Dec 26, 2007

Have a break, have a Kit Kat

Or some foie gras and a glass of bubbly, if you prefer. The long-awaited Christmas break is here. And not a minute too soon, if you ask me.

It's one week after the end of exams, and I'm just about starting to feel like a human again. Lots of sleep, good food, and conversation that doesn't have anything to do with implied volatility according to Black Scholes, Newsboy inventories, or Blue Oceans, Ponds, Swamps or any other kind of water feature. Bliss.

After all the sleep and the food came the shopping for a new computer. Yes, I finally caved and decided that my 5-year-old, 250-pound laptop with no battery and a couple keys missing courtesy of my feline friends wasn't going to make it through the end of next period. To the great chagrin of my INSEAD techy-buddies, however, I didn't buy either a Mac or a Lenovo, but a Sony. I liked the funky blue colour, so sue me. Besides the painful and time-consuming ordeal of making my entire life Vista-compatible, I'm rather pleased with it so far. And all the keys work. And I can carry it around without risking a hernia. All good things.

Tomorrow, it's back to the INSEAD-bubble, a handy gadget that, much like my new laptop, can be carried with you everywhere. This time, the INSEAD-bubble will be implanted on the ski-slopes of Italy, with one of my (sniff, former) groupmates, one of my L'Oreal team members, a cheery Ozzie and various partners. Given the magnetic and entirely irresistible nature of the bubble, it's highly likely that more of our Fonty friends will be joining us before heading off to Singapore, and a good thing it is too, because after a week withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe.

So it is in snowier climes that I will be ringing in the New Year, in true INSEAD fashion, before heading back next week for a couple days of intense mental preparation for P3, when we will welcome our classmates from Singapore (sorry about the cold, guys) as well as the new P1s, and start the second part of our epic MBA journey. Crap, is it already time to start thinking about finding a job?!

Dec 13, 2007

Aligning incentives and the INSEAD grading system

Grades at INSEAD are calculated based on the z-curve, centered on a mean of 2.5 with a standard deviation of 1 (a curve all students will be intimately familiar with by the end of P1). This means that if you get a 3.5, you were 1 standard deviation above the average grade of the class. A failing grade is one that is 3 standard deviations below the mean (i.e. -0.5; yes, we can get negative grades here...)

INSEAD also has a policy of not revealing grades, and strives to make sure no one fails (or at least very, very few people).

So far, so good.

The result, however, is that professors put every effort into crafting impossibly difficult exams, that have very little, if anything, to do with what we actually studied in class. This, they tell us, is for our own good. With these types of exams, the average grade is ridiculously low, and the standard deviation very high (since some students get abysmal results, while others - who used to be Nobel-prize-level experts in advanced statistics or option pricing models - do quite well). This way, no one fails. For example, if the mean is 50, and the standard deviation is 20, even getting a 0 means you pass (since you are only 2.5 standard deviations below the mean).

Not failing is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but the (unintended?) consequence is that a) students are affected by severe depression after exiting an exam and b) (and this one surely is unintended) there is little incentive to study what we did in class. So basically we finish a period needing happy pills and having learned quite a bit less than we should have.

Of course I'm exaggerating, but still, there's a reason why I'm writing this instead of studying POM right now...

Dec 10, 2007

Big girls don't cry

Much has been said about the lack of time at INSEAD. Lack of time to sleep, lack of time to exercise, lack of time to catch up on the Kilimanjaro-sized packet of reading materials... There's a much bigger problem, though. Lack of time to deal with your personal life, and whatever happens to be going on in your mind, heart or body. Family problems? Relationship trouble? Feeling blue, heartbroken, deathly ill? Tough. You still need to study accounting. And finance. And and and... We always say INSEAD is a bubble, where we live cloistered and protected from the real world. But sometimes the real world comes knocking, or prefers the more subtle approach of smacking you about the head with a baseball bat, and there's really no time to do anything about it.

So back I go to exam prep. And since it's exam prep time again, I suppose it's also wrap-up time again, where I tell give all you avid readers the skinny on classes this period. So here goes:

Corporate Financial Policy (Pascal Maenhout): Pascal is a great guy, a great teacher, has tremendous school spirit (can't believe I embarrassed myself at Cabaret in front of the Finance prof!) and all around a superstar. Finance, on the other hand, I'm less enthralled with. Especially the derivatives part (which is about half the course). As I was discussing with a fellow finance-averse student today, it's not so much "WHAT???" as "WHY????"

Managerial Accounting (Jake Cohen): Jake is an INSEAD legend. Everybody loves him, and half of Cabaret is devoted to imitating him. Personally, the guy leaves me cold. However, we did learn something in his class, and he actually got me over my visceral hatred of accounting, so that counts for something.

Process & Operations Management (Taylor Randall): I don't think anyone was expecting much from this class (except maybe the cement guy). At first blush, it seemed like it was going to be pretty boring. But hats off to Taylor, who made it entertaining and relevant, and who is now largely responsible for the whole class wanting to work for Zara. My only concern is that the class focused mostly on qualitative analysis of processes, although apparently the exam is going to be mostly quantitative. We'll see how that goes.

Strategy (Andrew Shipilov): Sure, some people dislike the more "fuzzy" elements of the curriculum, but for me this is what business is all about. The case method approach worked really well, the Blue Ocean Strategy portion of the course was entertaining, and Andrew is a very engaging professor. So two thumbs up from me on this one.

Foundations of Marketing (Xavier Dreze): I'm going to risk creating controversy here, but I liked Marketing. Yes, I know this is not the majority opinion, as most of the class expressed a clear distaste both for the subject and for the professor. Not me, though, which is a pretty good thing considering I've got "Marketing" at the top of my future careers list!

Leading Organizations (Tom d'Aunno): I don't want to be mean, but honestly, what a let-down after GP's course in P1. I think the subject is quite interesting, but something about Tom just rubs me the wrong way. He definitely tries hard, so I give him credit for that, but I just don't feel he's sincere, and he has a tendency to pick on people in a way that is not always appropriate.

There you go. All 6 courses in under 100 words. Next period, which comes after a week of exams (#§%&!) and a much-looked-forward-to long Christmas break, I'll be taking two core courses ("Macroeconomics" and "International Political Analysis") and four electives ("Corporate Entrepreneurship", "Market Driving Strategies", "Strategies for Product and Services Development" and "Mergers, Acquisitions, Alliances & Corporate Strategy"). Probably not much time then either for a personal life.

Dec 5, 2007

What? Exams again?

So, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

- I handed in the final version of my CV for publication in the INSEAD CV book (apparently this best-seller, complete with mugshots of us beautiful people, will help us land a job to pay back all those loans; not sure how many recruiters still read books, though...)
- Our top-notch L'Oreal team submitted all decisions for the first round of the game, launching what promises to be an innovative, aggressive, blue ocean strategy of our own.
- My group finished the last Finance assignment due tomorrow (moral of the assignment: shareholders are not to be trusted) and has made good headway into the Strategy assignment due Sunday (moral of that assignment: the airline industry sucks).
- After many, many rehearsals, both performances I'm involved with for Cabaret tomorrow just about pass the giggle test, and I have a mask for the ball on Saturday.

But then I remembered we have exams. Again. And they start next week. And in the midst of all that working on group assignments, honing my acting skills, figuring out what to do with my life and attempting to sleep just enough not to get deathly ill, I completely forgot to study!

At this stage, it's best I just forget about all this exam malarkey and focus on the Christmas break...

PS: A quick personal thank you to all the people (from inside and outside the bubble) who made last weekend very special.