Naval Officer at HBS: My First Year:

by on June 13th, 2014

Written by a former Navy officer, HBS Class of 2015.

Reflections on my RC year

I can’t believe how fast the past year has gone by. Here I am, at sunny San Francisco on the eve of my MBA summer internship start date, reflecting on my first year at Harvard Business School.

To be perfectly honest, going into HBS, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Everything was such a drastic transition from the world that I was used to in the past four years leading up to it. When I first stepped inside Aldrich Hall last August, I had only recently returned from a deployment and hurriedly leaped from the military into the civilian world. Fast-forward nine months, here’s a few thoughts.

1. You forge lifelong friendships.

Truth be told, the vast majority of people you meet at HBS will become mere acquaintances. Perhaps close acquaintances, but acquaintances nonetheless. But out of this group of 900 extremely accomplished, twenty/thirty-somethings from all walks of life, you will find several people in which you will forge deep friendships with. In my case, my discussion group became extremely close throughout the year, meeting at 8AM every single weekday for nine straight months. Towards the end, we occasionally stopped discussing cases altogether and would meet up just to chat and have breakfast before class. I owe the highlight of my RC year to these people, hands-down.

2. You really learn about business. 

Case method has its skeptics, but I can confidently say that sitting through 10 Required Curriculum courses has given me the base knowledge to be a business leader. Moreover, a key takeaway for me was learning how to balance the quantitative analysis with the soft, managerial skills. Great, you know how to walk through Free Cash Flows and recognize positive Net Present Value, but is the proposed project consistent with company’s internal strategy and culture? Halfway through our first semester at HBS, students often joke, “all classes eventually become LEAD (RC Leadership class).” It’s important to hone basic finance and accounting skill sets, and verse yourself with business lingo, but at the end of the day, you come to a realization that these are ultimately tools to help you to arrive at a managerial decision that will impact not only your bottom-line, but more importantly, your employees, customers, and organization as a whole.

3. You have time to be introspective. 

A couple of the biggest reasons why I’m thankful for my time at HBS is 1) having the opportunity to think deeply about my *real* priorities and 2) being immersed in a constructive forum in which my conventional way of thinking is constantly challenged and refined. Sure, making money is important and having a successful, and illustrious career is certainly desirable, but one would also wish to be a good parent and a good friend, too. As you put yourself in the shoes of various case protagonists and understand the dilemma that “you can’t have it all,” you think about what truly matters in your life and takes precedence over all other values. On the second point, breaking free from the military’s methodical and systematic way of thinking was like a fresh breadth of air. The hallmark of HBS’s case method is the diversity of opinions and backgrounds that create a vibrant in-classroom discussion. Some of my biggest “Aha!” moments came unexpectedly from my section mates who were directly opposing my view, and I am certainly appreciative of HBS fostering such an intense, yet collaborative learning environment.

As a parting thought, here’s my advice for those about to begin their MBA this fall.

1. Determine your priorities. 

This is a bit tricky, but I promise that business school (particularly your first year) will keep you extremely busy. You have classes, section events, club activities, industry conferences, recruiting dinners, preparing for next day’s cases, etc … and they’re often all jam-packed into a single day! Without having defined your priorities, you will be stretched thin from trying to meet these competing demands. Even if it is not well defined or specific, I recommend taking the summer to broadly think about what you truly want to accomplish in the next year, whether it be academics, spending time with friends and family, or getting that dream MBA internship.

2. Be honest with yourself. 

This probably feels like a very “touchy, feely” advice (and I can assure you that HBS can be a very touchy, feely place), but it is very relevant going through your first year at MBA. Business school students often fall victim to this notion called FOMO, or Fear or Missing Out. As I mentioned in the point above, you will be incredibly busy throughout your first year. Don’t waste your time going to every event just because you think you’ll be missing out on something. Spend time doing things you enjoy or have a genuine interest for. Likewise, when recruiting, don’t chase certain internships just for the sake of having a lucrative career. Try to find an industry/position that gets you truly motivated and excited.  With that being said, I do realize that this is much easier said than done.

3. Relax! 

You are about to leave the military and embark on an exciting two-year journey as an MBA student. Give yourself a break and take the summer to rest, travel, network, and have a drink (or two). A pre-MBA internship certainly doesn’t hurt and it’s a great way to explore an industry and get your feet wet before school, but it is by no means a requirement or a must-do. Or you may be tempted to pick up an online course in finance or accounting to get a head start. This is definitely helpful as well, but I would personally recommend spending the bulk of your precious time enjoying yourself.

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