“Across the River and Out of my Comfort Zone”: A Sloanie Sits in at HBS

With less than 3 months until graduation, I’m actively crossing things off of my MBA bucket list. One of the biggest items I wanted to do before I graduated? To cross-register for a course outside of MIT.

If I had one more year, I’d try to get into the “Making of a Politician” course at the Harvard Kennedy School or the January negotiations seminar at Harvard Law School, both of which are supposed to be excellent. But those who know me at Sloan or otherwise know about my background know I used to be a research associate at Harvard Business School. So for the sake of a poetic ending to my MBA experience and a final farewell to my academic life in Boston, I felt compelled to make my cross-registration experience happen at none other than HBS.

Mapping out my otherwise full spring semester at Sloan, I found a few interesting classes at HBS that, despite the eccentric X-Y course calendar, worked in my schedule. I entered the lottery and had the luck to be admitted into a very popular half-semester course called “Launching Technology Ventures,” taught by two professors-practitioners of entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Part of the appeal of Sloan for me was that it didn’t teach everything in the case method: I’m really glad I learned leadership by way of Action Learning in L-Lab and learned accounting and finance through problem sets. And I wouldn’t trade my experience at MIT for that at another school—I have no doubt that MIT was the place I belonged, culturally speaking, these last two years, and that MIT set me up better for my post-MBA goals than any other top MBA program could have.

Had I ended up at HBS for my MBA, I know I’d have gotten sick and tired of reading cases to learn in all my classes. But getting to experience one class of flawless case teaching and consistently-strong case discussion as a cross-registrant at the institution that invented it was a real treat. Moreover, witnessing an approach to teaching entrepreneurship that was very different from Sloan’s was valuable—if I had to summarize it, Sloan’s approach is more detail-oriented,  data-driven, and operationally-inclined, HBS’s is more “big picture”-oriented, go-t0-market-driven, and strategically-inclined.

The last 6 weeks I spent at HBS, more often than not, I walked into class feeling totally out of my league—when I read the cases to the best of my ability, I still felt underprepared. When I finally spoke, I felt anything but eloquent and choked a bit when challenged to defend my opinion. As the Professor called out peers with relevant industry experiences to weigh in on the discussion of the day, I felt the return of that unrelenting sense of imposter syndrome from my first semester at Sloan.

But that’s kind of a great thing. At Sloan, more often than not, I walk into a class feeling confident in my ability to do what’s expected of me and comfortable with the people surrounding me. I had forgotten what it was like to feel really, really uncomfortable—the kind of uncomfortable that makes you grow.

I’m not sure what my HBS classmates thought of me in the rare moments I felt self-assured enough to speak or how those beyond the delightful four seated near me felt about my presence in the class. Not like I have control over any of this, but I hope they don’t think I was a complete idiot or feel like my seat should have gone to someone they already knew.

And even if they do, I hope they’d listen long enough for me to thank them for pushing me to a new “stretch zone.”

As I near the end of my MBA, I’m adding this to the list of pieces of advice I would give to 1st-year MBAs or would-be MBAs: if you get the chance, take advantage of the chance to cross-register. When you do, expect to learn more than just the course material. If your experience was anything like mine, you’ll learn more about ways of learning and more about yourself than you would ever expect. 

Erica Zendell

Erica Zendell is a MBA Candidate in the MIT Sloan Class of 2016. A former HBS case writer and researcher of contemporary China, she aspires to work as a Product Manager at the crossroads of the real and digital worlds of retail. When not hitting the books, she hosts a podcast with a classmate called "The Business of Being Awesome" focused on inspiring MBAs to find work they love after business school, even if it means going off the beaten path (www.soundcloud.com/bizobapodcast).

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1 Comment

  1. Vaibhav Pandey

    Nice post and totally on the spot…. 🙂

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