The End of the Beginning

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Come to the Nerd SideThis August, the Chicago Booth Executive MBA class finished its first quarter. Already, so much has changed and while I can’t claim to be a different person, there have definitely been some tectonic shifts in the way I think and approach things. We still have 13 weeks stretched over one and a half years left and if this pace of change continues, I wonder what we will be like when we go to Chicago to graduate in March 2016. Cleverer? Yes. But what else?

The first quarter has given me a strong dose of humility: I have admittedly been quite used to feeling rather impressed with myself, however being in a class with people who manage international hedge funds at the age of 34 or have Computer Science PhDs has taken me down a peg or two. This could be construed negatively, but I think it isn’t - these people open up the realms of possibility and inspire one to reach for greater heights. The world is no longer enough.

Another positive is that my memory and analytical ability have improved. I became curious about this phenomenon and did a little investigation - apparently this is normal and is a result of something called neuroplasticity. This basically means that our brains are pliable throughout our lifetimes and can develop new abilities. Learning new skills, such as a language, a musical instrument or doing maths, is a brain training technique which helps to increase intelligence. Since I arrived at this highly analytical programme from a media background, I am probably one of the first to feel this effect. By the time the Statistics and Financial Accounting courses are done, I expect many more of my classmates will. (For more info, read this book).

So far, balancing studies with work and life has been very challenging for us all. Some things have had to give. A former gym bunny, I now look down at the pavement whenever I bump into one of the trainers on the street. General impatience has also sometimes reared its ugly head and I have eaten far too much chocolate in the last three months. I began wondering if I was turning into the Incredible Hulk and was thrilled to read that many of us probably are! One of our assigned readings is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. In it, he talks about the fast System 1, which “operates automatically and quickly, with little sense of voluntary control,” and the slow System 2, which “allocates attention to effortful mental activities.” Kahneman says that when our System 2 is busy working on hard tasks which require self-control, like microeconomics, our System 1 runs riot! He says “people who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgements in social situations.” In other words, when we are already making an effort with a hard task, it is much harder to control our impulses. You have been warned.

Next time we meet, our year of 250 students will be split between three “home” campuses: Chicago, London and Hong Kong. I have heard that from next quarter, our studies are going to get very tough indeed (in fact, a friend called next week’s Financial Accounting and Statistics syllabus “sadistic”). However, aside from the studies, I remain more curious than ever how we will change as people. As always, until next time.

Sophia Matveeva EXP-21