Foundations Term is Over… Finally!

Frankly I did not anticipate it would take so long to post again here… MBA, as generally perceived, tends to be a breeze-through, a party-cause, and a pay-for-degree kind of thing. Yet the reality is… well, at least ‘a tiny little bit’ bitter at the very best.

But in any case, the first milestone is behind us – and it enables us to capture some beautiful moments of the Canadian fall. (well maybe not so Canadian to the true Canadians since most Canadians hate Toronto and doesn’t really consider the city Canadian XD)

Queen’s Park on a particular sunny day, October 2015.

At Rotman, the first year is divided into 4 terms: Foundations (1 month), Term 1 (3 months), Term 2 (3 months), and Capstone (1 month). With the grades for Foundations Term released yesterday, I guess I’m finally in a slightly more credible position to share a bit on what happened…

Foundations Term consisted of 4 courses:

  • Introduction to Model-Based Decision Making
    • This course teaches Decision Trees, as well as the concept of Utility, leading to an introduction of basic Game Theory and Nash Equilibrium.
    • The goal of this course is to have the students realize that, 1) utility for any given situation can and should be quantized (i.e. turned into numbers) and 2) decisions has consequences and it is very important to consider the consequences before making decisions.
  • Integrating Models and Data
    • The course focuses on the foundations of statistics – when and how should statistics be used, and, what are the fundamental limitations of using statistics to prove any points in general.
    • Simply put – Correlation does not equal Causation and You can never be sure of anything from statistics.
  • Managerial Economics
    • Touches upon all basic concepts of microeconomics such as supply / demand, monopoly / duopoly / oligopoly and their intrinsic properties, consumer surplus and basic pricing strategies, as well as applications of economics in strategy (i.e. auctions and Nash Equilibrium again!).
    • For people (such as me) with very limited economic background, this course provided completely different insights into what all those articles in the news is about!
  • Business Ethics
    • Introduces several different frameworks / approaches for assessing ethicality in making decisions, The classes are centered around recent industrial controversies and the crucial part is about learning how those frameworks should be applied in practice.
    • Surprisingly, this turned out to be interesting and useful…

Looking back at the past month, I would say that these courses has been immensely useful. On top of the knowledge that were taught within these classes, the fact that these topics were all extremely application-specific made it a good thing to be learnt under a somewhat mentor-based approach. In all courses above, the professors would personally show their steps in analyzing real-life problems, and, with their extremely high caliber in the subject areas, clear the misunderstandings on the common divergences between theory and practice.

Of course, just like any school… the sad fact is that, being a world-class researcher does not necessarily translate into being a good teacher. For some of the courses, I could see that the professor was trying to “dumb down” so that he could explain things in simple ways that even “idiots” (comparatively) could understand – only to fail miserably (from our consensus… XD). But then again, you can’t get along with everyone’s style… At least they were trying their best and are regardless super friendly too. Plus there’s absolutely no question about their actual skill level.

The other part about those courses is that, well, since GMAT is a joke on mathematics – Yes I know I somehow hold a BMath degree but I still feel like an idiot on maths – the professors had to put in a lot of effort in skipping the mathematical proofs.on most materials. For example, they had to say “slope of this line” instead of “derivative of this function” – and even this is destroying most kids from non-math majors such as Design, Education, Music, Psychology etc. Yet, without those mathematical foundations, most theories actually ended up even more cryptic than they were supposed to be. And then the professor had to spend extra time on ensuring coverage for these people, while I sat there, idle… But nothing’s perfect right? Plus you could always discuss the intricate details personally with the professors – they all know what you mean mathematically, and they all know way more than you do.

Overall, on a scale of 100%, I would say the utility of the courses are at about 80% -90%. They are nice refreshers to the concepts, and I would say the real value comes from the access to the world-class professor themselves. Leverage that as much as you can.

(And MBA jargon has started to mix into my words too, even just after one month… ouch…)

That seems to be quite a lot for today… I’ll keep more stuff for the next time. 🙂

Aside: Life of typical MBA students


Hmm… if it doesn’t balance there’s must be something wrong right… but where?

Next time I’ll write more about the true MBA life. Stay tuned.


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