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Let’s see… imagine this: After months of preparing for a bareback horse riding lesson, you finally arrive at the stable to see a shiny new horse staring you square in the eye.  You’re excited for the lesson and only a bit nervous about the size of this behemoth ahead of you.  You swing your leg over this jet black stallion and no sooner do you get your hands on its mane than it bolts off at breakneck speed.  Your fists turn white with intensity as you struggle to stay on board.  With each gallop the pace quickens and before you know it everything around you has blended into an indiscernible blur of colors and amorphous shapes.  The only thing that keeps running through your mind is “don’t let go… Just Don’t. Let. Go.” In one instant you begin to feel like you’re hitting your stride and in the next the horse gives a kick and you begin to feel yourself slip…. Your fingers begin to cramp and you think you may be in for a quick introduction with the ground.

It is in this moment that you take a look around and realize that you’re not the only one on this horse.  You lift your neck a little and see there are just over a hundred others on this crazy beast and each one has the same crazed fear-stricken determination to survive.  Just as the last vestiges of strength are sapped from your body and you feel yourself begin to fall, a group of hands from all sides push and pull you back into position and your strength is renewed.  This same dance plays itself out over and over.  Sometimes you are the one about to fall to the dirt, more often you’re a helping hand to save an unknown fellow rider.  As you begin to forget what it feels like to be in any other situation the horse rears up and with one giant kick you use all your strength to hold on…

The horse slows to a walk and you realize you have come further from the stable where you started than you ever could have imagined.  As you gaze into the faces of your companions, you see that not only have your surrounding changed but yourself as well.  You realize that each step of the horse was a measured step to push you to your limits without ever giving you more than you can handle.  You have created a bond with your fellow riders that can never be broken and know that this is only the beginning.  You give the horse a spur and begin quarter number two…

Okay maybe it’s not really a whole lot like riding a horse bareback (not that I would know, I live in cities) but you get the impression.  It’s fast, it’s crazy, and without a bunch of other people all in the same situation you would never make it out alive. 

The greatest about this program is how much you learn in such a short period of time!  I hear the words coming out of my mouth now and think, “I wouldn’t have understood a fifth of this 4 months ago.”  Working in the “real world” you forget how easy it is to fall into a routine where you are not challenged and just keep on earning that paycheck (and yes, I really miss that part) but at Foster, you can’t sit idle.

There are too many opportunities to spend a moment without direction. Is this for everyone? No way, you must love the intensity.  Could anyone do it forever? Not a chance, there’s a reason that an MBA only lasts 2 years.  Would I go back home if I could do it all over again? Never.

– Guest Blogger: Trent Huntington, FT 2012

Take that, Week One.

Monday, October 11th, 2010

I just survived the first, full week of school. Survived is the key operating term here, since it did resemble a marathon. Or, perhaps a hurricane. Our deans and advisors told us quite explicitly during orientation that we should expect to be assigned far more than we could possibly finish. It seems now they weren’t kidding. Looking back over the past five days, and then further, over the past month, I’m startled to see how much we’ve already done- and we’ve just begun! We have hit the ground running and clearly there’s no looking back.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the Facebook status updates of my classmates. Either they consist of pleas for sympathy because of sleep deprivation or pleas for study camaraderie down at the local coffee shop for ‘study Sunday.’ So, we’re busy. Yes, we’re tired. We’re working hard for long hours and we have come to accept by now the fact that we’re poor students again. This is tough. Going back to work is starting to look a lot more like a vacation.

If it weren’t for an incredible sense of accomplishment and purpose, lesser mortals might be convinced to throw in the towel. Finance Boot Camp at 7 AM? I can do that. Maybe a breakout study session to value a plot of timberland over future decades for Prof. Gilbert’s class? Done. And then strategy with Prof. Hill, who will cold call and cold call until he reaches the limits of your knowledge and preparation, and then cold call once more. I can do that. And then, why don’t we wrap up the ten-hour day with a networking session with local recruiters over dinner? Normally, I would celebrate such a busy day, but I need to crash so I can be up tomorrow morning at 5 to start it all over again.

My classmates are one stellar, diverse group. From derivatives traders to IT consultants to traffic engineers to European vacation designers, this is a motley crew. In a mere day or two, I have met some of the most fascinating and talented people I’ve ever come across. One classmate (thank Jason!) organized our entire quarters’ worth of assignments in a spreadsheet…and then sent it out to everyone. Unbelievable. And the former private equity and investment bankers help me with finance (and I need a lot) and there are a handful of CPAs to teach me the nuances and merits of the indirect method of cash flow statements.

This first week was brutal. But thanks to my colleagues, now fast friends through struggle, I made it. And with them, I know I’ll get to the end of the quarter and beyond. I’ll find a summer internship, sure, and later land a great job, but I’m not so concerned about that right now. All I want is to get to know these amazing people better, learn as much as is humanly possible (which looks like a realistic goal), and push myself to the very limits of what I can do. Foster students have modest goals, you see.

Guest Blogger, Ryan Anthony, Full Time MBA — 2012

8 Tips from an Evening MBA

Monday, October 4th, 2010

As a 3rd year Evening MBA Student here is some advice that I’ve found particularly helpful over the last two years that I recently shared with the Evening MBA Class of 2013. Please take it for what it’s worth…chances are my advice won’t work for everyone, but it may be helpful to think about.

1. Try not to be intimidated by the workload.  I usually go into a class thinking that at the end of quarter, I want to better understand 5 core theories/topics.  Everything else is “filler.”  If you start to fret about your grade and acing everything, you may drive yourself crazy (i.e. trying to drink from a fire hose).

2. Don’t worry (too much) about your test grades.  No one cares about grades anymore…it’s about whether or not you understand the basic principles.  If you don’t, get in touch with the professors to make sure you do.  I have gotten 50% on some exams and felt like I was lost.  After follow-up meetings with the professor I was able to walk away feeling more confident of my knowledge.  The grade didn’t change, but my experience did. And even after a couple sub-60% grades, I ended up with a 3.2 GPA.

3. If you have (or are in the process of having) kids/spouse, you may find that things get “tense” now and then.  One thing I found helpful: I get my wife a card every 2 – 3 weeks during the quarter and thank her for all of her patience and work while we’re going through the MBA program. Basically, a $2.99 investment helps show that you really appreciate what they’re going through for you.  A random night out for dinner could get you even further.

4. If you can’t get dinner before heading to class (and don’t want to eat what they have on campus), I highly recommend getting a Jimmy Johns sub. They’re about $11 (for a sandwich, coke + cookie), and they deliver really fast (to campus).  Their phone # for ordering is 206-548-9500.

5. I try to remind myself that the University of Washington is a business / brand, and that business is never perfect.  You may run into professors who use an approach that you don’t find helpful, or perhaps a professor that’s presenting information that’s more academic than it is “real-world” worthy. Remember that it’s up to us to help shape the future of the program and ultimately make the University of Washington’s MBA brand stronger.  Be critical of your experience in the program, but be positive, be fair, and
be helpful.

6. Look for ways to build on two critical skill-sets: leadership + presentations.  It seems to me (and it may to you, as well) that the corporate world could really benefit from better leaders (utilizing transitional methods) and people who deliver focused, succinct presentations with meaning.

7. Bond with your team as much as you can.  Get personal with them so you can appreciate each other for who you are (strengths, weaknesses, etc.). Also, make sure you take the time to check in with each other during your work to make sure everyone understands what’s going on.  It’s easy to want to finish up projects as fast as possible, but I would argue it’s ultimately not the best approach if someone in your team is left in the dark.

8. Don’t feel like you have to join clubs, etc.  Yeah – I have no doubt that they’re awesome, and they’re a great to expand your horizons.  But at the end of the day, you only have “so much time” to give.  If joining a club means you can’t spend some time relaxing or hanging out with your family, I’d think hard about whether it’s worth the commitment.

Just my two cents. Good luck to everyone!

– Guest Blogger, David W. Griffiths, Evening MBA Class 2011

Advice from an Old Timer …

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I remember this moment exactly one year ago, the first day of orientation fast approaching.  You are no longer working (At least you shouldn’t be. Go out there and travel while you have a chance!).  You don’t really know what to expect.  You are excited to start this journey, but you’re scared because you can’t remember the last time you added 5 and 7 without a Smartphone.  Let me be the first to tell you not to worry.   I got my undergrad degree in biology, and hadn’t taken a business class since econ in high school!  Don’t worry if you know nothing about accounting or finance or what an exponent is; it will all come to you like it did to everyone the years before you.  Now, I’m not saying it is going to be easy, but I am saying it is going to be an amazing experience.  You will study and stress and lose sleep and stress some more, but through all of this you will make amazing friends, learn amazing things, and apply yourself like you never have before.  I don’t know about you, but those are exactly the reasons I wanted to get my MBA.  It is an unbelievable experience for so many reasons.  It will be challenging, frustrating, incredible and transformational.  There is nothing to be afraid of, and everything to look forward to.  Enjoy your summer and get even more excited for the two years that will change your life.

Guest Blogger, Michael Arbuck, MBA FT Class of 2011

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Friday, June 18th, 2010
Lovely classmate, Katie Collings, at graduation

Lovely classmate, Katie Collings, at graduation

Twenty months of living and breathing the Foster MBA Program has come to an end. Now all I can do is relish in having a summer off, comfortably knowing that a consulting job is waiting for me at the other end of it. After all of this time I still find myself in awe of how much I loved being part of this program – the tremendous friends I made, the soul crushing volume of work I produced, the mastery of functioning on too little sleep and too many Americanos. There is no doubt that all of these assets, and the many others collected, will be invaluable in the years to come as my post-grad life and career meanders through time.

I have a good friend who is rather cynical of MBA programs and has had a front row seat watching my life over the past two years. Something he often mentions is how much of a “joiner” you have to be as an MBA. You join clubs, boards, committees, social circles, teams. There is easily something to join every night of the week – happy hours, dinner outings, pick up sports games. As an insider I argue that it is less about joining and more about that age old philosophy – “work hard, play hard.” MBA students work a ton, even if they are brilliant rocket scientists (like our classmate Carl). Therefore, when the time comes, they celebrate just as much.

Celebrating the end of our time together at Foster began in early April, ramped up in 20100613_jessica_mba_0027late May and finally culminated at the actual ceremony last weekend as we boisterously cheered one another on while each of us made our way across the stage to receive our diploma.

As much as I look forward to being reacquainted with the concept of a weekend and embarking on a new career, I know that the past two years will always be remembered as some of the very best of my life. Because of that, I can’t help but find myself jealous of those of you who are just beginning the MBA journey. Jump in, hold on and enjoy every moment.

And thanks for reading.

Jessica Didion – MBA, Class of 2010

Run Foster Run

Friday, May 14th, 2010
The Foster team getting ready to head to the starting line

The Foster team getting ready to head to the starting line

It was a sunny cold day at the end of fall quarter in December.  I was overwhelmed classes and felt that I had no time to do anything but school.  I decided that I needed a goal.  A big goal.  I thought about something really hard for me, but something that I could accomplish if I put my mind to it. Something that involved a personal victory as opposed to a standard distribution curve in a class.  So it dawned on me – it was running.  So I threw a shout out to my MBA colleagues – “Does anyone want to train for the half marathon in Vancouver in May with me?”

The response I got was overwhelming.  Two other classmates quickly became co-leaders with me on this effort.  We set up a Facebook group (Run Foster Run) and started putting together weekly runs.  Our first run was the week before finals around Greenlake.  It was 20 degrees outside and slippery. From that Saturday and until first weekend of May, Run Foster Run had 13 organized runs.  We took a picture every week and recorded the number of miles we ran to demonstrate to ourselves and our classmates our progress.  We ran all over Seattle – from classical runs like Greenlake and Lake Union to Burke Gilman trail runs, to Discover Park, Arboretum and many others.  Our turnout was always fabulous – people came rain or shine.  In the process, we got to know significant others, second years, evening students and each other.

To make the team more official, we decided to print up shirts for the big race.  Given that we had a decent group signed up to go to Vancouver, we were also able to get support from the Program Office, the MBAA, and Part II which the club is now a part of, to help pay for the shirts.  It was totally worth it, too.  They were quite visible throughout the whole race with their Husky purple and Foster logos. We wore the shirts proudly and I’m happy to report we all beat our goal times.

As for me, I finished my first ever 13.1 mile race and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment considering the fact that in December, I could not run 2 continuous miles.

– Helen Seliverstov (Class of 2011)

Calling it Quits at 18 Hours

Monday, March 29th, 2010

How grueling can a day in the life of an MBA be? Honestly, it can be pretty bad. What exactly is “bad”? Here’s a glimpse of what a recent day looked like for me as we approached the end of the quarter and classes were coming to a conclusion.

March 9, 2010

6:00 – 7:30 am – Awake. Ironing. Putting the final touches on several Powerpoint decks I’d be using later in the day.

7:30 – 8:15 am – My carpool picks me up to head from Capitol Hill to campus. It’s a few minutes of peace, chatting with classmates, before a crazy day truly begins.

8:30 to 10:20am – Brand Management class. My team and I presenting our quarter long project results – an analysis of The Gap’s rise and fall as a national brand. 20 minutes of presenting and 15 minutes of questions and we’re done with the class.

10:30 to 12:20 pm – Business Ethics class. My team and I (a different team from the Brand Mangement one) present a proposal for Microsoft’s Corporate Responsibility Program for their operations in Italy. Presentation is 15 minutes in front of the class, professor and the Director of CSR at Microsoft, Dan Bross. Our proposal is followed by 10 minutes of questions and some critical feedback from Dan. Unfortunately, there’s still a take home final for Ethics so we’re not done with this class yet.

12:30 – 1:30 pm – Quick lunch followed by returning emails that have piled up in the inbox all morning.

1:30 – 3:30 pm – Finish a team Investments project that is due at 6pm tonight. Our project is a valuation of Murphy Oil Company and, after all edits, is 42 pages long. At the same time I’m also editing our Powerpoint presentation to be given this evening. After the paper is completed a teammate runs off to print and bind it all at the nearest Kinko’s.

3:30 – 5:30 pm – Head off to a different team meeting, this time with my team working on a social media project with Microsoft. Our final presentation to a roomful of Microsoft executives is less than a week away so we’re still working hard to flush out our ideas and put it all into a cohesive presentation. We’re feeling good but I’m always nervous not knowing who will be in the room and what types of questions we’ll be asked.

5:30 pm – Inhaling a quick dinner and changing into a suit before heading to Investments class.

6:00 – 9:30 pm – After rushing across campus to Mary Gates Hall (15 minute walk from the Business School), I get into the classroom and realize I’ve forgotten our final Powerpoint version on a external jump drive on a chair back in the MBA lounge. Oops! Do I have time to run back and get it? No. What’s the next best solution before we present to a full classroom of students and three professionals from local investment firms? A teammate and I quickly edit the version we have on our computer and  throw it on a borrowed jump drive from a classmate. I have time to take a few deep breaths before heading up to the front of the lecture hall to present our valuation. Even after the presentation there’s aren’t many signs of relief – we still have a closed book final exam next week before being finished with the class.

9:30 pm – The day is finally over and I can head home. As I drive, I’m thankful that not all of my days at Foster are like the one that just ended, but confident that returning to the working world will come with comparable hours and challenges.

Foster Goes to Omaha

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

A group of 27 Foster MBA students headed to Nebraska last week to spend the day with the Oracle of Omaha, Mr. Warren Buffett. It was supposed to be a quick trip consisting of only 24 hours in Omaha, but a mechanically faulty airplane provided us an extra night in the midwestern city and time for one more famous steak which several people took full advantage of.

Our very own guest blogger, Allison Bilas with Mr. Buffett

Our very own guest blogger, Allison Bilas with Mr. Buffett

Mr. Buffett graciously answered questions for two and a half hours ranging from his approach to maintaining an ethical culture at Berkshire Hathaway to explaining how he would invest $10,000 if he was a graduate student with a limited bank account balance. He was completely honest, open and consistently showed his down-to-earth sense of humor. Our favorite quote came during his answer to a question regarding the government’s intervention in the economy:

“You can’t make a baby in 1 month by getting 9 women pregnant.”

No arguments from us on that one.

It was a fabulous trip and completely stress free which we owe entirely to our amazing classmate, Meghann. She was asked by the Dean to be the lead coordinator for the trip and he clearly chose a great woman for the job. She handled all of the frustrating logistics involved in the rebooking of 27 people on a new flight back to Seattle, as well as making sure we had somewhere to sleep for our extra night in Omaha. We thank her profusely. (You can read her take on the trip over at Foster Unplugged.)

Here’s to Foster being invited back to Omaha for a third year in a row in 2011. If we are, I strongly suggest those attending think of a good pose for their few moments with Mr. Buffett. He likes role playing, clearly.

Our fearless leader, Meghann | Mr. Buffett | Yours Truly

Our fearless leader, Meghann | Mr. Buffett | Yours Truly