Sunday, June 21, 2015

My First year of FPM at IIMB

It was been just over an year since I joined the FPM at IIM Bangalore. I find it interesting to reflect often on the journey I travel, this time I decided to go one step further and write them down. For some it might be a reflection of their own, for some it might complement their own experience - What ever the application or utility of this blog, I feel its important to move towards sharing what we know [Yes! this is one of the key learning I have in the year].

I went into the program with a set of biases, and ideas. These have undergone a transformation as I learnt more from the research process; sharing these would be in my opinion of help to others too. I shall attempt to get a greater emphasis on these as I write here.

For ease of recollection, I shall model the learning to align with the academic structure of program itself. So the heads I would leverage are not the learning, but from the term in which I possibly got them. None of the learning might be complete in itself, knowledge is always evolving and often your explicit actions are the drivers.

Before the term began
Once I had gotten to know about the selection for the program, I took an active interest in meeting up with some senior FPM students whom I had interacted with earlier in different roles. These conversations didn't just help me get to know about some interesting and engaging courses in their perspective were important for me; the conversations also helped me create a mental map of what to expect in the first to years. There was also some key mental barriers that I had to look out for in the period of FPM, I have made a mental note of these and hope to realize them when I am at the cusp of making these decisions. With a very brief preparation done, I felt I was ready with the information to get started with the journey.

I was sitting in a classroom as student after a gap of 5 years. It took almost the whole of the term for me to get accustomed to the preparation I had to do for a class and attempt to get to the thought process/rationale of the approach that was being discussed. Of the four courses I had taken, there was only one course that was dealing with some empirical learning.

I had been working as an academic assistant for nearly an year before I joined the course and was craving to do some independent work, this gave me an opportunity. I decided to try my first exploration on the research journey in this course - the result was in being able to develop a model based on an interview. I ain't sure I would ever be building on this, but the experience and the ground this course set up to learn about research itself.

When I entered the FPM program, I think I was over-focused on a specific problem, but I quickly realized it was also holding me back from absorbing the maximum from the courses. If I was to become a good researcher, I had to move beyond the attachment I had with the idea I wanted to pursue. I decided, I would think about the problem to work on after completing the 2nd year. There was no requirement for us to begin the research right away. This I guess was an important decision that I took-up early on, I feel I have begun absorbing from the discussion much early. 

As the TERM-1 ended I was left with a feeling that I hadn't taken enough from the course work. I knew I had made some intellectual progress from where I had begun, but I felt wanting... As I reflected, I felt I had to make more time to read and improve my preparation. The class discussions can be leveraged well only if I prepare and form my takes on these. I decided I had to focus on these aspect for the next term.

While the first term offered courses which were foundational and broad based, this term at least for my area was heavier than the first. I had taken 5 instead of the 4 in the term. The courses in the term were foundational to the area of specialization here. Specifically for the field of strategy we had 2 course - classics and content (A). Given my interest in entrepreneurship, I also took a course on entrepreneurship - these three were heavy reading courses. One of the remaining two courses dealt with research methods in organization behavior and the last one was on econometrics.

Given my work load, I had to take the call of which courses I would take to be of slightly lesser on intensity. I decided to do it on econometrics, since there would be further courses with higher intensity, I could possibly pick this up later. If I miss this chance on the remaining four course, I was sure, I would never get to redo them. This call helped me focus my reading to be on these four, without feeling bad about the choice I was doing.

As mentioned earlier, I had my biases when beginning the FPM course towards Strategy. The classics course transformed my perspective of strategy. From viewing strategy to be top-down (which had been reinforced by the way the cases in my PGP were designed, and which never were in synch with my experience) it had now gotten me to see that this was only one body part of the elephant that strategy was!!! The scholars who studied strategy had left a mark on my life here - my respect for the field itself grew multifold! I can definitely say, I now look at things very differently from where I began the course with.

I clear felt, I had to slow myself down. Apply myself to the field - the rest would take care of itself. I decided to tackle the journey of first two years of coursework differently - I now knew what was to be the focus was picking up the competencies which could help me become a scholar/researcher rather than mere passion or zeal.

Thinking on what I could pick up from the course in the present term, I decided to attempt a good literature review. The experience was extremely enriching and helped me get the confidence to move on and seek the next challenge. I felt, this focus helped me feel better about myself and the effort there in.

Despite the shift in focus shifting from a narrow topic to picking up skills, I was still seeking opportunities where I could attempt experimenting on my research area of interest.

My search for an opportunity to work on the idea I intended to explore further was realized in one of the courses - I was also intended to extend my skill from beyond mere literature search based paper to something more empirical. I began working on building on towards a good term paper. Building cause-maps was a skill I picked up, though the paper didn't have much literature review it highlighted that with a focused effort, we could do a lot of interesting work even during the courses.

I another course during the term, we happened to accidentally find a reading we had in the earlier term. I found that the understanding improved as we attempt to read these papers again after you get a better understanding of the field. I think, this is an interesting approach and I should do it as a more deliberate practice - read the papers for a better understanding with a new context in place.

I was next looking forward to the Summer break - I felt I had to do something really empirical.

The initial idea with which I went into the summer break was pretty vague, but as a surprise, I had an opportunity from the prof with whom I had decided to work during the summer. He was organizing a workshop and suggested we could leverage the audience to attempt an experimental study.

This opportunity got me to think of an experiment design, develop the necessary collateral and then administer the experiment. This was followed by the experience of data entry of the data gathered and then the analysis. The entire experience was interesting not just in conducting the experiment and improving the collateral material, but also going the full extent of writing a paper based on the data and then presenting it to an audience.

Looking back: The journey thus far has been an exploratory one thus far. My greatest take away is the shift towards competencies that I intend to build during the course work. Sometimes, you have to slow down so much that you see the world move and then know what is actually happening.