Thanksgiving brought a busy half week of engaging with family and avoiding anything explicitly school related. I returned to Austin late Saturday night, woke up Sunday and went to Starbucks to begin my last tax research memo!! As I turned on my computer and logged onto the Starbucks page, I found a fascinating video entitled Ripe for Change.
Since I am an expert procrastinator, the topic of anything but tax research caught my eye. Since I am from California, this topic of food production hits close to home. And as we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving, food seemed to be an appropriate topic. Watching the video, I found that the issues it addresses within the food industry are highly relevant to us as accountants.
One such issue is regulation. The tensions between the need for regulation and its burden have been prevalent recently, and are particularly relevant in the financial industry that many of us will enter from the MPA program.
In the documentary as multiple farmers comment on the same trend, for example mechanical picking, we see that there is not always a clear cut way to respond to the availability of new technology or situations; we even see that sometimes the alleged problem is not as obvious as it seems.
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Learning to accept average has been among my many lessons in this competitive program.
Much like the aforementioned idiom this post is more about perspective than it is about beauty. Since I’ve been in the MPA program I’ve had two interesting encounters with perspective:
1. A change in my perspective
When people used to ask me how I did on an exam or an assignment I would always compare to myself, generally my past performance or a goal. So someone might say “how did you do?” and I would think about how my performance stacked up and say “I did well” or “I didn’t do as well as I would have liked”.
In this program I have no idea what “well” means. Objectively my percentage of comprehension/retention of presented material is about 75% which to me seems awful, but we’re comparing apples to oranges in terms of amount material presented.
On the bright side the program does provide an alternative measure of performance: comparison to others. This is a less attractive option to me than self comparison because the people here are really smart, but it’s what I’ve got to live with. Now that I’m getting a better grasp of the curving system I always compare myself to the mean. It’s a very strange adjustment to make statements relative to average because historically average has never been my goal, but I try to remember that in this crowd average is still pretty good.
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Among the factors I did not weigh in choosing a graduate program is the number of former prison inmates I would encounter in my studies. I imagine for the vast majority of current and prospective graduate students that is not a concern. As it turns out in the MPA program this semester I have had the opportunity to hear from a handful of white collar criminals during our required course: MPA Distinguished Speaker Lyceum. It also turns out that hearing their stories has been a highly rewarding part of the program.
As these professionals shared their stories I noticed that all rationalized a genuine belief that what they were doing would be fine and none mentioned evaluating their decisions with someone they respected . I think these trends tell us something about how to become a white collar criminal and maybe something about how to avoid it.
In the course of sharing his story our most recent speaker said two things in which I thought the semantics were relevant to this idea of prison avoidance:
First he said about arriving at prison “I didn’t intend to be there” and it occurred to me that from his story he also didn’t intend to NOT be there.
Second he mentioned that “intent is a critical element of a white collar crime” and it crossed my mind that intent also seems to be a critical element of NOT white collar crime.
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Grad school admissions can seem like a bit of a lottery.
I express this not only as my own sentiment regarding applying to the MPA program, but also as a common theme among my peers. Not knowing anyone in Austin when I arrived, I was eager and available to get to know others in the program. After classes groups of MPAs often walked to restaurants near campus, like Pluckers or Cain and Ables, to visit. [I’m convinced food is the ultimate ice breaker.] A habitual conversation starter for us was “how and why did you end up coming here” because in our early interactions that was what we knew we had in common.
In response I heard and reheard variations of the story “I didn’t think I had any chance of getting in, but the early response was first, so I applied to see what would happen, knowing that if I didn’t get in I could go elsewhere”. It always surprised me because the people who said these things are so remarkable! I would think “your GMAT is amazing!” or “you were in the top of your class” or “your extracurriculars are so impressive” but the fact remains that many of us who had the option to and chose to attend here weren’t sure we had what it takes.
The mechanics of graduate school admissions are a mystery, a bit like winning the lottery, and we all wish we could find the key. My admittedly flawed sampling of students probably can’t be used for any truly reliable conclusions about it, but I think that the theme is not an accident. Something about the admissions process seems to slect people who are highly successful yet modest, reminiscent of Jim Collins’s “level five leader”. Aside from that, from what I can tell the secret to getting in to this program is not being deterred by probability; it’s taking the initiative to pursue something with an uncertain outcome.