Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Rock, Tarheels

Somewhere along the way between pre-teen New Kids On The Block groupie and full-on indie rock nerd, I landed the best job ever: I do freelance work as a music photographer. This involves going to music events and snapping away for various newspapers, magazines and websites. It's not a full time gig for me, but I do love to take on assignments when I have extra time to take off from my desk job. I have gotten pretty lucky recently and have established relationships with some major publications, one of which is going to pay off in two weeks when they fly me to North Carolina to photograph a music festival.

The bad news for my MBA plans is this means about 5 days when I'm going to be completely distracted from GMAT studying. The good news, however, is it means that I'm actually going to have the opportunity to visit Kenan-Flagler and Fuqua in person! I have no idea how to pronounce either of those names, so if any reader wants to clue me in, I would greatly appreciate it.

I've made preliminary contact with both schools, and looks like it may be to early to sit-in on classes, hopefully I'll be able to attend info sessions and also walk around campus a bit and check things out. I'm also thinking I should try to make contact with a current student at each, but I'm finding that oddly intimidating. But I guess now is as good a time as any to get over my fear of cold calls and networking.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All Hail The Smart Phone

I'm typing this on my iPhone, which I suppose is appropriate given Steve Jobs' resignation earlier today. I had to drop off my MacBook Pro at the Apple Store this evening because the case is cracking and it needs to be sent back to the factory to have a part replaced. So for the meantime (or until I get desperate and find my 9 year old Dell laptop hidden in the back of my office closet) I'm officially computerless. (NB: My iPhone just autocorrected "computerless" to "computerized," because apparently the concept of being without a computer does not exist in Steve Job's world view.)

After dropping off the MacBook Pro, on my way back to my car, I may have gotten slighly distracted while passing through new foodcourt of our Japanese department store, Shirokiya. The $2 Kirin and edamame were excellent, but I can now confirm with certainty that a beergarden is really not the ideal location to bang out practice problems from Manhattan GMAT Book 1.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Prime Time

Since my meltdown on Saturday afternoon post-GMAT flub, I've been pulling myself back together. I've cracked open Manhattan GMAT's Guide 1 (Numbers Properties) and am slowly making my way through. Although I feel like at this speed I'll never finish, so I probably need to push myself a bit harder to get to the stuff that is actually going to be helpful. The first few chapters on factoring, odd/even numbers, and prime numbers have been less than productive.

I have also been feeling extremely nostalgic for the gorgeous, wood-paneled, collegiate gothic-arched libraries of my undergrad Alma Mater. Somehow, studying in a coffee shop just doesn't compare. So I e-mailed a local contact who also happens to be a professor of Library Studies at a local university, and I'm hoping he will have some suggestions of places I can go and feel appropriately scholarly to get me in the mood. Although I know I'm not going to find climbing ivy on brick walls in Hawaii, maybe I can at least find somewhere relatively quiet so that I can do better at concentrating at my GMAT practice problems.

Monday, August 22, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed, Go Get Drunk In A Corner

The problem with us perfectionists is that sometimes the pressure of doing something absolutely exactly right leaves us reticent to start the endeavor in the first place. That was certainly the case for the GMAT, which I had originally planned to take a year ago. I created immense, elaborate study plans. I talked a big game. But I kept putting it off taking the test. And I kept putting off even cracking my study materials. Life stuff got in the way. Family stuff. Work stuff. So I scheduled the test for some arbitrary date in the future. And then I rescheduled it for later. And then rescheduled it again. Long story short, I ended up somehow sitting in my padded cubicle in the very austere, very quiet Pearson-Vue testing center on Saturday morning clicking buttons frantically without having really studied at all.

When my score popped up on the screen, it was 640. What's worse was my split: 89th percentile for verbal and 50th percentile for quantitative. Although the verbal score is just fine, the quantitative leaves a lot to be desired. I'll need study (for real this time) and then retake the test. It's a disappointment, but it's mostly just frustrating because I know it is entirely my fault.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This is Not Good

I got a 640 on the GMAT. Fuck.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hello From the Abyss

Sometimes, life just happens. A family member gets sick, a coworker leaves the team, or maybe even a fantastic opportunity presents itself that's just too good to pass up, and you have to go drop everything and do it. Unfortunately, far too much of that life seems to happen to me, and seems to get in the way of my business school goals. Or rather, I let it get in the way.

Which is a long way of explanation and apology, to say, I'M BACK.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Newsflash: Business School Applicants Do Not Own Macs, According To The GMAC

This weekend, I received my official enrollment materials in the mail for the GMAT, including their Information Bulletin and the GMATPrep CD. It feels... official! Unfortunately, the CD is not compatible with my MacBook Pro, and likewise for the online software download, so I'm going to have to have to either dig my old Dell laptop out of the back of my closet, or bring home my work laptop.

I've also been doing a bit of reading on GMAT prep, which is having me re-think my preliminary study ideas. On Stacy Blackman Consulting, two hours of studying is recommended for each desired score point increase. Beat The GMAT has a 60-day study plan which entails two to four hours per day for two months straight. Over at GMAT Club, the basic study plan for novices includes two to five hours per day, for three months!

So, how much is really enough?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blogging: Shaken Not Stirred

Graduates of the top MBA programs are poor writers. Or so suggests the Wall Street Journal in its March 3rd article titled "Students Struggle for Words."After having just written yesterday's post mentioning the grammatical errors in a published MBA admissions guide, I can't say that I'm entirely surprised by the article. The news also doesn't worry me, as a potential business school applicant, in the least. If I wanted to learn how to be a better writer, I would be applying to MFA programs in writing, not MBA programs. However, it does suggest some justification for spending time blogging: the more we write, the more we improve.

If writing is a cocktail, I see my blog as being one part motivating therapist, one part archival documentation, and one part brainstorming session: shake until combined, pour the mixture into a highball glass, and garnish with a heavy sprinkling of introspection. It may not make me tipsy, but hopefully I'll improve my skills and be rewarded with a few generous tips in the process.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Strunk & White R Us

It's a dirty little secret that my former roommates are all too familiar with: I have a bit of a book hoarding tendency. Even in the age of the Kindle, the Nook, and a hundred other e-readers, there's something specifically appealing to me about the experience of pulling a fresh book off the shelf, cracking open the spine and smelling the pages. So, it should come as no surprise that I have amassed quite the collection of GMAT and MBA-related reading materials in the past year or so. Unfortunately, buying is much easier than actually reading, so it's about time that I finally put all these books to good use.

With that in mind, I finally took Paul Bodine's Great Applications for Business School (2nd edition) off my bookshelf last week and started to read my way through. I'm still on the second chapter, but I have some early impressions. Although the majority of the first two chapters provide the sort of standard advice that I've encountered before, there is one area where the book deviates quite significantly: Instead of advocating that applicants work on creating a "brand ME" message and pull together a cohesive story representing the components of that brand, Bodine emphasizes the need for authenticity above all else in the admissions process.

My other big impression from the first two chapters is the large number of grammatical errors. Although being a stickler for grammar isn't my favorite role, in this case I'll play it. It strikes me as highly ironic that a book dedicated to teaching applicants how to write good essays would itself be so riddled with writing errors, especially given that this is a second edition and therefore the writer and his editors had multiple chances to get it right.

I'll hold off on final judgment until I've finished the remaining chapters, but I have to say that the grammar issue has at least slightly deflated Bodine's credibility for me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Facing the Rhinoceros

In 1515, the celebrated German printmaker Albrecht Dürer created a woodcut to document one of the most sensationally talked about news stories of the year: the arrival of an Indian rhinoceros in Lisbon. The animal had been shipped to the King of Portugal as a strategic gift in celebration of Portugal's colonial presence in the Indian subcontinent. This was the event that was on everybody's lips, and word quickly made its way across Europe to Dürer in Nuremburg that there was now a rhinoceros in Europe, for the first time in at least 1000 years. However, Dürer was not able to travel to Lisbon to see the animal itself, so instead he created his print based on written descriptions and the sketches of fellow artists. Like a game of telephone, by the time the descriptions arrived in Nuremburg, the rhinoceros' features had been greatly distorted, and Dürer depicts it with a strange combination of reptilian characteristics and a set of armored plates across its back.
Much like Dürer depicting the rhinoceros, The first time I tried to do this post, I failed miserably. I had a whole long six-paragraph post all written ready to submit about about how curating a good art exhibition is like successfully applying to business school, and that the same components of preparation, relationship management, follow-through and sheer luck apply to both scenarios.

However, the more I typed, the more I realized that although I know quite a bit about curating a good exhibit, I know next to nothing about successfully applying to business school. Sure, I could write about what I think probably, maybe, theoretically makes a successful applicant, but who am I to say? And who on earth would want to read a blog post where someone who has no idea writes about a subject matter that she is ignorant about?

So, I'm putting the post on hold. Maybe I'll come back to it in June or July of 2012, when hopefully I'll be getting ready to move to some new town and start my first year of an MBA program. Maybe my hunches will be true, and I'll be able to say, "Aha! I knew all along!" But, more likely, I'll realize that my preliminary impressions on applying to business school were no more than a sixteenth-century rhinoceros print: all lizard scales and metal armor. One day I will have faced the beast in person and will be able to give a first-hand account. Until then, I'll just have to muddle my way through.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No White Lilies Please, Just Send Cash

I can now tell you the exact date, time, location and cause of my death:

June 25, 2011, 8am, at a Pearson Testing Center,
due to cardiac arrest stemming from GMAT test day anxieties

In lieu of sending floral arrangements to the funeral home, Courtney asks that you write out monetary contributions to the Graduate-Management-Admissions-Council-Is-Taking-All-My-Money Fund.

That's right, I bit the bullet and signed up for my GMAT testing appointment. Although the last time I tried this, my strategy was not to sign up until I was getting satisfactory practice scores, we all know how well that worked out (I ended up flaking out and not studying at all). So now I'm locked into a date, and I better start preparing. If nothing else, the $250 testing fee is a pretty excellent incentive to take this seriously!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reprioritizing; Or, The First World Problems of Being a Professional Party Girl

Ok, after yesterday's moment of panic, I've had some time to think about things. I need to prioritize. Some of the things that are currently taking up a large chunk of my time (for example, doing nightlife photography and party blogging for a few select publications) are not relevant to my bigger goals. Moreover, the small additional income boost they provide is not enough to offset the opportunity cost of not spending that time studying for the GMAT or working on business school applications. Sure, it's fun to be recognized by bouncers and bartenders at clubs and never have to wait in line or pay a cover charge. And it's really, really fun to see photos of my friends splashed all over the social pages. But that is just not what I should be focusing my time on right now. I have bigger fish to fry.

I've devised a preliminary rough schedule. I'll have to tweak it, but here is what I'm thinking:

Not so bad, right? I mean, I'm practically swimming in free time. Maybe I should take on some new hobbies!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Is My Boyfriend Going to Dump Me for Being an MBA Applicant?

After the initial rush of deciding that I'm really doing this, the reality has set in: I'm really doing this. How on earth am I going to find the time on top of having an insane job that requires me to work most weekends, and a second freelancer career that requires me to work many evenings? And moreover, can I do it without completely alienating my friends, boyfriend, and family? And where in all this am I going to be able to find time to go to the gym and cook meals and stay healthy? I have big concerns.

I think priority number one for me is going to be to devise a complete schedule so that at least somewhere in the realm of all-conditions-being-ideal, I know that it's possible to get everything done. I know there are thousands upon thousands of people who successfully do this every year, and many of them probably have even more commitments than me. Some of them may even have children to worry about. And from everything I have read, business school itself is certainly not a cakewalk. So if I can't handle this level of time management, I probably shouldn't be applying anyway.

Can someone remind me that the hard part hasn't even started yet?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why The Oscars Are Not An Effective MBA Study Strategy

Is Natalie Portman a role model for young women who want to climb the corporate ladder? That's what Sylvia Ann Hewlett will have you believe in her newest blog for Harvard Business Review. In "Does Female Ambition Require Sacrifice?," Hewlett argues that aspiring female business execs can have their cake and eat it too. Hewlett cites Portman's Harvard degree, Oscar nomination, and baby bump as evidence that "there's no penalty for those who aim for the lead, seize the stage, and strut their stuff — their femininity as well as their professional fervor."

As someone who is in the process of applying to the Boys-Club-Known-As-Business-School (current admissions statistics from BusinessWeek’s top 30 business schools show that women account for only 30 percent of admissions), and possibly later entering into the bigger Boys-Club-Known-As-The-Corporate-World, Hewlett's article seems both misleading and harmful.

The article is misleading because it uses an A-list actress as an example of a woman able to balance life/work without sacrifice, when having a fiance and pregnant belly is hardly evidence of anything other than a lack of successful contraception. The hard part isn't getting inseminated: it's everything that comes after that. We hadly know anything about Portman's private life, so it is impossible to judge her relationships and happiness in aspects other than her career. However, even if we were able, how useful would it really be to compare a Hollywood starlet to a female executive gunning for a C-suite position?

Hewlett's article is harmful because it obscures the real issues that women face in a corporate environment. There is a real penalty that these women (and men too) face: logging long hours on the job inevitably means that you're going to miss out on extracurricular, family and social engagements. At some point, there is necessarily going to be a trade-off where workers have to evaluate their priorities and recalibrate their ambitions as necessary. You can't have it all.

As Hewlett points out, companies including Time Warner, Deutsche Bank, Novartis and Intel should be lauded for the steps they have taken to implement programs that address gender imbalances and help to provide a hand up to women with high potential for senior-level leadership. Studies have shown that senior-level male executives already provide this type of mentorship in an informal way for their male underlings, so these formalized programs are a good way to level the playing field.

However, to deny the very real and tangible penalties that women face due to their career ambitions is in effect to belittle the sacrifices and trade-offs that are fundamental to many leadership-level positions.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Confessions of a Quarter-Life Crisis

I have a bit of a confession to make:

Approximately a year and half has past since the last time I updated this blog, and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. I haven't taken the GMAT. I haven't applied to business school. To be honest, I haven't even studied for the GMAT yet. So, what have I been doing? I've been embracing the opportunities which seem to keep on falling in my lap. It's quite extraordinary, really.

At my day job, our Executive Director stepped down, which opened up some opportunities for me to take on significantly increased levels of responsibility in several areas. In my preliminary business school application research, I had identified leadership as one of the key areas in which my applicant profile demonstrated weakness. So, I'm delighted that these new work opportunities have allowed me to step up to the plate and take a leadership role on new projects.

Moreover, on top of the day job stuff, my freelance side career has taken off like wildfire. I have been doing freelance writing and photography for various newspapers and magazines for a while, and at first it was mostly art exhibit reviews. But, I've more recently been tasked to cover music in addition to visual arts, I've somehow managed to snag a major freelancer spot in steady rotation for some pretty significant publications with circulation numbers in excess of one million. (To put it in perspective, that's a higher circulation figure than Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review, combined.) This means that I've been taking a lot of vacation days from my day job so that I can fly around the country, photographing and writing about rock music festivals and band tours. But it also means that I have hardly had time to make my bed in the past year, let alone apply to business school.

It has been exhilarating to have my career(s) take off like this. However, I also know that this is not sustainable in the long run. So here I am, back again, at the beginning.