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MBA Journal: B-School Update

MBA Journal: Conquering the 'Fear of Quant'

You wouldn't know it is spring from the weather, because winter's icy grip still lingers on the city of Toronto, as evidenced by today's blustery snowfall. Nary a bud can be found on the trees, and bulky winter coats still line the hooks of classrooms at the Rotman School of Management (Rotman Full-Time MBA Profile). Spring's onset, however, is evident in the feeling that has gripped the student body—a certain restlessness, you might say. Just as we're all itching to shed our winter garb, the MBA Class of 2012 is about ready to be done with first year.

We're eager to put the wear and tear of the past six months behind us and start afresh. Indeed, much of the excitement currently gripping the school has to do with forward-looking endeavors. For one, the student body recently held its elections for next year's coveted Graduate Business Council positions, and all the Rotman clubs and associations passed the torch to new executive teams, as well. Furthermore, all our elective course options for next year have been revealed, and students are frantically polling second years to figure out what to take and what to avoid.

On top of looking ahead to next year's academic and extracurricular landscape, it is clear that future employment is, not surprisingly, at the forefront of many a student's mind. The lucky minority who have already secured summer positions are preparing to make the imminent temporary transition to the "real world," and those of us still exploring our options are doing our best to balance networking efforts with our grueling workload. With the multiple distractions competing for our attention, I don't envy this quarter's professors, who are dealing with more than their fair share of wandering minds and blank gazes.

As I contemplate the close of what's certainly been the most challenging period of my life, I can't help but think about how much has changed in just one short year. Over the past few weeks I've seen nervous-looking, suit-clad, prospective students arriving for their admissions interviews, and I can't believe I was in their shoes last year. Back then, I didn't know a balance sheet from an income statement, had never heard of WACC, CAPM, or NPV, and knew regression only as a relapse to a less mature state of development. It's actually quite astonishing how much new information I've managed to pack into my brain in such a short time, and I'm really hoping a good chunk of it stays there. In speaking to some of the second-year students who are preparing themselves for permanent reallocation to the professional realm, one observation is constant: How quickly it all flies by. It was a timely reminder to relish every moment while it lasts; there's no experience quite like being an MBA student—complete with its ups and downs—and, sadly but realistically, most of us will never be students again.

"Plug and Chug" Dread

Several weeks ago, I was in line for coffee next to my former financial accounting professor, who commented that he'd read and enjoyed my previous journal entry. He went on to say he'd been surprised to see I had cited a "fear of quant" coming into business school, seeing as I'd done well in financial accounting, one of the more quant-heavy courses in the core program. I remembered my apprehension well; having done little math since high school, I worried I'd be far behind the pack of engineers, businesspeople, and others more at ease in numerical pursuits. But BAs and other "nontraditional" prospective MBAs, fear not. What makes the MBA program challenging is not so much the number-crunching; mastering the underlying conceptual frameworks—therein lies the real challenge. Once you've got a handle on that, doing the math—or the "plug and chug," as it's affectionately known to Rotman-ites—is the easy part. Furthermore, there's just as much qualitative analysis and just as many written deliverables to grapple with, and that's where those of us well-versed in the "softer" skills can shine.

Fellow "artsies," you've got just as much value to bring to the table as the numerically inclined, and, rather than being perceived as the weak link in a group (as I had initially feared), your more math-happy teammates will welcome your contributions. Don't get me wrong, you may have to put in a few more hours getting comfortable with formulae that are second nature to many of your classmates, but it's certainly not insurmountable. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that nearly everyone coming into an MBA program—even those up to their earlobes in ego—is lacking confidence in one area or another. And that's the beauty of the MBA program. The cornucopia of backgrounds, experiences, interests, and skills offset each other nicely, and everyone benefits from a richer learning experience as a consequence. This mutual exchange has a confidence-bolstering effect on all who embrace it, and it may lead you to discover strengths you never knew you had.

Being in an MBA program sometimes feels like living in a bubble. As jarring as it was at the outset, the B-school student life has become my new routine, the people who were complete strangers only six months ago are now the friendly familiar faces that line the halls, and my Rotman knapsack has found a permanent home on my back (and formed a permanent groove on my shoulders, I'm afraid).

In just a few short weeks, though, the Rotman school will unleash a new crop of first-year MBA veterans on the world. Regardless of our summer plans, we'll no doubt all relish some time outside the confines of the bubble—getting caught up with neglected friends, being able to make spontaneous weeknight plans (except for those summering in investment banking roles, perhaps), and finally getting some much-needed exercise. Now, call me crazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, come late summer, we'll all be eagerly anticipating our return to Rotman, the place that's come to feel like a home-away-from-home for many of us, and looking forward to beginning the madness all over again.

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Despite her fears of quant, this former editor in book publishing was driven to earn an MBA when she realized she had nowhere else to go in her previous career. Living in Sydney, Australia, where Erb worked for the higher education division of McGraw-Hill, she longed for home. She returned to her native Canada and began the MBA program at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management (Rotman Full-Time MBA Profile) in 2010. She said in an interview that she sees herself somewhere in marketing and hopes to use her creativity post MBA.

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