Orientation and the first weeks: Strap yourself in and hold on tight

Phew! Let me catch my breath, that was a wild ride.

Everybody tells you the same message before you arrive at HBS. The first semester is going to be intense. But you think to yourself — I came from a consulting firm/investment bank/insert-job-X, how intense could this possibly be?

Intense. Really. Intense.

The first days started innocuously enough. We, the class of 2017, were formally welcomed by the Dean and other senior faculty in the morning of the first day. The energy in the room was electric. Everyone was dressed up in suits bright-eyed and bushy tailed. “Did you know that the word FOMO was actually coined at Harvard Business School?” We were warned that we needed to establish our priorities and accept the fact that we simply couldn’t do everything or be everywhere at once.

In our first orientation class I was introduced to 92 others in my section, Section A, with whom I would share my entire first year. The section is the foundation of the first year program (referred to as the RC or Required Curriculum year). Section mates take their first-year classes together, sharing cases, classroom facilities, and their own dedicated team of faculty. I’ll expand more about my section in later posts.

The remainder of the orientation days involved an introduction to the case method, advice sessions with second year (EC/Elective Curriculum) students and more chances to bond with the section. Our 2 introductory cases forced us to confront different styles of leadership and what made good leaders. The first looked at the NH cardiac hospital in India and the way it’s founder had built an innovative way to deliver world class health services at a developing world price; Now at a crossroads should the business increase its penetration in existing cardiac services or seek further growth by diversifying into other health verticals but risk losing focus. The second looked at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong and the role that his team played in the whole saga; whose job was it to overcome the toxic team culture?

Days are generally split into 2 or 3 case days finishing at either lunch or 2:45pm. Thursday, our first actual day of school was a 3 case day (gulp). While this might not sound like much you need to factor in that preparing for each case generally takes 90–120 minutes especially at the start. This means if you have back-to-back 3 case days you are finishing around 3pm and then need to complete 4.5–6 hours of preparation for the next day. Throw in other activities like going to the gym or cooking dinner and the time quickly fills up.

By the end of week 2 with 16 cases under my belt I was beginning to get into a routine,

  • Wake at 6:15am
  • Speak to my wife Liz from 6:30–7:00am
  • Handle some admin, make breakfast, shower and prepare for the day 7:00–8:00
  • Meet with my Discussion Group 8:00–8:50
  • Attend classes (2 or 3)
  • Eat lunch
  • Head to the gym
  • Shower
  • Go to the library to prep for cases
  • Eat dinner around 8pm
  • Finish study at home
  • Prepare for bed

Rinse and repeat.

Life was getting simpler — until the clubs and activities started.

Everyday you will find many competing interests for every hour of your

A selection from the list of events on a typical day

time. Class, gym, clubs, socialising, food, study, networking, sleep. Prioritising isn’t a useful skill. It is a necessity.

Should I listen to the CEO of a major mining company talk about his approach to leadership? (Sam Walsh from Rio Tinto was great especially when going off-script). What about hearing about the world of Venture Capital and Private Equity? How about a crash course on Stanford’s Design Thinking? Should I attend a networking event with the other Australian’s at Harvard or finish my next blog post (beers with Aussies is hard to turn down).

This is not to mention the wealth of resources from around the other Harvard schools (e.g. Kennedy, Education or Law) or greater Boston (numerous social and business networks).

In my following posts I’ll fill you in on what I have learned about the Boston education and innovation scene. For the moment, I’m just holding on tight and enjoying the ride.

When was the last time you had to make lots of trade-offs to manage you time? How did you come up with you priorities? And what did you find helpful/challenging?

Keen to hear your thoughts. If you enjoy the blog please like it or share it.

Until next time, cheers


Written by

EdTech entrepreneur, passionate about improving education impact through tech and research-driving practice. Former consultant and engineer. Harvard MBA.

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