Reflections on Course Selection

by Matthew Clagett

As we come to the end of the semester, and as I sign up for classes during my final Spring semester, I reflect on my choices of course selection at my time in Haas. I considered my choices for which semesters I took my core classes, the professors that I learned from, and how the class times shaped my routines.

Many other highly ranked business schools have four-year programs, allowing students to take core classes very early on, and specialize in their later years. At Haas, it is a bit different, as we only have two years and have to be more deliberate about the classes we take and the order that we take them in. On the other hand, our single Business Administration major provides us with flexibility to choose which direction that we want to take our focus.

We have many choices for classes to take, to fulfill our graduation requirements of 30 core business units, 8 upper division business units, and 12 upper division non-business units. I try not to go into specifics about courses as to not promote a single academic path, but feel free to reach out if you are interested in specifics about my own choices.

Course Selection

Core Classes

This past summer when I was enrolling for this semester’s classes, there was a “Special Topics” course being offered on a topic that I developed an interest in over the summer. Unfortunately, it required completion of a core class that I had decided to put off taking until later. This upcoming semester, the course is again being offered, but the time overlaps with other required courses.

If I were to go back, I would take core courses in my first semester that are the trunks of the trees of broad business topics, allowing me the ability to branch out later on. Many upper division elective courses have core class prerequisites, including 103, 104, and 106. I would have explored more of the tree trunks before determining which branches have my favorite fruit.

Instead, part of my course selection for my first year factored in whether classes would look good on my resume and teach applicable skills for the internships that I was trying to attain. However over the year, as my interests changed, so did the classes I was interested in taking. Taking more core courses during my first semester would have allowed me to more deeply explore my interests in my senior year.

That being said, I still believe that taking classes applicable in an upcoming internship is a good idea. This makes the concepts easier to learn by making them more relevant and give you the opportunity to use and improve what you learned over the semester. Looking back, I would have waited until the Spring semester to take those classes, once I actually knew what I would be spending my summer doing. Lesson learned: take classes that will help you succeed at a job, not to succeed at getting a job.

Upper Division Business Electives

If you are searching for a book on Amazon, you may notice the category “Business/Personal Development.” This is the great thing about business, many topics in business overlap very well into your personal life. I have personally enjoyed taking upper division courses at Haas that especially exemplify this – that cover topics in leadership, negotiations, and strategic thinking. The difficult part when choosing classes was weighing the personal and professional values that each class brings.

Having done the transfer student PreCore classes the summer before transferring to Berkeley, I already had six units out of the eight required units. The other units were covered by the study abroad program that I did this summer, so fulfilling the requirement was not too difficult. The hard part was weighing the different personal and professional values that taking the class would bring in the future after college.

Upper Division, Non-Business Units

Undergraduate Haas students are required to take 12 upper-division, non-business units. Deciding what to choose for these units can be difficult for those of us who are not doubling majors and especially transfer students, who have not had exposure to many of the other majors and offerings at Berkeley.

I wanted to take classes that I know will compliment my major, and I decided to take courses in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR). IEOR is full of classes related to entrepreneurship, data science, and emerging technologies, and is often a mix of business and computer science minded students.  The program even offers a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Technology with only 8 units, taking classes like Challenge Lab or Technology Firm Leadership. The true value from these classes has been the exposure to Silicon Valley’s startup and venture capital ecosystem, which Berkeley does better than any other school.

Professors

Everybody knows about RateMyProfessor, the website that reviews the quality characteristics of professors and the courses that they teach. Many people use this website, available course times, and advice from peers when they are selecting which professor to take the course with. I have found that although student opinions are great, everybody has a different set of criteria for how a teacher is evaluated, as some of my favorite teachers were ones that I was warned about.

To determine whether you will like a particular teacher’s class, I have it found it very beneficial to do a little research for myself to understand who the professor is, and where their perspective and teaching style comes from.

Here are some great resources that I have found that help out:

  •         Past class syllabihttps://haas.berkeley.edu/Undergrad/courses/Syllabi/
  •         Find the professor’s Haas faculty bio, and ready their publications. Reading their research really helps you understand who they are as a professional. LinkedIn is also a great tool.
  •         Email the Professor and perhaps schedule a coffee chat to get to know them a little more – the faculty at Haas is here for us, yet people rarely fully utilize their knowledge and experience.

Anchoring a frame of context and credibility around the professor makes the subject more engaging, and helped me decide if this it was really the person that I wanted to learn from. Despite some background knowledge, I am always surprised by the amazing experiences that professors have when they decide to nonchalantly mention their awesomeness in class. We are truly fortunate to have such a great undergraduate faculty.

Times to Take Classes

8 a.m. Classes – The obvious thing to address first, is the dreaded 8 a.m. classes. To be honest, I think that people only find them difficult because they continue to tell themselves it is. This semester, I endured an 8am class, and it takes me an hour to get to school. Get over the “just woke up syndrome” that is often experienced by waking up earlier. Your natural body energy cycles will ensure you are primed by 8AM. In fact, because classes are curved, you have the grade advantage if you are alive and competing with a bunch of zombies.

Days off – If you are careful with class selection, and lucky with timing, it is possible to have a schedule with no Friday discussion sections, or better yet, classes that are just on Mon/Wed or Tue/Thu. For example, the core classes for UGBA105, UGBA106, and UGBA100 do not have Friday discussions, and taking those together could score you a free day each week. Oh, what I would do with an extra free day a week… probably find an internship or some way to fill up my time.

Gaps in the days – Personally, I like to have large gaps in my days at school, having classes spread between the mornings and late afternoons. On days when I am feeling great, this gives me plenty of time to get focused and knock out a few hours of studying between classes, which is especially great for last minute exam cramming. On days when I am not feeling great, this allows enough time for a nap. I have found that I can do either just as effectively with an hour and a half gap between classes.

Final thoughts/disclaimer

My opinions expressed here are limited to my own experiences. If you are a student deciding on classes, we have some great academic and career advisers that are available just for Haas students. I would recommend to always consult them if you are still undecided.

Projecting into my future after graduation, I am still using these considerations for my course selection. Which skills and in what fields should I spend my time learning, in what order makes sense to order them in relative to my short term and long term goals? Who are my teachers and mentors that I should seek out in learning how to reach my long term goals?

At Haas, you’re given the responsibility and control of your education path. So, what will your path be?

 

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Your “Proficiency in Microsoft Excel” is Not Going to Cut it.

“Job Qualifications: Analytical proficiency. Able to process large amounts of quantitative data. Comfortable with statistical analysis and data visualization.”

Sorry, the “Proficient in Microsoft Excel” listed on your resume is just not going to cut it.

Jobs that are geared for business students are increasingly demanding applicants to have strong analytical skills and a data-geared mindset. Many roles that business people play are being simplified, automated, or improved by machine learning and analytical processes.

The Increasingly Data-Driven Business Skillset

Finance positions are becoming more quantitative and even automated with machine learning. Great marketers (and especially analysts) understand how their customers are segmented and how to identify customer needs with data. Data science is even pioneering development of historically qualitative and behavioral fields like human resources. Even as a manager, salesperson, or consultant, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate with the growing number of data analysts, software engineers and “numbers people” that you will encounter.

Although you might not be the one doing the data analyses, it is important to understand what data is needed for business decisions, and lead teams that include data scientists. You need to be able to speak intelligently about what does and does not make sense for specific types of business decisions and analyses.

Haas’s Evolving Curriculum

Haas and Berkeley in general continue to develop the curriculum to prepare students for this ever-changing business environment.

The core Haas analytics course, UGBA104, attempts to ingrain students with an analytical way of thinking and a set of tools to help them make better decisions across multiple business disciplines. This course, over time, has itself been increasingly changing, adding discussion topics and changing teaching methods to accommodate additional material. The problem with only teaching an analytics class like that is applicable across multiple business verticals is that there is too much information to teach in one class.

New courses for undergraduates looking to gain more analytical experience are being added, such as UGBA147: Business Analytics, which is offered next Spring. According to UGBA104 Professor Thomas Lee, there are also plans to offer an undergraduate marketing analytics course, which is currently only taught at the MBA level.

Innovative Courses Outside Haas

Students looking to gain even more experience can look outside of Haas. The Industrial Engineering and Operations Research department, offers many interesting data science and entrepreneurship courses, such as “Machine Learning and Data Analytics,” which I am taking this semester. Although it is a bit tough and not specifically geared for business, I thoroughly enjoy the course. Similar courses can be found in the statistics department. A new Data Science major is also planned to be available within the year as well, for interested students. Introductory courses, such as Data 8 and DS100 are already available.

The problem is that much of the material is not directly related to what the average business student will need to know how to do. Methods learned in these classes have countless applications in business, but require students to make the connection or do tangential readings. Moreover, Haas graduates are not typically going to be the ones building complex models. What is important is that students understand the vocabulary, opportunities, and limitations of what is possible in data.

You can find more business-related courses taught on websites such as Coursera, which offers courses from universities and organizations from around the world. For example, you can take a “Strategic Business Analytics” course, which is offered from Accenture and ESSEC Business School. The website, as well as numerous others on the internet also offers courses that teach specific tools like SQL and Tableau, which are widely used by companies today.

Moving Forward…

Data and business go hand in hand. The purpose of a business is to solve problems. Data is essential in identifying problems, prioritizing among problems, creating solutions, and evaluate decisions. When you can understand data, you can make quicker, and more confident decisions. There will always be an increasing demand for those who can interpret, analyze and communicate data in an effective manner. Do not become obsolete!

On a final note, it is probably best to not restrict the need for understanding data to just business decisions. The future of humanity is a very complex mix of mind and machine, of which we are just starting to explore. An ability to look at different situations through a highly analytical lens is an increasingly important way of thinking. Being students at Berkeley, we are in such an opportune position to gain these skills and get ahead of the curve.

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How You Have Time to Finish More Books

Hello readers, my name is Matt Clagett. I am a senior here at Haas and one of the new undergraduate bloggers. I plan to share some perspectives and insights on topics that I have grown to love as a student here, ranging from innovation, data science, sustainability and travel.

matt_casualheadshot

As the semester progresses, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with readings. Not just assigned cases and textbooks for classes, but pleasure reads – you know, that pile of books sitting in the corner of your room that you will get to once you have time.  Yes, reading to learn the material for a class is one thing, but if we neglect the books that we really find a strong personal or professional growth-value, we are getting robbed of awesome material.

What if I told you that I have finished five such books already this semester. Well you would probably think that means I have just neglected reading my textbooks and readers, which is partially true, but that has only been true because of recruiting. I finished these books not by reading, but by listening to the audiobook versions of them.

The trick is to choose times to listen to them during low-focus parts of your day, such as commuting to and from school. Maybe you want to lay on Memorial Glade and rest your eyes and listen. Doing laundry? Buying groceries? Eating those groceries? Use that time to be a Student Always. It is likely you have at least an hour a day that you can optimize by listening to books. This translates to 365 hours, or roughly 40 books in one year. That’s a lot of knowledge.

Audiobooks are Better

Have I still not convinced you? On top of their inherent portability and ease of use, audiobooks have many great advantages over traditional books.

Text can be limiting. Often, messages are not clearly articulate, so key ideas are unintentionally brushed over. You have probably encountered this when trying to text message somebody using sarcasm, then having to follow it up with “lol jk” or an emoji.  When an author or reader reads an audiobook, they often vocally emphasize key ideas and points, and add footnotes to elaborate. Not only do you hear the words, but you can hear the author’s emotional tone, making it easier to empathize with the message being expressed.

Just as your favorite song can make you excited, when you hear the intended emotion behind the author’s words, you can more similarly emulate their perspective. This is a powerful concept, as you can use it to set the mood and mindset. Listening first thing in the morning, when your mind is clear, has the power to set the tone of your day. If you listen to a book on productivity, you start your day thinking like a productive person. Listen to books related to your courses, and you will have stronger perspective from which to understand the course material.

Audiobooks make exercise better and exercise makes audiobooks better. Time flies when you are lost in a book. An audiobook during light endurance exercise might make you forget you are even on a treadmill. This will also get your blood flowing and extra oxygen delivered to your brain, giving you the power to digest even more of the book. I suggest walking though, as famous philosophers including Neitzche and Aristotle would often do in order to think. Too strenuous of activity requires too much focus, so you are probably better off listening to Taylor Swift or whatever pumps you up.

Just as you can learn to read at a higher level, as you start listening to audiobooks more often, you will better be able to understand the material. As you listen to learn, you learn to listen.

How I Got Started

I first downloaded the Audible back in community college, when my life was not what I wanted it to be and I needed some extra guidance to help reach my goals. I knew what I needed to work on – my time management, motivation, and productivity. I found some great reviewed books on each topic, and feeling as though I did not have the time to read them, I decided to use my 30-60 minutes of commute time to listen to the audiobooks. Bike rides turned into libraries. My free time was always spent learning from people that I admired. Instead of taking time out of my day, listening to audiobooks made me more focused and gave me knowledge that enabled me to positively change my life’s trajectory.

How to Start, and What to Start With

  1. Download a listening app, I suggest Audible.
  2. Search for that book you always wanted to read. Seek out something you want to improve on, or something that you know will prove valuable to your life.
    • Stressed? Download a guided meditation book!
    • Looking to contribute more in your Marketing class discussion? There are plenty of highly rated marketing experts waiting to share with you.
    • Want to know about the life of Steve Jobs? Don’t watch a movie. Get a biography.
  3. Find a time and place where you will not get too distracted, and start listening.

A Few Great Audiobooks That I Have Recently Finished

  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
    • Biography of the legend.
    • Time taken: Two weeks of commuting on BART.
  • Data and Goliath
    • Nonfiction about big data usage, policy, and ethics.
    • Time taken: A drive to LA and back.
  • On Power
    • Abridged biographies on NYC urban planner Robert Moses and President Lyndon Johnson that illustrates sociopolitical power in the US.
    • Time taken: A five mile Sunday hike.

My On-Deck for Listening

  • Back Channel to Cuba
    • Cuba and US relations history,  I am studying abroad in Cuba this winter.
  • Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of the Human Brain
    • Structured / logical thinking strategies for life.
  • The Autobiography of Gucci Mane
    • BURR.

No Substitute for Books

Another option would be to listen to podcasts, which I often do as well. It is all personal preference on what you want to learn. I prefer books because you can dive deep into the story or subject, and cross them off your reading list at the same time.

As much as I love audiobooks, there is nothing like the focus when reading a physical book (I can not stand PDFs). Although audiobooks are convenient and can communicate on a more emotional level, they fall short for quantitative and visual topics. This is why I would not suggest finding audios to replace a textbook. As students, we have obligatory readings that should come before exploratory or pleasure reading. Adding audiobooks, we do not have to make that choice. We can learn our coursework and any supplementary topics simultaneously, having more control over the direction of our education.

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