Chicago Booth Part-time MBA Student shares Experience and Advice

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Former MER student Pardeep joined the dental school because his parents wanted him to pursue a medical career. However, one year into dental school, he realized that his heart was not in performing procedures on mannequins and dummies. Pardeep was passionate about being an entrepreneur, so he quit dental school to start a product licensing company. Though a failed attempt, he used his learnings from his first entrepreneurial experience to start another startup in the food space. Before the launch of his startup 'Brew N Blend', he realized he needed an MBA from Chicago Booth to learn marketing, sales, and networking skills to ensure his startup’s success.

Last year, Pardeep worked with MER on his essays for Chicago Booth's Weekend MBA program. In his first interview with us, he shared his incredible transition from dental school to Booth MBA. From Dental School to a Launching Startup.

Pardeep is now a second-year student at Booth and has kindly agreed to share his first-year experience at Booth.

Talking Points of the Conversation:

1. Background 00.30
2. Virtual vs. in-person classes 01. 30
3. Favorite thing about the program 03.25
4. Bidding System 06.55
5. Anything you would like to change 08.52
6. Surprising Element 10.42
7. Application of classroom learning at work 12.40
8. Participation in extracurricular activities 14.52
9. Work-life-school balance 16.25
10. Post- MBA Goals 19.45
11. Views about networking 21.23
12. Advice for prospective applicants 22.45

And now presenting the video interview with Pardeep.

Poonam: Hi Pardeep, welcome back! How are you doing? Thank you so much for your time today to share your first-year experience at Booth.

Pardeep: Hello Ma’m. I am doing well. It’s my pleasure to be here today. Thank you very much for having me.

Poonam: Yes, it's been a year since we chatted. Last year at this time, we were working on the applications, and now you have already completed your first year. For those who haven't read your previous interview, please tell them a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?

Pardeep: Sure. Hi everyone. My name is Pradeep Singh. I am originally from New York City, where I grew up and attended Stony Brook University. I studied biology, and I have a degree in that. I live on the West Coast and am working on a couple of startups. I am very fortunate to be working in the food space industry. Thank you very much for having me here today.

Poonam: How did the first year go? You told me your first semester was online, and the second semester was on campus. Can you share the difference in experience?

Pardeep: Yes, the first year was great. Some students were attending in-person classes, and many were attending virtually. So classes started online and then transitioned into in-person, and some of the classes were dual-modality.

Time flies when you are having fun, and ever since I started school, I've been having a lot of fun. It is an academically challenging and fruitful experience when you're taking classes virtually. The discussion portion is still there, but it doesn't feel as lively as when you are in class. You can engage with the professors and your classmates a lot more when you're in person, and you can see the difference in the engagement levels when everyone is in the class. So that was the significant thing for me. I felt a lot livelier attending in-person classes compared to attending them virtually.

Poonam: What is your favorite aspect of the program? What did you like the best about Booth?

Pardeep: The best part of the program is the freedom to choose the concentrations of your liking. We start with the foundational courses everyone must complete. After that, we select and take the classes that matter most to us and will help you in the work setting. We take classes that spark our interest rather than just fulfilling a requirement. I believe the best part of Booth is the flexibility to choose the courses that you know will best help you in your situation. It's the most flexible program. Many students, when they are at the undergrad level, have to choose classes that they know will not help them in the future. For example, if someone's a bio major and must take courses like history or art, they know it will not help them. But in this MBA program, it's entirely the opposite. It is you who will choose the classes that spark your interest instead of having to take courses just for taking.

Also, the professors and students are very nice. You know everyone next to you is just as curious as you are, and everyone is friendly and easy to approach and engage in conversations.

Poonam: What did you wish you had known before you started?

Pardeep: I think it's vital to know beforehand which classes you want to take when they are offered, what part of the year, and by which professor. Many students or prospective students might not be familiar that the school works on a bidding system. When choosing classes, you are given several points, and you have to allocate them to choose specific courses. So, it is imperative to lay out your schedule beforehand on what you want to take for the rest of the year. That way, when you are getting closer to graduation, you know you are happy with all the classes you have taken, and you don't miss any critical classes. So, I feel like I still have a lot of classes. I have just finished my first year, so I think there's still ample time for me to work on that, lay out my schedule for the next year, and choose the classes I want to take. I would recommend that everyone decide beforehand when the courses are offered, by which professor, and when they want to take them.

Poonam: The bidding system you just talked about sounds interesting to me. Can you elaborate on this system?

Pardeep: When you start the program, you are given a certain number of points to bid on the courses you want to take. It's not a random guessing game where you just randomly guess the number of points you wish to bid for a course. You can access the data from previous years and previous quarters on how many points each class went for. Thus, if you're taking a very popular class in Booth and you want to make sure you get into that class, you would look at the previous data and see how many points students have bid on that class to get in, and then you would bid on that class somewhere around that ballpark in that spectrum. So, you make sure you're getting that course. If you bid too low, you're probably not going to get into the course, and if you bid too high, you get into the course, but you're losing many points. So, you sacrifice a lot of the points for the class. It works in such a way to make sure that everyone chooses the classes that they really need at the time they need them. So, the students who really need to take the class when nearing graduation would probably bid the most points on a class that is most popular and interests them the most. But a lot of the foundational courses that everyone must take go for a lot fewer points, but then there are a lot of classes that every Booth student wants to take, and those go for quite a lot of points.

Poonam: Interesting. So, it helps students set their course priorities right at the beginning of the quarter.

Pardeep: Yes, absolutely.

Poonam: Is there anything you would like to change about the program?

Pardeep: So far, everything has been wonderful about the program. I am in a situation where some of my classes are virtual, and some are in-person, so I dislike that. Since I am taking weekend classes, I hope to attend both classes in person. Since I'm traveling for one class, I wanted to attend the second class also in person. Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way, so one class is online and another class at campus.

You might say I can substitute that virtual class with another in-person class, but I don't want to waste the number of classes or courses I don't need. I want to make sure that I take the courses I need and choose my time wisely because there are only so many courses you can take.

You want to ensure you take the right courses in your MBA journey. So sometimes you must sacrifice that to continue, but I think that's one of the things that I would like to change about the program, and I'm not sure if this is a temporary thing or.

Hopefully, it's temporary because everyone wants to attend an in-person class, so they can network and build relationships. It's a lot better that way.

Poonam: That's true, I hope it's temporary, and you get to attend in-person classes. I am curious to know what your classmates are surprised to know about you.

Pardeep: I believe the most surprising moment is when I tell them about having my startup. There are many talented students from great companies, and one thing I found unique is that they are excited to hear my story- the story of an entrepreneur working on multiple startups while attending school at the same time. I am also surprised at the things that they are doing because I have never had that specific type of experience.

Poonam: Are they surprised to know that you started as a medical student at dental school and then quit after one year to start your own business?

Pardeep: There are students from all different backgrounds, but not many are from the same situation and have the same story as I do. Everyone has a unique and specific story. I tell them about my career change and what I was doing in the beginning in the medical field. So that's another surprising factor.

Poonam: How has the program benefited you at work? Are you able to incorporate your classroom learning into your business?

Pardeep: Yes, so as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of foundational courses that everyone must take which serve as a foundation to build on your interests. There have been a couple of classes I use directly in my business. There is a significant amount of customer interaction in my business, so I need to understand consumer thinking and behavior. So, one of the things that the consumer behavior class helped me with was to incorporate a customer reward system. It taught me the do's and don'ts of the reward program and what works the best and attracts the consumers. This class taught us about marketing gimmicks; for example, it talked about ways to attract more consumers into the shop. I also have employees, so I also need to understand how to best manage them. Another class I took taught me how to manage your employees the right way. So, that helped me create a good relationship with my employees. I am still halfway through my MBA, there are a lot more classes that I feel will directly help me. Now that a lot of my foundational courses are done, I can choose and start taking electives I feel will best help me in my business. I am looking forward to that.

Poonam: As a part-time student, how often did you get opportunities to participate in any extracurricular activities -student clubs and organizations?

Pardeep: In the beginning, getting involved in extracurricular activities was difficult because everything was virtual. It becomes more challenging if you're a weekend student, not a local student. However, now with in-person classes, it's doable and easy to get involved. Sometimes some events overlap with classes, or some events overlap with other events; still, there are always a lot of opportunities for everyone to get involved. Sometimes some events are academic- information on how to do a particular thing or how to excel in interviews or similar events that different student groups conduct. So those events you can attend virtually, which also helps students like me who cannot make it in person. I have recently started attending classes on campus, and I will now start exploring more clubs and opportunities so I can attend these events in person.

Poonam: How do you balance work, life, and school?

Pardeep: It's a lot easier said than done when someone tells you to make an outline or plan everything out, balance all the things at once, so you don’t fall behind in one thing or the other. But it's been a challenging road. Work is very busy since it's a startup. You want to ensure you are allocating a lot more time into your business early on, so you can see it grow organically. And if there's any problem, you can fix some in the initial stages rather than learning these problems later, which can be difficult. And school is challenging and rigorous core coursework. So, one of the things that I have been able to do is to list out tasks, follow them and prioritize which ones are more important than others. The easy way to do it is to list out the tasks that are important things that need to be done for work life, your personal social life, and school, and then focus on the ones that will help you instantly. So that's one way I have been able to keep up with a lot of work. In school, sometimes you have to skip the occasional social outings with friends and family, but at the end of the day, as long as you are not overworking and burning, you will be just fine. It's not an easy thing to do, but it has been working well for me.

Poonam: What are your plans after graduation? Are your goals the same as they were last year when we were working on essays?

Pardeep: Many prospective students or anyone watching this might not know what I was working on initially before starting my MBA journey. I had a food snack startup, and one of my goals was to see that product on in-store shelves all over the nation. That was my initial goal last year, which is still my goal. Now that I am attending in-person classes, I will utilize the services provided by the school centers. Let me give a little bit of a back story about the product that I'm working on. It is an alternative to healthy snacking. I am working on a product for which you don't need to read the nutritional labels and worry about consuming too many carbs, fat, or bad sugar. My primary goal has always been to see that product on in-store shelves.

Poonam: Interesting. Healthy snacking is the requirement of modern times when there is so much junk food out there. Networking was one of the key reasons for pursuing an MBA. Did you get what you were seeking?

Pardeep: Networking was one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue an MBA. As I mentioned before, now that I'm traveling every week to school, it has been a lot easier to communicate and network with others. I can't say I have found what I was seeking, but I am on my way. I do plan to utilize the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation very soon. Then with the guidance of the faculty and other like-minded students and working on the same goals that I have, I will achieve success. It's a lot easier now as now I can engage on a more personal level with the faculty and other students.

Poonam: Yes, you still have one and half more years of school. Pardeep, can you share some advice with incoming students considering a part-time MBA?

Pardeep: I would advise the prospective students to think about why they want to pursue an MBA and the overall broad version of it because it's a huge big financial investment. You want to have your goals clear on why you want to do this and where you want to be post MBA. If you have that laid out, it's a lot easier for you once you are in school. To stand out from the crowd in front of the admission committee, you have to be authentic and be yourself. Everyone is different in their own way, so figure out ways you can contribute to the program and then showcase that in your essay or your interview, and you will be fine. And I would also say that if you're working with Poonam Ma’m, you are in great hands. She was able to help me structure all my ideas exactly the way I wanted. When writing my essays, I had so much going on; my ideas were running all over the place, but she helped me structure them and then convey exactly what I wanted to convey to the admissions committee in a very structured manner. Once you are in the program, it will be academically challenging, but it will be a fun process.

Poonam: Thank you, Pardeep, for your kind words about my services. It was a pleasure working with you and talking to you now. And I thank you for taking out your time and talking to me about your first-year experiences. Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to share with the prospective applicants, specifically part-time applicants to Booth?

Pardeep: I would say be true to yourself, know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Be authentic. And then network as much as you can because at the end of the day, you never know who you might run into, and that person can take you a long way in your journey, whether it's an MBA program, your career, or your personal life.

Poonam: Perfect. Thank you so much, Pradeep. It was a pleasure talking to you today, and I am sure the prospective applicants will benefit from your valuable input. I wish you good luck with your personal and professional endeavors. I am sure your second year and the time after that will be as exciting as your first year.

Pardeep: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me here today, and hopefully, once I am done in the next year and a half with my MBA program, I can share some more insights into what I have learned and how I have grown as a person as well.

Poonam: That's very kind of you to say it. Stay in touch, and I will talk to you after you graduate from Booth.

You can connect with Pardeep via Linkedin.

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