As an Admissions Fellow, one of my responsibilities is conducting interviews. At the end of my interviews, I always leave 10 – 15 minutes for the candidate to ask me any questions. One of my interviewees from the Round 2 interview process asked me a question that caught me off guard and really had me thinking for the days following: how do you think you’ve changed since being at Booth? I paused, as this question coupled with my impending graduation really got me thinking. In that moment, the last 5 quarters raced by and the Sarah I pictured in each of those scenes was changing rapidly. I’m going to share this reflection in a two-part post: 1) how the classroom and my peers have changed me, and 2) how the journey of creating community among those who were once strangers has made me more confident and open-minded.
Sure, my short and long term career goals have sharpened, and I feel like I have a clearer vision of my professional trajectory. The real change that I’ve experienced, however, is in how I’ve begun to see the world through the lens of my Booth experience and perspectives of my peers. In my classes, I’ve observed how my peers from different backgrounds respond to problems in ways that challenge and expand my own way of thinking. My professors have taught me not just frameworks, but how to frame my work, which has ingrained within me an emphasis on critical thinking. Navigating through the discomfort of not knowing anyone, but having to form study groups with strangers pushed me to work on my confidence. These interactions with the Booth community have invariably changed me for the better. I am positive I will find myself appreciating and recognizing these changes even after I’ve graduated.
When I was looking at MBA programs years ago, I saw Booth utilize phrases like “academic rigor,” “intellectual curiosity,” and “data-driven decision making”to set them apart from other schools. While those things are true, none of them speak to the intense introspection required of its students to extract the most value from the six quarters we have. For instance, I took Microeconomics in my first quarter thinking it would be a typical quant, theory-based class. Instead, I found myself empathizing with policy makers and CEOs from the past that had to make tough decisions in the face of the very principles we had just learned. The professor didn’t quiz us on the technicalities, rather on the implications of the concepts he taught. I learned how to think empathetically and through a different perspective, which was a mental upgrade. I would have never expected a class like Microeconomics would get me reflecting on who I am as a leader – as a future CEO, how would I have solved these problems we were analyzing in class? There are opportunities for this kind of introspection and growth in every aspect of business school. Your assumptions and preconceptions will be challenged along the way. Talk about a great way to prepare you for the tough choices we will face as future business leaders.
One of the most challenging classes I’ve taken so far has been Technology Strategy. While the curriculum itself was difficult and dense, it was realizing that I had so much work to do on my critical thinking skills. There were a subset of students in my section that always answered questions the professor posed. They answered them in ways I would have never fathomed on my own. Honestly, it was a wake-up call for me that I needed to take note of how these peers of mine were solving these business problems. It wasn’t enough to memorize the key concepts; I had to learn how to apply them because I was inspired to add these new perspectives to my toolkit. I didn’t do particularly well in this class, but I learned a ton and my eyes were opened to a fresh way of seeing the tech world that has already benefited me in the near term. It’s extremely humbling to realize that you have gaps in your experience and skills; and, it’s even more inspiring to have the opportunity to witness your peers exemplify these very skills you hope to gain. This is one form of the many types of experiences at Booth that will challenge you and push you to develop your sense of self.
While getting this question at the end of conducting an interview was rattling, it forced me to take stock of the skills I’ve gained and find pride in who I have grown to be in these short two years. What’s more, in reflecting on these changes, I see that my confidence has skyrocketed because I’ve overcome a variety of hurdles, whether academic, professional, or personal. No matter where you’re at in your life and / or career, it’s important to appreciate your growth along the way. I’m evaluating where I’m at in my growth while I’m in the thick of this growth period. Tomorrow, I’m sure I will reflect on this version of myself writing this blog and realize how different I am.