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Safwan Masri

Professor of Operations Management and Vice Dean of MBA Programs at Columbia Business School

“Columbia is not just a network of people to know in various businesses and various industries,” says Vice Dean Safwan Masri. “It is really a group of friends that you will keep for a lifetime. That is what students appreciate most.”

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Learn Each Day’s Lessons
As a professor, I’m looking for enthusiasm in my students. I’m looking for high energy and evidence that they really appreciate why they are in school. People need to reflect on where they’ve been and where they want to go in life, and focus on learning as much as possible in two years. Being in school is not only about learning theories and concepts. It’s not only about networking or finding the right job. Most importantly, it’s about personal growth. Students have as much to learn from one another as they do from the faculty members who teach them. When you think of a class of 60 students with an average age of 26 or 27 years old, that’s roughly 1,600 years of collective experiences.

Follow Your Heart
Once MBA students get through the required core courses, they have the opportunity to start selecting electives. I advise students to take courses with professors who stimulate them. In other words, before making any decisions, do your homework: talk to people, read the evaluations and the descriptions of the courses, ask the faculty for a syllabus. A person is much more likely to learn in a class if they find that course intriguing or if it is taught by a faculty member whom they see as inspiring.

I also advise students to make the most of Columbia University as a whole and to not limit their studies to business classes alone. The MBA program enables them to take two or three courses outside the business school; they can enroll in classes such as a law, media, international affairs, or even film. A well-rounded education will be far more valuable than one that was narrowly focused on just one specific field. Believe me, you’ll gain the expertise anyway once you’re on the job.

Examine Your Study Habits
Preparing for exams should be a very easy thing, if you are doing what you’re supposed to from day one. If students complete the readings and homework, attend class, and grasp the concepts on a daily and weekly basis, then exams are just an opportunity to review material they are already familiar with. There’s one simple rule: Do not leave it all to the last minute. You cannot properly prepare for an exam by cramming the night before. It’s far better to go over your notes and class outlines regularly, then work through practice problems before the exam so you feel comfortable with the material. And, of course, you should always get a good night’s sleep.

Don’t Fall Into a School Daze
One of the biggest challenges for MBA students is adjusting to being in school again. Most of them graduated three or four years ago, and they’ve become accustomed to the world of work. They were on an entirely different schedule, one that probably didn’t require them to sit at a desk for hours at a time and take lecture notes. They also forget how to study. At Columbia, we offer a pre-term program for incoming students affectionately known as “Math Camp.” It’s an optional thing, but an increasing number of our students are enrolling in Math Camp. Not only is it designed to help them brush up on their math skills, but it also serves as a great way to socialize. Math Camp helps them get used to being a student even before they officially arrive.

Devour the Big Apple
As I’m sure every knows, time management is key to succeeding in any graduate program. Students are inundated with assignments and reading from all their courses, and we constantly have guest speakers and corporate presentations coming to campus. Even though recruiting is very important, it should not be the primary driver of students’ schedules. In addition to all the curricular activities, students also have to juggle the dozens of clubs, associations, and other social outlets that are available to them. This is, after all, New York City, and there are many things going on each and every day that could distract students from studying. But we try to remind students at orientation that they have come to Columbia primarily for the academics, and that for 99 percent of them, this will be their last chance to learn at the graduate level.

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