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Bad Santa

February 3, 2012

Blessed is the one who perseveres…

The restful break that I expected came and went in a flurry of finals, flu, electives, and family events, all jumbled one upon the other in such a furious sequence that any sense of cohesion rapidly bent to chaos. Vacation was over long before it began. If there is a break in the EMBA program, it may begin in mid-February, though this too may simply be a mirage born of wishful thinking and cumulative fatigue. Business schools are still somewhat defensive about EMBA programs, flinching at the prospect that prospective students may think that the E stands for “Easy”. It does not. It stands for “Exhausting”…

This year, I was a Bad Santa. Not quite Billy Bob Thornton bad, but bad nonetheless. I sat in my chair in the living room on Christmas Eve studying Economics in preparation for my final, while my wife and oldest son wrapped the younger childrens’ presents and piled them under the tree. Game theory, rather than games.

I took my Economics final on December 28th. I flew back to Boston seven days later on January 4th to take my elective course, Business Analysis using Financial Statements.

At MIT, the Winter Semester does not begin until the end of January. The in-between is called the Independent Activities Period (IAP), during which time students have the opportunity to take short elective courses. The EMBA program follows the MIT tradition by hosting two weekend sessions, each of which offers three different elective courses. EMBA students are required to attend at least one weekend. Only one course can be taken per weekend, as all courses run concurrently and you actually can’t be in two different rooms at the same time… damn you, Heisenberg!

The seven days between my last final and travel back to Boston really weren’t much of a break. There were readings to do for the elective course, family events to attend, and guests to entertain. To be quite honest, I was still exhausted from being sick in December.  I flew back to Boston on January 4th, worked at Mass General on January 5th, and woke up to find myself quite ill with another round of the stomach virus on January 6th – the first day of the elective course. I did manage to pull it together and attend class both days, but it was not my finest moment. I made it, but it was ugly. The tempo of the program continued through January 17th as we had both a final and a financial analysis team project to complete for the elective course.

I was one of a few students who wanted to take two electives in January. I was scheduled to fly back to Boston on January 18th, but cancelled at the last minute when  my wife and the twins caught the stomach flu. I stayed home to help care for the children until Cynthia recovered. In retrospect, I am not sure that I would recommend that students try to take two electives unless you happen to live in Boston. I would have been incredibly exhausted (as opposed to just plain old exhausted) if I had gone back for the second elective weekend, flown back to Pittsburgh on the 22nd, and then had to return three days later for the start of the Winter Semester.

 I found that many of my classmates had similar experiences with their schedules over the holidays, a point that is quite important to prospective or new students. It’s quite unlikely that you will have much time to rest over break, specifically because you will have two take home finals from the Fall Semester. Preparing for these finals was not trivial, except for students who might have deep accounting experience and therefore be well prepared to take the accounting final. For most of us, that was not the case. Family expectations and preparations for January electives will take up far more time than you might reasonably anticipate.

Managing your family’s expectations will be critical. I heard many stories about family members irritated by an EMBA student spending so much time studying, especially for those students who traveled significant distances to visit with family that they don’t often see. Managing your own expectations will be equally important. I kept imagining that I was going to have a chance to rest, but when I would reach that expected point in the schedule it would suddenly dawn on me that I didn’t have as much free time as I thought. It takes considerable mental strength to just keep going when you are fatigued.

I am now preparing to return to MIT for the second weekend session of the Winter Semester. I am hopeful, if only because the time interval between weekend sessions will now grow from 10 days to 17 days. Somehow, I rather expect this will be another scheduling illusion!

-R.

 

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