Graduate School

Designing for Gen Y at School: Give Me Your Wishlist

I'm going to be moderating a panel of architects who specialize in designing the next generation of spaces for university students. Please weigh in with your wishlist, as well as any complaints or thoughts about the current state of your school spaces. Some topics to consider:

  • Technology
  • Dorms/Housing
  • Safety
  • Food
  • Fun
  • Fitness
  • Athletics
  • Performing Arts
  • Religion/Spirituality
  • Classrooms
  • Study spaces

I realize it doesn't even make sense to break these out into separate categories, because Gen Y likes its spaces to be blended, so thoughts on blending are also welcome, and feel free to make up your own categories.

Waitlists, and the Hell of Admissions Limbo

Waitlists stink, don't they? I'm receiving a lot of emails right now from applicants agonizing about their waitlists. No matter what kind of program you've applied to -- college, business school, law school, public health, doesn't matter -- the process works more or less the same. Here's the drill:

You're on a waitlist because something about your file made you less than an easy decision to admit.

Maybe it's because one of your numbers is too low.

"I'm Wasting My Semester Abroad..."

The topic of graduate school admissions can pop up in the most unexpected places. I'm a fan of Salon.com, and one of their advice columnists (Cary Tennis) recently published a letter from a 20-year-old called "I'm wasting my semester abroad watching TV in my apartment." Subtitle: "Could I really be blowing the definitive period of my college life?" Tennis's advice in this column is spot-on: humane, productive, sympathetic. He gets it. I love him. I want to send him flowers.

I'm very familiar with the reader's plight, because it's a common one for college students and recent graduates.

Grade Inflation and the Uselessness of Transcripts More Generally

I've decided that I need to be posting more of the discussions I have (largely by email) over the course of the day. I yak all day long about things that might be of interest to readers of the Ivey Files, and I need to get over the fact that reproducing things I've written in an email will by necessity offer up writing that is less than polished (although Lord knows that's true for blog postings as well).

So, just today, I was chatting with some people who were commenting on the habit of finance employers to ask job applicants for their SAT scores (as well as LSAT or GMAT scores, as the case may be). On the one hand, we laughed our butts off -- we're in our mid-thirties and can't imagine that a test we took back in, oh, 1989 (!!) could possibly say anything meaningful about us. Can SAT scores say anything meaningful about someone who just graduated from college? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some argued that SAT scores do say something about raw horsepower under the hood, while others argued that good SAT scores just prove you're good at taking the SATs. Either way, to people who aren't routinely dealing with recruiting practices in the the finance world, it seems weird to ask for the scores.

However, if employers are asking for the scores, then employers obviously see some value in that information, and I'm very curious where that value comes from.

From one of my emails:

This is, I suspect, also a reflection of the fact that college grades, and college transcripts  as a whole, don't really mean squat [to the interviewer].

Unless you have very inside-baseball *and* recent knowledge of a school's grading practices, as well as knowledge of the grading practices and substantive difficulty of individual courses and professors, transcripts really mean nothing. When I look at a transcript, I have no idea whether PHYS 325 is string theory or "Physics for Poets" (as the gut physics class was called at Columbia in my day). And when I was still on the job market, I was bummed that my law school transcript didn't say who taught my Financial Accounting class at the business school -- it was Roman Weil, and that actually means something to some people, but I never got the benefit of that on my transcript.

The uselessness of transcripts also leads to over-reliance on the name brand of the school to signal something about the applicant.

We went on to discuss grade inflation more generally, and I recalled a Boston Globe article from the early 2000's about the fact that 91% of Harvard undergraduates had graduated with honors that year. (The rest of the ivies are pretty inflationary too, so I'm not just picking on Harvard, although it has seemed to be the worst offender.)

So I throw that out there, because transcripts are so unhelpful not just in the job hiring process, but also in the graduate school admissions process.  When applicants complain about the seeming over-reliance on standardized test scores, understand that most transcript are in fact very, very hard to interpret in any meaningful way.

Brilliant, But Not Bright?

A friend of the Ivey Files sends me this news story and asks whether MIT should drop in the rankings for admitting someone that stupid. I'll let you be the judge. Guess some people didn't learn from Adult Swim's little bomb scare here in Boston back in February. If my grandmother were around to read this story, she'd no doubt whip out one of her favorite sayings: "She's brilliant, but not very bright."

This will make for one doozie of a disclosure addendum if Ms. MIT (evocatively named Star Simpson) ever applies to grad school.

Law School Students Are Emotional Wrecks

An admissions officer just sent me this link about at study showing that "the emotional distress of law students appears to significantly exceed that of medical students and at times approach that of psychiatric populations." Wowza.

I won't argue with their empirical findings, but I do question the underlying reason they offer:

The problem with most law schools, the authors write, is that they place little emphasis on hiring faculty members with proven records of teaching excellence.

Pop Quiz for Helicopter Parents

Here's an interview I gave recently about helicopter parents to the Atlanta Journal Constitution ("Boomer Parents Hover over Careers of Offspring").

Great anecdotes in the article:

Shortly after one Emory University student was rejected for an internship at a prestigious Wall Street firm, the student's mother called Emory's career center: Could someone there get the firm to reconsider?

Never mind that the student had missed a sitdown session and canceled a phone interview with the company.

Helicopter Parents Embarrassing Their Kids at Admitted Students Weekend

It’s tough being a business school in the era of helicopter parents. How do you make leaders out of twenty-somethings who are still attached to mommy by an invisible umbilical cord?

Now that Admitted Students Weekends are behind us, administrators and professors around the country are wondering whether they admitted mom and dad by accident.

BusinessWeek reports on the overbearing parents of incoming MBA students who arrange housing for their kids, try to crash incoming student dinners, sit in on classes, and clash with campus administrators and professors trying to set some boundaries.

More on the Columbia Torture Case

More details here on the recent torture of a Columbia grad student.

This is a good time to re-recommend The Gift of Fear. From amazon.com:

Each hour, 75 women are raped in the United States, and every few seconds, a woman is beaten. Each day, 400 Americans suffer shooting injuries, and another 1,100 face criminals armed with guns. Author Gavin de Becker says victims of violent behavior usually feel a sense of fear before any threat or violence takes place. They may distrust the fear, or it may impel them to some action that saves their lives. A leading expert on predicting violent behavior, de Becker believes we can all learn to recognize these signals of the "universal code of violence," and use them as tools to help us survive. The book teaches how to identify the warning signals of a potential attacker and recommends strategies for dealing with the problem before it becomes life threatening. The case studies are gripping and suspenseful, and include tactics for dealing with similar situations.

People don't just "snap" and become violent, says de Becker, whose clients include federal government agencies, celebrities, police departments, and shelters for battered women. "There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to a boil." Learning to predict violence is the cornerstone to preventing it. De Becker is a master of the psychology of violence, and his advice may save your life.

Columbia Grad Student Tortured and Left to Die

More sad news.

Tied up and left to die in a burning apartment, a Columbia student used the blaze set by her sadistic rapist to free herself, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday.

"It appears she was able to escape as a result of the fire," Kelly said. "She was tied, and the flame was used by her to break the bond."

The 23-year-old woman, identified by sources as a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, endured 19 hours of rape and torture at the hands of a sick creep in her Hamilton Heights apartment Friday night.

In what Kelly called a "particularly vicious" assault, the fiend tied his victim to a bed, cut her, raped her, burned her with scalding water and chemicals - and then set the woman's futon on fire to cover up the crime, police said.

He was so brutal he slit her eyelids, Kelly said.

The student used the flames to free herself and fled her fifth-floor apartment with her hands still bound to each other to get help from a neighbor, officials said.

The woman remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

Full story here.

Law School for Non-Lawyers

In a comment to my Brain Drain II posting, Neal asked the following question:

"I'm currently weighing options from different law schools and I have a choice between minimizing my debt at a good, but not 'famous' school or going broke for the brand-name. Talking to lawyers about this issue has just left me utterly confused, as about half say to avoid the debt and the other half say the branding is well worth the money.

I have a background in public policy and I was originally hoping to use the law degree to augment that career rather than replace it.

Another Master Juggler

Damian Woetzel splits his days dancing for the Boston Ballet and taking classes towards his master's degree in public administration at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Check out his awe-inspiring schedule in this New York Times article, which also discusses how as a teenager he decided to pursue a career in professional dance against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to go down the conventional college path. (He is one of the few people in his class admitted to the master's program without a college degree.

Fat Studies

The New York Times recently reported on "Fat Studies," a fringe area of scholarship that is picking up steam. An excerpt:

Fat studies is still a fringe area of scholarship, but it is gaining traction. Three years ago, the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, which promotes scholarly research of popular culture, added a fat studies component to regional and national conferences.

Professors in sociology, exercise physiology, history, English and law are shoehorning discussions of fat into their teachings and research.

At the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the subject has emerged in a course, “The Social Construction of Obesity,” taught by Margaret Carlisle Duncan, a professor in the department of human movement sciences, who takes a skeptical view of the “war on obesity.”

At the New College of California School of Law, Sondra Solovay, a diversity lawyer and author of “Tipping the Scales of Justice,” talks about weightism in her torts classes.

And the critics:

Others argue, though, that a movement does not make a scholarly pursuit and that this is simply a way to institutionalize victimhood.

“In one field after another, passion and venting have come to define the nature of what academics do,” said Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group of university professors and academics who have a more traditional view of higher education. “Ethnic studies, women’s studies, queer studies — they’re all about vindicating the grievances of some particular group. That’s not what the academy should be about.

“Obviously in the classroom you can look at issues of right and wrong and justice and injustice,” he added, “But if the purpose is to vindicate fatness, to make fatness seem better in the eyes of society, then that purpose begs a fundamental intellectual question.”

Or as Big Arm Woman, a blogger, wrote: “I don’t care if people are fat or thin. I do, however, care that universities are spending money on scholarship about the ‘politics of fatness’ when half of the freshman class can’t read or write at the college level.”

Leaving aside whether "fat studies" is a legitimate scholarly pursuit, let me say "amen" to Big Arm Woman. Any cause would be better served if its advocates first mastered how to speak and write well. (Incidentally, I love the subtitle of her blog: "Making fun of academics, 'cause it's easy!")

Recommender Relations

In the past few months, I've heard about a number of grad school applicants who asked their recommenders for copies of their recommendation letters, and I thought I would share my advice on that subject: Do not ask to see your letters. That request is not kosher, and it will rub a lot of recommenders the wrong way. In fact, if they haven't yet submitted their letters, that request may taint what they write about you, or they may even be offended enough to rescind their offers to write you a letter at all.

What is OK is for your recommender -- on his own initiative -- to volunteer to share a copy with you, either as a courtesy ("Here's what I'm sending, thought you'd like to know") or with an express request for your feedback ("Here's a draft -- am happy to make any changes, let me know.") Do not under any circumstances ask for or suggest modifications except when expressly invited to do so.

New Law School Admissions Blog

I came across this new blog today: Journey to Law School. I first learned of it because David (the blogger) had been kind enough to link to one of my Vault articles about law school personal statements, so I checked out his blog and really liked what I saw. A sample:

The LSAT market is huge~ Each year approximately 120,000 people take this exam. Of them only 1% (1200) get 172 or above. The number of people taking the exam is growing each year. In short, the number of people with 172 and above is steadily increasing. Admissions to law school, in general, will become harder and harder.

The growing number of applicants, in part, is because law school is the default option for many. Why is law the default industry for failed pre-meds, post-college vagabonds, and unemployed liberal arts majors? Well, unlike business school, it doesn't require work experience, and unlike med-school, it doesn't require P-chem. Applying to law school is easy~ All you need is an undergrad degree, a respectable GPA and... you need to take the LSAT.

The LSAT, despite what people say, is the great equalizer. Honestly, it is a difficult test, and though I firmly believe that ANYONE can do well on it, it comes only after great sacrifice and due diligence. The LSAT can be studied; people can learn to think more logically (unfortunately, many people's minds do not think very logically...I know, I've taught this thing).

And despite all the moaning and whining out there, I truly believe that the LSAT is a perfect test (as perfect as it can get). It really does a good job of testing people's reading and thinking skills. In teaching this test to hundreds of students, I've seen it crop out the bright from the dense, the quick and keen from the slow and dull.

But even dense, slow and dull, can be made bright, quick and keen, given enough time and patience.

Study: MBA Students the Biggest Cheaters

Thomas Kostigen reports on a study by the Academy of Management Learning and Education, which surveyed 5,300 graduate students in the US and Canada and found that "graduate students in general are cheating at an alarming rate and business-school students are cheating even more than others." Cheating was defined as "plagiarizing, copying other students' work and brining prohibited materials into exams." (I assume they mean "or" rather than "and" -- any one of those would strike me as cheating.)

The findings: "More than half (56%) of MBA candidates say they cheated in the past year." The percentage of cheaters among other graduate disciplines:

54% - Engineering
50% - Physical Sciences
49% - Medical and Health Care
45% - Law
43% - Arts
39% - Social Sciences and Humanities

Interesting that Journalism was left off that list. I'd be curious about that statistic, given the slew of made-up stories at famous newspapers in the last few years (although the mother of all hoaxes may still be Janet Cooke's "Little Jimmy," the fictitious eight-year old heroin addict she invented for the Washington Post back in 1981).

Also noteworthy in this article: "what's holding many professors back from taking action on cheaters is the fear of litigation." I'd venture that fear of litigation (and plain old laziness) is also what's behind rampant grade inflation.

And finally: does this mean that people will finally stop portraying lawyers as the quintessence of ethical sleazemongering? Looks as if doctors, scientists, and engineers may be faring worse in that department.

Forté Foundation Hosts Career Lab for College Women

The Forté Foundation is hosting Career Lab events at college campuses for women who want to explore careers in business. From their site:

If picturing a career in finance or accounting bores you to tears, consider this eye-opening fact: the language of business now drives success in EVERY industry including the arts, public service, media and entertainment, publishing and even in not-for-profit enterprises.

Come explore how business knowledge can enhance your academic background, professional ambitions, and social or service interests, and help you segue into an exciting and opportunity-rich career. Through Career Lab’s industry panels, leadership forums, and interactive workshops, accomplished women from Forté Foundation member companies and schools reveal the new world of business and help you envision your role in it.

In November they'll be at the University of Michigan, Northwestern, Columbia, and MIT.

Defending the Honor of the MBA

The dean of Tuck business school came to the defense of the MBA degree in October's Atlantic Monthly in response to an article by Matthew Stewart that had appeared in the magazine in June ("The Management Myth"). Stewart, who had earned a PhD in nineteenth-century German philosophy before starting his own consulting firm and then chucking it all to become a "philosopher at large" (and publishing bedside reading like "The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World"), questioned the value of an MBA:

As a principal and founding partner of a consulting firm that eventually grew to 600 employees, I interviewed, hired, and worked alongside hundreds of business-school graduates, and the impression I formed of the M.B.A. experience was that it involved taking two years out of your life and going deeply into debt, all for the sake of learning how to keep a straight face while using phrases like “out-of-the-box thinking,” “win-win situation,” and “core competencies.”

He conceded that MBA training does confer some benefits, none of them curriculuar:

Like an elaborate tattoo on an aboriginal warrior, an M.B.A. is a way of signaling just how deeply and irrevocably committed you are to a career in management. The degree also provides a tidy hoard of what sociologists call “social capital”—or what the rest of us, notwithstanding the invention of the PalmPilot, call a “Rolodex.” For companies, M.B.A. programs can be a way to outsource recruiting.

He argued that MBA programs fail to teach important managerial skills that can be learned only on the job, corrupt their students' communication skills with "obfuscatory jargon" (coming from someone who reads Heidegger for fun... yikes), teach only the most superficial ethics and values, and certainly don't teach them "how to think." Better to study philosophy instead in preparation for a business career, according to Stewart.

Responded Tuck's dean:

Many of our best students here at Tuck come to us with a broad liberal-arts education, and successful business leaders are as likely to have undergraduate degrees in poetry or fine arts as in finance or economics....

An M.B.A. from a top business school gives you a solid foundation in quantitative fields like accounting and finance; it gives you the terminology, the underlying theories, and the best practices; and it allows you to expand your understanding of how that all works in actual business settings. It also explores the "soft skills" that are so important, from ethics to leadership to communication."

Interestingly, even a Stanford business school professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, has argued that "[t]here is little evidence that mastery of the knowledge acquired in business schools enhances people's careers, or that even attaining the M.B.A. credential itself has much effect on graduates' salaries or career attainment."

In my experience working with MBA applicants, most of them want to go to business school because (1) they want to change careers and think an MBA will be the easiest way to break into their desired field, (2) they don't like the track they're on, aren't sure what they do want to do instead, and think they'll figure it out in business school, or (3) they are working in entry-level roles at the big investment banks or consulting firms and think they face a glass ceiling without an MBA. (Unlike the legal profession, the business professions are not legalized cartels, so investment banks and consulting firms can decide for themselves which degrees to require, and from whom.) Whether those applicants really have to spend six figures in tuition expenses in addition to two years of lost work experience and income in order to reach those goals is a legitimate question.

(For a peek at what it's like to attend Tuck, check out "The Blushing MBA" by Feddy Pouideh -- it's self-published and a bit rough around the edges, but a good first-hand account of life at Tuck by a recent graduate.)