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Intense Preparations

October 17, 2011

Four weeks have now sped by and we are a week from beginning the first Intensive.

If you are reading this blog because you’re thinking about applying to the MIT EMBA program, then this post will give you a sense of the workload that you might expect. The first Intensive is nine days long. Each day begins at 7:30AM with breakfast and lasts more-or-less continuously until 7:00PM to 9:00PM, except for the last day, which ends at 4:00PM.

I mention this, even prior to attending the first Intensive, because I was surprised at how tired I was at Orientation. Being “on” for twelve hours at a time is physically demanding. I imagine that doing so for a nine day stretch will be significant, even though I am quite used to working long hours.

I increased my cardiovascular routine in partial preparation for the Intensive, though I have to admit that I had to do so anyway as part of another training program. The point here is that the physical demands of the program are real. As Jonathan Lehrich likes to point out, “You are the most senior EMBA class in the world.” Well, that cuts both ways, we may have a ton of experience, but at 43 I’m not quite ready to pull all nighters with the same indifference that I did in graduate school.

The academic preparation for the first Intensive is fairly hefty. At Orientation, many of the upperclassmen (is there a gender neutral term?) noted that the EMBA experience for them was like drinking from a fire hose. That’s probably a reasonable analogy, but a more expansive description is useful.

To put more detail around this first study experience, the first Intensive focuses on three topics: (i) a Deep Dive into a major global corporation, in our case Wal-Mart; (ii) the first half of a semester long course in Microeconomics; and (iii) the first half of a semester long course in Financial Accounting.

The preparation for the first Intensive is a collection of readings, both from text books and from supporting cases, articles, and other papers. There are a small number of individual assignments to be handed in during class. Textbooks were handed out during Orientation. All other readings are available through the AdMIT website.

In a continuation of the MIT EMBA Ritz Carlton customer service tradition, a matrix of all readings and assignments is also provided, detailing  the preparatory reading and / or assignment necessary for each class day of the semester. The workload expectations are well organized. The readings are provided. The student can concentrate his or her full time on learning.

The required readings to prepare for the Deep Dive are comprised of: (i) reading The Wal-Mart effect, a roughly 300 page paperback; plus (ii) 12 papers, journal articles, or cases, with (iii) another four optional papers or cases. The papers range in length from say 10-30 pages, most seem to be just under 20 pages.

We might roughly estimate the total readings for the Deep Dive to be about 500 pages.

The required readings to prepare for  Microeconomics are comprised of: (i) reading most of the first nine chapters of the Microeconomics text, (roughly half of the book, totally about 300 pages), plus (ii) 7 papers or cases. Two are 30 pagers, two are 5-10 pagers, and the others are in the 10-12 page range.

The total readings for Microeconomics are roughly 400 pages.

The required readings to prepare for Financial Accounting are comprised of: (i) reading most of the first seven chapters of the Financial Accounting text, (more than half the book, totally about 325 pages), plus (ii) 3 cases, totaling another 40 pages.

The total readings for Financial Accounting are roughly 365 pages.

The grand total to prepare for the first intensive thus amounts to about 1265 pages of text. To put all of this in some perspective, the King James Bible is roughly 1100 pages. If MIT ran a seminary, they would simply hand you a Bible and say, “Read this and come to class ready to discuss…” maintains a list of the Ten Longest Novels in the World. If the readings for the first Intensive were a novel, they would appear as the new Number Ten between the current Number Ten, “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace (1088 pages), and the current Number Nine, “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy (1456 pages).

It’s a lot.

Orientation ended on September 17th. The first Intensive begins on October 22nd. That’s 5 weeks or 35 days to read 1265 pages. 36 pages a day, on average. Averages, however, rarely convey sufficient useful information.

I imagine that each EMBA student makes certain choices about studying to conform to the realities of their work and family schedules. There is also an important question of what output each student seeks to generate from these readings. For some, the resulting grades are important. For others, the acquisition of new skills are important. For still others, the acquisition and application of new knowledge to present work related problems are important. Each of us has our own reasons for studying.

I bring this up because I think that it influences each student’s study habits.  As I am about to report the amount of time that I devoted to studying, it’s important to consider that expense within my particular context, so that you can think about whether you would likely need to spend more or less time.

As I study, I am specifically searching for what I call “applicability”, I’m looking for new concepts, knowledge, or information that will help my company to more efficiently grow. Once I identify some new concept, I need to connect that information to someone in the company who can act upon it. There has to be some knowledge transfer step. So far, I am taking that step by preparing new documents, often planning documents, based on what I’ve learned.

There is one final caveat, which is that I obtained the Financial Accounting text and read the first three chapters prior to Orientation. I wrote about this experience in an earlier post called “The Eager Beaver”.

Given all of that, I tended to spend 8 or more hours on both Saturday and Sunday, split into a morning and evening session of about four hours each. I also spent a couple of hours each evening reading more or less continually throughout these past weeks, with the exception of one week during which I was on travel. It’s fair to say that I’ve probably put on the order of 25 hours per week into reading and transferring knowledge back to my company. In the last four weeks, I think that 100 hours of effort is probably a reasonable estimate.

At Orientation, the upperclassmen reported spending 10-15 hours per week studying. I am clearly spending at least 10 more hours than their reported average. I  wondered if they are underestimating or whether I’m simply spending an additional 8-10 hours on the knowledge transfer portion of my work. Or perhaps I am overestimating my level of effort, though I do not believe that that is the case.

To check my results, I compared my rates to average reading rates that I found published online. If I take my self-reported average of 25 hours per week and assume that I’ve devoted a total of 100 hours to the readings, that averages to about 12.65 pages per hour, or 4.74 minutes per page.  Let’s see how that compares to reading studies…

Google “average reading rate page per minute” and you’ll find a number of sites that tend to report the average reading rate for prose text is 200 – 250 words per minute or roughly 2 minutes per page. One site,, also reports that the average reading rate for technical text (which I believe applies here) is 50-75 words per minute, or  5-6 minutes per page. This rate is slightly lower that the 100-200 words per minute reported for “reading for comprehension” in the wikipedia “Reading” entry.

All of this seems to indicate that my self-reported averages are reasonable, based upon average readings rates and the volume of reading material. This gives me a little greater confidence that other students would also have to devote on the order of 100 hours of effort to prepare for the first Intensive.

Prospective students are often asked whether they have the support of their company and their family in choosing to undertake the MIT EMBA program. The 25 hours per week have to come from some other activity. It’s rather academic to think about cutting out time to study in the abstract, so I will share with you some of the things that have changed in the last month in my life in order to accommodate my new studies.

The most significant change is that I no longer take my 11 year old daughter, Portia, to ballet. She is a student at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School and auditioned for the Nutcracker this year. She got in and will be one of the soldiers. She’s very, very excited and we’re very proud of her. With my study / work schedule, I can no longer take her to her classes or to the Nutcracker rehearsals. Cynthia and my mother have split up the driving schedule and will get her there, but I’m missing out on an important part of her life. She knows why I’m not there, but she’s 11 and its difficult for her.

To make matters worse, I’ll also be in Boston during the Nutcracker performance to which my family has season tickets. Portia will be performing that night. I’m buying tickets for another one of her performances so that I can see her on stage. It’s fine and it will work out, but at some point every one of us will realize that our children are paying for this degree program in emotionally significant ways.  I am sure that I am not the only member of my class who will have a Mom-or-Dad-wasn’t-there story.

So far, the program has had less impact on the boys. The older two boys are fairly independent. Our oldest is 13 and considers himself a fully functional adult who just doesn’t happen to have a driver’s license yet. The middle son is 6 and spends much of his time with his older brother. He’s an adult-by-association, at least in his own mind. Both have handled the schedule changes well.

The twins are a different matter. I assumed that as two year olds, they wouldn’t even notice my absence. They spend most of their time with Cynthia and the various nannies that help her with the children. But during Orientation, Cynthia called me to say that the younger twin, Jeb, was wandering around the living room dragging his blanket behind him, calling out “Daddy? Daddy?” because I wasn’t sitting in my chair working like I normally do. Children notice much more than you think.

It’s important to think about emotionally preparing your children for an extended absence. Nine days will go by very quickly for us. We’ll be kept busy for 12 or more hours a day. But for our children, life won’t have that same frenetic pace. Think about how best to help them to adjust.

I sat with Portia and went through the schedule for the first intensive with her. She has a copy so that she can see, for each day of the week, what Daddy is doing. It’s comforting to her to know which class I’m in at any particular moment in time.

It’s less clear what we’ll do for the twins. They like to talk on Skype. We are thinking that if they start to miss me too much, we can have a Skype video chat. They are up very early in the morning. I may be able to talk to them before class. We’ll have to see as the Intensive unfolds.

The preparations have been quite intense… and wider ranging that we were necessarily prepared for. All that remains now is to fly to Boston and engage as fully as I can.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Dave Markert permalink
    November 8, 2011 2:46 pm

    R. Excellent blog. Keep it up. I am enjoying it R/ Dave Markert

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