Teaching at IIMB: Mid-term review

IIMB has a strange policy. They are not allowed to have classes tomorrow on account of it being a national holiday so they shifted tomorrow’s concept to today, indicating a complete lack of appreciation of the concept of the long weekend. Anyway, since I didn’t have any other plans for the day or the weekend I decided to not request for a slot change and went anyways. This was my eleventh class out of twenty.

I expected the attendance to be rather thin today, but the class surprised me with more than three-fourths of the registered students turning up (on par with most sessions so far). And despite the class being at 8 am in the morning, none of them slept (at least I didn’t notice anyone sleeping). That is again on par with the course so far – more than halfway though the course and I’m yet to catch a single person sleeping in class! Maybe I should take some credit for that.

The class before today’s was about ten days back (long gap due to mid-term exams), and that day I had a minor scare. I had formulated a case that involved solving the Newsboy Problem (now politically corrected to “Newsvendor model“) as a sub-step in the solution to the case. Having worked out the sketches of the case solution the previous night I went to sleep hoping to work out the full case before I went to class. And my brain froze.

So it was 6:30 on the morning of an 8am class and I wasn’t getting the head or tail of the newsboy problem despite having known it fairly well. Decided to have cereal at home rather than go to SN to give myself more time to read up and understand the model. And my brain refused to open up. Yet I made my way to class, hoping I could “wing it”.

I didn’t have to, for the class exceeded expectations and solved the case for me. One guy popped up with “newsvendor model”. Another guy said that we could consider a certain thing as a “spot price”, thus eliminating the need to make any assumptions on costs. Then we started working out the model on Excel (remember that this is a “spreadsheet modelling” course). And the time came to implement the newsvendor model. And my brain froze in anticipation. “How do we do this?”, I asked, trying to not give away my brain freeze.

“We calculate the critical ratio”, came the chorus (sometimes I dispense with the politeness and order of people raising their hands and speaking in order). “And what is that here?”, I asked. “B6/(B5+B6)” came back the chorus. And then when I asked them how to impute the ordering level based on this, the chorus had figured out the exact way in which we should use NormInv to determine this. The troubling bit of the newsvendor problem having been thus solved, I took control and went forward with the rest of the case. And my respect for the class went up significantly that day.

Later in the day I was relating the incident to the wife, who I might have mentioned is an MBA student at IESE Business School in Barcelona. “Oh my god, your class is so quant”, she exclaimed. This is a topic for another day but perhaps due to the nature of the admissions procedure, students at IIMs are definitely much much more quantitatively oriented than students at B-schools elsewhere. Yet, IIMs don’t seem to be doing much in terms of harnessing this quant potential which should be giving their students a global competitive advantage.

And coming back to my class, they’ll be sitting for placements starting the 9th of February. If my class is a representative sample (it is most likely not, since I’m teaching an elective and these people expressed interest in learning what I’m teaching, so there is a definite bias), this seems like a great batch at IIMB. So I encourage you to go and recruit!

 

Deranging groups

Ok so this is a mathematical problem. I plan to give three group assignments to my IIMB class. Let’s assume that there are 60 kids and for each assignment I want them to form groups of four members each. For the first assignment I’ve let them form the groups themselves.

For the second assignment, though, I want to create a “derangement” of these groups – in the sense that I want to form a different set of 15 groups of 4 members each such that no pair of students who are in the same group for assignment 1 will be in the same group for assignment 2. And I’m looking for an algorithm to thus “derange” my students. And whether it is possible at all to derange students thus.

My inclination is that this might have a solution in graph theory – in terms of graph colouring or something? Take the students from the first group and join every pair of students that are in the same group with an edge. Then colour the nodes of the graph. Pick nodes of the same colour (these are students that haven’t been in groups together) and randomly assign them to new groups. Repeat for all colours.

Question is how many colours we need to colour the graph. If it’s planar, we’ll need only 4 colours! And considering that the first assignment has 4 students per group, the maximum degree of a node is 3. If the maximum degree of an edge is 3, does that say anything about the planarity of the graph? If I derange the students once for assignment 2, can I do it again for assignment 3 (now each node has a degree of 6!) ? How do I think about this mathematically? Can you help?

Dressing up in residential schools

As  I was getting ready this morning to go deliver my lecture at IIMB, the wife expressed surprise at how casually I was dressed (I wore jeans, a (collared, “formal”) t-shirt and a hoodie). “In my business school all professors wear suits”, she said. My mind went back to the time when I was a student at IIMB, trying to remember what professors wore. While they were generally dressed more formally than I was today, no one wore suits – the only one who wore a blazer every day was easily the worst professor who taught me at IIMB!

I was thinking about why I don’t feel like dressing formally while going to IIM. And then I thought of the students, and realised that with the odd exception, I’m easily much more formally dressed than most of my students. When students turn up to class in track pants, professors have no incentive to wear anything close to a suit!

And this is not a new phenomenon. Back in my time too, close to ten years ago, people would wear track pants and other articles of clothing you might describe as “home wear” to class (Not me, though. I don’t wear track pants. As a rule. But I remember making it a point to wear shorts to all my final term examinations). So I started thinking about what it is about IIMB that makes people wear “home wear” to class. And I realised it has to do with the proximity.

IIM Bangalore is a wholly residential campus, and the student accommodation is a short walk away from most of the classrooms. In the second year, thanks to electives time tables are such that there is a good chance of having long breaks between classes, so you go to the academic part of the institute for only one class.

When you are going to a classroom that is only a short walk away from where you live, and when you go there only for one or two classes, it doesn’t feel like you’re “going somewhere”, so you don’t see any point in dressing up. Moreover, most of the people you meet in class are people you share a hostel with – these people would have seen you in your pyjamas anyway, and seen you get sloshed all over L^2 during one of those parties which I’m told are not so common nowadays! So there is no good reason for you to dress up! And you come to the class in pyjamas!

The wife’s B-school is not residential, and people live a few kilometres away. Very few pairs of people would have seen each other in their pyjamas, and the distance means people are “going somewhere” when going to a school. And so people dress up (and by that I mean they really dress up!). And when students are well-dressed, the professor wants to show off his superior social standing, and thus wears as formal clothes as he can – which usually means a suit!

Again I’m talking from small number of data points – I’ve lived in another residential institution (IIT Madras) – and that too was famous for its rather muted/horrible dressing sense. It’s a pity/mercy (depending on the way you look at it) that us IIMB people manage to well cover up our generally bad dressing by wearing suits at interviews and PPTs and other public events!

Missing data in IIMB Alumni Directory

Recently, I got a mail from the IIMB Alumni association asking me to contact batchmates who are not part of the association mailing list. The objective of the mail was to ensure that every alumnus is registered with the association and can be reached for whatever purpose. Among other things (including exhorting us to mail our class mailing lists, etc.) the mail contained statistics of the number of students in each graduating batch and the number of students who are not part of the alumni mailing list.

The pattern in the proportion of people not on the mailing list was quite interesting so I thought I’ll share it here:

IIMBAlumni

For the earlier graduating batches, you can see that the proportion not on the mailing list is very high. And then there are two deep drops, one in the mid-nineties and one around the turn of the millennium. The latter I would associate with all students having a valid email ID at the time of graduation which would have allowed them to be reachable and be part of the alumni association. The former also would be associated with penetration of email.

What is also interesting is the bump around 2010 – while the enrolment rate up to the batch of 2009 seems to be pretty good, something seems to have gone wrong after that. The enrolment rate for the batch of 2010 is as bad as that for 2002, which is quite bizarre! Wonder if the alumni association messed up, or if there were some technical glitches around then or if for some particular reason that batch hated IIMB so much that they didn’t register!

All in all, though, a very interesting dataset.

Day 1 of teaching at IIMB

As I had mentioned yesterday I’ve started teaching at IIMB. Some thoughts after day 1.

  • The sweetener (idli-vade-chutney) at SN refreshments is awesome but leads me to take a route that is heavier on traffic than the more optimal route (via Sanjay Gandhi and East End). Too many school buses and office cabs that move haphazardly make it less than a pleasant drive
  • My car was again waved past at the IIMB gate. No questions asked. I’m still not sure how they do it every time to my car, given there is no insignia on it! I don’t believe that they remember the car from when I was a student!
  • IIMB has a new classroom complex and I “inaugurated” one of the classrooms there. It’s quite nice, students set out in a wide U format which I quite like. The projector takes HDMI input which is awesome!
  • The class started off rather quietly. I had to put on my sarcastic side and helpfully mention that “there is still time left to drop this course”. Participation picked up after that.
  • For an 8 am class, no one slept, which I take as an achievement! But then it is the first day of the term. Maybe they’ll learn as they go along
  • There were zero objections when I put up my “pie charts are evil. don’t use them” slide. This is the first time I’m not facing any resistance for saying that! In the past I’ve had people say “but then I used a pie chart once and it was very well accepted”, and this after I’ve told them about the perils of anecdata!
  • Everyone calls me “sir”, from the students to the administrative staff and officers. I’m letting them call me thus. It’s funny how one of the administrators who I used to call “sir” when I was a student now calls me “sir”.
  • The drive back was horrible. Insane traffic all along Bannerghatta road till I got past the ring road. Then it was smooth but the 3rd block circle was again jammed. But then IIMB is giving me office space so once I get that I’m unlikely to drive back immediately after the class.
  • I need to manage my voice better. Half an hour in, I realised I had come close to losing my voice. I need to be less hyper and “conserve my voice” at least for the duration of the class.
  • And no, I won’t put such an update after every class. Just that today was the first day so ..
  • I came back and added “adjunct faculty, IIMB” to my linkedin profile :P

Teaching at IIMB

Starting tomorrow I’ll be teaching at IIMB. It’s a course called “Spreadsheet modelling for business decision problems”, and targeted at term 6 MBA students. I explicitly warned them to not take the course if they don’t consider themselves to be competent at mathematics. Yet, some 60 students have registered (current IIMB batch size is ~400)!

This promises to be fun. The only part that may not be so much fun is that in order to make it compatible with the rest of my work I requested for the 8-930am slot on Mondays and Tuesdays so that means I need to get back to my early-to-bed-early-to-rise ways which have served me so well for most of my career (last few months though I’ve become a late riser).

Now, for everything that I do I like to have a “sweetener” – something that is totally unrelated that spurs me to do whatever I’m doing. Usually the sweetener is something that sounds quite trivial but is actually useful in spurring me on. The sweetener in this case is that SN Refreshments in JP Nagar 2nd Phase lies on my way from home to IIMB, and they make absolutely awesome idli-chutney. So the plan for tomorrow (and every other class day in the next 3 months) is to leave home early and have breakfast there and then head on to IIMB.

I’m hoping for a nice lively class. I’ve reserved 20% of the evaluation for “class participation”. I hope at least that spurs them to be nice and lively! Then again it’s first thing in the morning on Mondays and Tuesdays so you never know..

I’ll keep you guys updated on anything whacky that might happen in class. Oh, and I’m going to be starting a “class blog” for my students where they can write for extra credit. Will send out the link once it’s up and populated.

Now to decide whether to go by car (for some strange reason when I take the car – the same one I had when I was a student at IIMB – I never get stopped by the security guys at the gate. there’s no sticker on the car though) or by motorcycle (easier to navigate traffic and park near SN)!

A One Year MBA Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Around this time last year, when the wife was applying for B-school, I was clear in my advice to her on one thing – that a one year MBA just doesn’t make sense. From what I recall I wasn’t really clear back then regarding that piece of advice – it was rather intuitive, and based on a few “data points” I know, but as I see her go through her (two year) MBA, I realise why my advice makes sense.

There are two important functions that a business school performs. The first – which is debatable since a lot of people I’ve spoken to, including my classmates from IIMB – is that it changes the fundamental way you think. Exposure to different paradigms of management and case studies and frameworks completely changes the way, in my opinion based on my tenure at IIMB, you think about a lot of things in the world. If I were to summarise my MBA in one sentence, I will say that it taught me, and reinforced in me, the issue of tradeoffs.

In corporate strategy we learnt that any strategy you adopt will have its pros and cons, and if a strategy helps you “cover one flank”, it will expose you to the other. In HR, we learnt that life, and all our decisions, are all about making tradeoffs. In finance, we learnt that the very concept of the interest rate reflects the tradeoff between consumption today and consumption tomorrow. And so forth.

This, and a few other concepts that I learnt in my two years at B-school, completely changed the way i look at a lot of things in the world, and that helped broaden my perspective and that alone makes me believe that the time I spent at B-school was time well spent (I managed to get a scholarship so I didn’t spend much money for my education there).

Coming back, the second function that a business school performs is that of an employment exchange. By having a highly selective admission process it signals its students’ quality to prospective employers, and helps people move ahead in their careers by getting jobs they would have otherwise not got, without the MBA. For a lot of people, this is the primary reason to go to B-school (let me confess that this was the case for me, too, 10 years back), and the learning or changing the way they think is a bonus. But having had ones way of thinking changed, one will realise that this change is the more sustainable impact that the B-school has on you.

So what does this have to do with one year MBAs? Ever since my wife started her classes two months ago, she has had to start preparing for summer internships. She worked on her CV, wrote cover letters, attended tonnes of PPTs and networking sessions, even did a short trip to network with some companies and so forth (it was a similar case for me 10 years back). In sum, she has spent a disproportionate amount of her time and energy in dealing with the placements, leaving little time and energy and mind space for her academics.

Now, the point is that this is only for a summer internship, which allows you to make a mistake since you are not permanently committing to a company. If you don’t like your internship, or if the company where you intern doesn’t like you, you always have a second chance during the so-called (in IIMB) “final placements” to make a better choice. Yet, despite knowing that the summer internship is not “final” and gives you a second chance, first year students of two-year MBAs everywhere end up getting quite stressed over it, with the stress not lifting until they know where they are going (which, for some curious reason both in India and abroad happens rather early – in the second “trimester”).

It is only when the summer placements are done are you actually able to concentrate and do justice to your academics, and do some learning, to try and imbibe the first function that a B-school offers. Then you can relax and concentrate on your studies till late in the second year when (if you haven’t “converted” your internship) you will need to find a full-time job. In IIMs, thankfully, this happens towards the very end of the course which gives you sufficient time to actually learn, change the way you think, or do whatever the hell you want.

Now think of what happens in a one-year MBA. Firstly, typically there is no internship, meaning you have only one chance to get your post-MBA “remodelled” career right. Secondly, since “final placements” are less than a year away, you will have to spend a considerable amount of your time and energy and mindspace in Business School to that end – worrying about it, wearing suits, attending PPTs, attending career fairs, networking and all such.

There is very little time that you spend in a one year MBA when you are actually relaxed and know where you are going next, which is a necessary condition for you to learn, and for the business school to “affect” you. And to change the way you think, which is the only lasting impression (apart from the brand) that the business school can have on you!

So unless you want an MBA just for the brand, and just for the change in career, a one year MBA makes absolutely no sense. It is cheaper, for sure (both in terms of time and money), but so much inferior in value, since the main function of a B-school has very little time to actually function!