What I have learnt from my 121s with Cambridge MBAs

One of the strongest traditions in Cambridge is the system of supervision where small groups (between one and three) of undergraduates meet weekly with a member of faculty or doctoral student of their college for an hour. They use this time to discuss some work that the student(s) had prepared prior to supervision. This system provides a platform for students to receive a high level of teaching attention while in some cases, challenges students to think on their feet as they won’t have the benefit of relying on google or wikipedia for answers.

Supervision is carried out through the colleges and not by departments such as the Business School. Like most post-graduates, our MBAs don’t receive supervision from the colleges. However, we have tried to introduce a high level of personal teaching attention for our students. While we remain a generalist MBA degree, we introduced 8 concentrations three years ago where one or two concentration coaches design programmes that help our students apply what they have learnt on the MBA to a specific sector. Some concentrations have one coach for five students.

This year, we piloted a system where senior programme staff meet with individual students for “Programme 1:1s”. This mirrors what the careers team has been doing with their “Careers 1:1s” but we focus on learning about individual aspirations and expectations of the MBA. We set aside 20 mins for each 1:1 so myself and two other senior staff members have collectively spent 50 hours speaking to a class of 150.

These 1:1s are confidential so I won’t share details, but I was struck by how much more there is to our students than what they wrote in their application forms. I learnt about their accomplishments in sports, music and the business ideas that some have. I was also impressed with how hard our students push themselves. It is difficult for an outsider to understand just how intense the first term is. Students have to balance a full-day of classes with refining their career search skills and find time to work on a group consulting project with an actual client. And yet, there are students who find time to play music in the University Symphony; represent the University in sports (this year, we have MBAs on the rugby, ice hockey, volleyball and football teams); and take part in a host of business competitions. So far, our MBA teams have come in second in the AT Kearney European case competition and won a Business Valuation challenge.

But it has been their intangible accomplishments that have impressed me the most. There are students who come from a consulting background and have deep industry knowledge but they have chosen to restrain themselves from dominating their consulting study group to allow others to flourish and learn. At the same time, they are learning how to take on different roles within a team.  There are others who are stretching themselves by participating in business competitions that are completely out of their comfort zones.

So with the end of this academic term, our students will take a well-deserved breather and I am excited to see how they will surprise us with their accomplishments and learning journeys over the next two terms.

(As I write this, I can see on twitter that despite what looks like a MOTM performance from Cambridge MBA Dugal Bain, the Cambridge rugby team has just lost the annual varsity match with Oxford. Well, there is still the MBA Tournament to look forward to.)


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