Anyone who worked in Foreign Exchange as sales or trading on a markets floor will know that once you’re in it, there’s no break.

From the New Zealand Open, on what is Sunday evening European time to the final closing on Friday evening, you live and breathe FX —alert to all and ready to react. On the weekends, you’ll be following the news on anything that might trigger a market gap open. And you’re loving it!

People like me are picking up the phone (yes, phones!), heart-rates soaring, shouting over each other to emphasise the importance of our client and deal. But the world I described is without a doubt rapidly moving towards extinction as technology takes over and reaches new efficiencies. It’s good that way and a reason why I’m doing an MBA.

But I’m unashamed in saying that for many years, that world and its people were my biggest love, passion and pride. One privilege that I gained working up the ranks was that by the time I became a senior team member, I could leave the juniors to hold the fort between Christmas and New Year to switch off during that short window when the FX market allowed itself to go to sleep.

I don’t mean not going to the office. I mean completely switching off, following no news and having no idea where FX rates were —World War 3 could have broken out without me knowing it. Those were the days where my biggest achievement would be rolling out of bed to take my dog on a long walk.

This Christmas, as a Full-time MBA student at Cass, I looked back to those days with nostalgia. Because while life as a Cass MBA student may not require the sort of alertness that makes you bark out prices at a moment’s notice, it also doesn’t let you switch off. Ever.

The most obvious element dampening Christmas is the lingering dark cloud of exams.

Can I step forward and use this as a public forum to express my grievance at exams being scheduled on January 3rd and 4th?

Yes, we had six exams over two days with just over two weeks since the last day of university attendance. You can only believe someone high up hates us and wants to see us suffer. Or is this another attempt to challenge us and train our perseverance?

My suitcase that should have been filled with Christmas gifts was a carefully crafted exercise of figuring out which textbooks and notes were worth taking up the weight. Moaning didn’t help either as all I got from my mother was “I don’t know why you do these things to yourself…” followed by a deep sigh as if I was the one who was spoiling Christmas for her. My stoic uncle only remarked how all exams in his PPE degree at Oxford followed the holidays to keep students on their toes and years later now, not being the one taking them, approving of this method of discipline. No sympathy here.

So all I could do for some comfort was to turn to my fellow classmates, many of whom collaborated on exam preparation. I did partner up with my closest classmate to prepare for Strategy and had a couple of others who taught me how to get through the Analytics for Business once I was back in London. Without any results yet, I don’t know how successful their effort was but, whatever the outcome, I thank them for their patience in teaching this girl who’s allergic to the word statistics.

While that’s the immediate concern, there’s also the Strategy project that’s increasingly nudging and poking us from November onward. Unlike most of the projects I’ve worked on, this project forced us to face the outside world putting our networking skills to the test to source a business that wants to do a consulting project with MBA students. At the onset, the Strategy project is just another analysis piece set in the real-world.

We quickly realise that the biggest task and challenge lies in the first step of convincing that one company to work with us. Panic spreads in the first week of December as many face rejections which may be better than the lack of response from companies others experience. We had to prepare how we would approach businesses and how we wanted to present ourselves. I prepared a Power Point presentation outlining our project including short bios of all our team members which I sent out to companies who showed the first signs of interest.

Myself and my team were lucky enough to have narrowed it down to two good potentials by early December, providing enough meat for the first monthly report due on December 10th. The monthly reports, separate from the final report and analysis, are a good way to feel that constant pressure on our back.

After briefly exhaling having submitted our first report, we reminded ourselves to keep the communication with the companies alive because they couldn’t care less about our monthly report deadlines. And then we started counting. It’s five weeks until the second monthly report is due but in two weeks it’s already Christmas and no one does anything that week. And then we had exams and who was going to do anything in the first week of January anyway? So we really only had three weeks to create anything meaningful; two weeks in December and one week in January.

We got in touch with those companies again,  politely courting them and slowly pushing them towards commitment. Of course they have actual work and may be planning the biggest shop opening of the year just when you think you only have three weeks to achieve anything.

How many emails are too many? What exactly do they have to say so that you are sure of their commitment? When do you press for next steps? All of these things went through our mind during the cheerful Christmas period. And before anything is done, it’s Christmas and the corporate world comes to a standstill. And all we could think of was that we now only had one week to get anything done before that second report.

In the midst of all of this, I was reminded that the deadline to submit my electives choices— that will determine all the things we do beyond Easter —was also on January 2nd. You panic some more because it hits you how two of your four core module blocks are already over and you’re nowhere nearer knowing what you really want to do. You also know that the electives build on what you’ve learnt in the first two blocks and while you’re leaning towards the topics that you really enjoyed in the first two blocks, you also think about the many things you might be missing out. You don’t know yet what Marketing or Corporate Governance is like as those core courses haven’t even started yet.

Some consider committing to a concentration which then limits but also guides your electives choices. I intentionally went against that because I wanted to leave myself free to any option that I found genuinely interesting. In the end my choices were a colourful mix across disciplines just as I expected.

My international elective will take me to Israel and Palestine, a learning experience I’ve been already excited about even before the MBA started. Once in the middle of Block 3, I changed one of my electives as my first experience with Marketing made me quickly realise the subject wasn’t for me. So although there’s a soft deadline on submitting your electives, the truth is that there’s still some flexibility around that if you ask Tony Whiteman, our course officer, really nicely.

So, here we are. Exams, Strategy project and electives. Anything else? Oh, yes, the Business Mastery Project, the Cass MBA’s equivalent of a dissertation. Similar to the Strategy project, around Christmas, it’s more of a approaching danger, like a stampede you see forming on the horizon heading your way with definite certainty.

The first deadline on March 16th is for the submission of my academic proposal. Ideally, at this point you already have an idea and a supervisor.  To have an idea that’s valid enough to submit, you better have done some initial research beyond just having a vague notion of it in your head, to at least convince yourself that it’s viable before you go and convince others such as your potential supervisor. While most will go ahead and use this opportunity to add another strong credential to their CV, gaining industry knowledge and valuable connections in that universe, others take this unique opportunity to follow a personal interest.

I may be the only one among my cohort whose chosen that path, as far as I know. I’m looking to combine my MBA learning with my passion in creative writing (which lead to my previous MA), researching the changes in revenue models for authors stemming from the digitalisation in the publishing industry. I started to have an inkling about this in November and tentatively mentioned a much broader and different version of this to my creative writing workshop group. All I knew then was that I wanted to work in publishing and working with authors. Very clear, I know.

Encouraged by their approval, I sporadically bounced the notion off a few other, including my MBA classmates. Articulating it to others and receiving feedback helped me define it further until I was ready to send an email to Paolo, our course director, who suggested Alessandro as a potential supervisor, on the basis that he recently co-authored an academic paper on digitalisation and Axel Springer. Being our Strategy project course lead, I knew I would love for him to be my supervisor therefore sent an email with the rough outline of my idea early January.

One email and one quick meeting later, my proposal reached its current shape and I am about to start the literary review thanks to his suggested readings. And somehow in this process, it’s already February 1st.

So while 2018 is almost by default a very ambitious year, there’s a reason why I actually don’t have any clear New Year’s resolutions. Because for New Year’s resolutions to happen, you need that little break in between to stop and reflect. No such option for Cass MBAs (if you do have New Year’s resolutions though, here’s some Cass advice on how to keep them alive beyond January). I woke up in September 2017 and I know already now that the next time I blink and open my eyes, it’s probably already August and I’m graduating.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)