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Sink or SWIM: The Case Study

SWIM 2013 ConferenceSWIM 2013 Conference

Sloan Women in Management (SWIM), a student-run club, works to increase opportunities for all women at MIT Sloan through networking events, speaker series, professional development workshops, mentorship programs, and community building events. Each year, members of SWIM participate in the planning and execution of a student-run conference, a unique opportunity for the group to host thinkers from a variety of industries and to engage in a dialogue with leading women in business.

In the 2012–13 academic year, three members of SWIM—Lauren Ankeles, MBA ’13, conference chief finance officer; Marine Graham, MBA ’13, conference chief operations officer; and Priyanka Ramamurthy, MBA ’13, conference chief marketing officer—acted as the co-presidents, and were well on their way to planning a conference that would meet, and exceed, the expectations set by their predecessors. Through months of planning, they were tantalizingly close to realizing their vision— only to be thwarted by one of the biggest blizzards in recent memory in Cambridge.

After they made the decision to cancel the night before the conference, Paul Buckley, associate director of Student Life, approached them with an idea—write a case study about their experience. The group jumped at the chance. For Ankeles, it was an opportunity to take a negative and turn it into a positive learning experience. “We had put a lot of effort into an event, and we weren’t able to see the results of that work,” she said. “Working on the case showed us that we still learned a lot from the experience.” For Ramamurthy, the process of planning and then cancelling the conference was a real-world application of all the things they had learned in the MBA program. “In the moment, we didn’t fully appreciate the different areas we were pulling from, but writing the case was a great opportunity for us to step back and evaluate our experience,” she said.

But beyond the learning experience, the group recognized a need for a case study that spoke to the experience of MBA students. Writing the case was a chance to highlight students in decision-making roles, to share stories of female leaders, and to explore the impact of student extracurricular activities. Ramamurthy noted that, “Many of the cases used in business school are from a C-level perspective. Our case was a chance for students to more easily put themselves in the shoes of the protagonists and think through what decisions they would have made.”

Armed with senior lecturer Roberta Pittore as their advisor, the group set out to write the case, compiling timelines of every event they could remember leading up to their decision, and structuring the case in such a way that their decision to cancel wasn’t obvious from the start. The process was challenging at first, forcing the group to turn a critical eye on their experience through the process of gathering the facts and fleshing out the case. Once the bulk of the case formation work was done, they began looking for classes that would be a good fit to present the case, and found a home in senior lecturer Pat Bentley’s course, “Practical Leadership.” The class content—decision making, leadership, constituencies, and peers—was the perfect fit; and with a small number of students, the authors were able to get more feedback from all the participants.

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