Doing Independent Studies in Your MBA

What the flying cow is an independent study? An independent study or field study is an act of self studying that is beyond the curriculum. Independent studies can include an intense project that the student pick themselves or the study could just be a project the student is working on with a firm. The study could even be an internship the student is doing but they want to earn credit for it.

As an international student, coming to get an MBA in the states during the Trump era means exactly 3 burdensome things:

  1. Recruiting will be tougher because I am changing 2 levers of a career (function and geography). Third lever is industry. I want to be in the food industry.
  2. Language barrier is a pain in the ass. Even though you feel that you are absolutely eloquent in your speech (maybe), you might find yourself very tongue tied during networking events.
  3. Networking just sucks. It’s just not in my country’s culture to network a lot. It is a bizarre concept of give and take!

So, how does independent studies help? Independent study is actually you giving firms the opportunity to utilize free labor from an MBA student who ideally costs a lot. It puts you in the position of having the responsibilities but at the same time having exposure to the firm you choose to connect with.

From my experience, I feel that independent studies really helped me explore and apply skill sets I want to develop. I know that the good things are not learned in class but learned from other people you interact with.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how many students in my cohort have connections with people within the geographical region that I could reach out and have 20 minute chats about the possibility of doing projects with them.

Most of course would say no. But a no now does not mean no later. It’s all about how fast you can move on from one moment on to another to capture a better opportunity.

So what should you do? For an independent study to be the most beneficial to your MBA career, first you have to check whether it is possible to a study and whether it is available in school. This is very important for international students because we cannot work given the status of F-1 visa. Check with your school counselor! Once you know the process, submit your proposal!

What do I do a study in? Anything you want. I chose to study things I really am interested in and I choose to study subjects that firm I want to work with is interested to tackle. For people who wants to do an internship, I recommend that during your full time MBA, get a credit out of it. Independent studies are one of the ways that will grant you that credit to your semester/quarter.

What is a successful independent study? A successful independent study is the one that allows you to craft a narrative toward your post-MBA career or summer internship. If you want to be a marketing professional, choose a study/side project that has to do with branding. At Kellogg, the experiential learning during the quarter is an independent study. It allows you to work with a firm and create plans for them. For example, an opening mentions that they require an MBA student to help assess a new market and develop a feasibility study  to see whether it’s profitable.

What if my school does not have a list of firms who want MBA students’ free labor? You have got to network your way into these firms. A good place to start is talking to speakers who come to school for events or joining conferences / meet ups. On my next post, I will discuss about networking for international students and what are the few things that one needs to prepare to be successful… or at least what I learn from my friends and what I tried / improved over the course of my first year in MBA.

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