Experiences You Can Expect At A B-School
“Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense.”― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
All our lives, (a majority of us) we’ve questioned if the education system that we’ve grown up with actually teaches us to think for ourselves and understand if what is being taught to us actually makes sense. The marks were always important but they tended to be heavily tilted towards what we could remember, rather than what we could apply practically. Some of us hardly knew that we possessed the right of questioning everything without hesitation or fear of judgement. On this note, I would like to mention that I encountered a world of difference in terms of the way education was administered to students at IIM Trichy, and despite the academic rigour, it takes time to adjust to the change and the instances below tend to be more or less common across most IIMs. You will find that these different academic experiences are a definite step forward in revolutionising the educational system, even if there might yet be flaws to improvise on as any new initiative will. From a personal standpoint, it was enjoyable as often as it was not and largely the peer influence which made every experience memorable.
– Class Participation can take time to get used to: From being accustomed to listening to every lecture through 17 years of education to being incentivised to add value to the discussion, (as every class is called), that’s a masterstroke even if it is not foolproof. So this is where the Harvard Horseshoe structure of the classroom comes into play. The arrangement ensures that everyone is (mostly) visible to everyone. Since seats are marked by a visible nameplate, and the seating chart given to the professor, awarding marks for class participation is done in a reasonably fair manner. It is encouragement enough for students to read and understand the syllabi for a class before it is even being taught and it also keeps things interesting for the professor. This works well two ways – The first obvious way is that people from different backgrounds and experiences relate to topics differently, and each angle is equally fascinating. The second, everyone is thinking. The gravity of this is that even the professor cannot afford to come to class unprepared, let alone a student who simply will not be able to seamlessly understand what is being taught, so ideally everyone is thinking above and beyond. The flip side, however, is that since class participation is incentivised as a component of the grades, there tends to be what is called as DCPs (Dummy Class Participation) – the very antithesis of what was meant to be a class filled with an enriching journey of aided self-discovery.
– Time is of the essence: When I first joined b-school, I was introduced into what I found to be an odd sense of timing. 5:59:59 AM instead of 6 AM. Since most of the submissions were Word documents, Excel sheets or PowerPoint presentations on Google forms or Google Classrooms, it is exceedingly easy to discern submissions done after the sacrosanct deadlines. It would often seem like a certain amount of collaboration does occur between professors to ensure that students have deadlines clashing so they learn the tough lesson of time management and smart studying. As much as grumbling ensues and many a weekend plan gets cancelled, certain bragging on well-managed schedules are a cause of grudging admiration and yet, a part of that life. There were days where a 4-hour nap was all we had, but the sense of fulfilment at a project well done and the memories with project partners are memories that did leave a lasting impression.
– The case study approach: While Harvard Business Review and Ivey League case studies are a major mode of instruction, the glamour of studying from them eventually gets normalised to the point that you know enough to skip the elaborate and picturesque introduction while remembering to be wary of the “devil in the details”. There’s very little to be done by way of looking for solutions on the internet because a majority of cases tend to have grey areas. The could-have-beens and biases in the case aside, case studies can sometimes “accidentally” lull you to sleep as well as engross you stay awake disregarding the clock. The upside is that case discussions make classes a lot more interesting and can reduce a chunk of DCPs due to the fact that you have to have read the case to have something to say or even guess. The insidious side of case studies is that they often appear as a huge part of end term exams, (if not wholly) and can really muddle you up as you second guess yourself.
– Professors come in various different styles: A reasonably major part of b-school revolves around trying to get into the professor’s mind for varying reasons. Sometimes it’s because you’re trying to gauge how to make your projects more appealing or score more in the oncoming exam with minimal effort. Sometimes it’s simply because you want to have breakfast and idly wondering at their choice of apparel or how they have the energy to be ploughing ahead on a Monday morning. But professors have this undeniable intrigue about them that manifests itself only in the hallowed ground of the classroom. One year later, I look back at their quirks only to realise that it was their way of ensuring that their students grasp the subject they loved teaching so much. I’ve had a professor who seems to be as self-assured as you would imagine a real-life Louis Litt to be, he records his lectures on this cool looking Dictaphone and his speeches have the reputation such that the audience gets “Lit the hell up”. There are professors who are as young at heart as anyone and go that extra mile to develop a connection with their students by inserting GIFs of popular TV shows such as House, Narcos, Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory in their ppts and making references of their characters in question paper problems. Then there are the enthusiastic professors who see the relevance of their subject in everything around them, so much so we were shown an entire episode of the Black Mirror in class. We’ve been the protagonists of the hilarious case studies, courtesy a professor who enjoys wordplay. And we’ve heard meme songs timed to keep us awake. Apart from these, another two stark differences I observed from my past academic experiences, one was that there was more than one professor for a subject, so they provided a clearly defined perspective from their area of expertise in what are vast areas of study. The second was that there seemed to be impressive autonomy in the hands of the professor. The professor could choose how much weight he/she wished to assign to any given component, for instance, CP (class participation) could be assigned anything from 5% or 15%, projects can be worth as much as 50% of your grade and mid-term exams could be non-existent, depending on the professor’s perspective of how the subject can be grasped most effectively. But, for the clarity of the students, it would be declared in a comprehensive binder at the start of the term along with a schedule of what will be taught in each class and is expected to be pre-read, thus eliminating the need for any other reminder.
– Exams and tests can catch you by surprise: Because surprise quizzes are so passé, we once had a mind game of a quiz we called the scratchcard group quiz. This worked in a manner that after individually giving an MCQ quiz, a group answered the same quiz by convincing each other which option was to be “scratched” first, so the group as a whole learned with each other. The simple answer is that the lesser the scratches, the more marks the group scores. The complicated answer is, it takes massive planning to organise, participate and fairly evaluate the same. Study strategy is taken for a ride when it comes to open book exams. While the intent is that there is no requirement for blind memorizing, it means you at least have to mark pages so you don’t keep turning around fresh pages in the exam. Some professors manage to befuddle you with them having your best interests at heart, they keep an open laptop and open internet examination. Truth be told, these innovative methods of testing sometimes give you this strange sense of thrill because they are designed by the sheer brilliance of academicians who are truly interested in seeing what you’ve got.
– Help will always be given to those who ask for it: At this point, I would like to mention that my CGPA indicated that I was around the 50th percentile of my batch. For someone whose past record always indicated a top 10 percentile, it took me some time to first stop the pity party and seek help, from professors first. The thing about professors is that they are different people in their cabins compared to class. And getting an appointment with any professor I wanted was never difficult. Sometimes, professors and peers take tutorials before exams which are a must attend to sail through.
An IIM thus lives up to the glamour that’s associated with it, but what has to be remembered is that it is the students that take the IIM to the height it reaches, and sometimes we have to choose what we aspire to become as well as how we become it.
(The above experiences are purely the author’s perspective)