What’s Your Objective Function?

Wenzheng Chong, Class of 2015
Wenzheng Chong, Class of 2015

An Open Letter to Prospective and Admitted Students:

10 months. 43 weeks. 302 days. 7248 hours. 434880 minutes. 26,092,800 seconds. This is the duration, from inception of orientation to conclusion of graduation. This is an interval in the journey of a mid-career professional. This is an epoch in every MIT SCMer’s grand life plan. This is the span of our MIT SCM journey.

All of the above definitions apply. Distilled, this designation is merely a question of how does one desire to define time. Yet, the less discernible and far more critical question is, “How does one endeavor to define one’s self through this ephemeral moment in one’s life?”

Walking away from Thompson Island
We stepped onto Thompson Island as strangers but left with blossoming friendships after a day of team-building exercises during August orientation.

To some, getting admitted to the SCM program (and by extension, to MIT) is a lifelong ambition, a sense of self affirmation, a validation of the effort invested in bettering one’s self. To others, admission represents a trifling ‘tick’ in their envisioned bucket list of life accomplishments. Perhaps, MIT SCM is an “access-granting” opportunity to be at the cutting edge of Supply Chain Management — or simply a pit stop, a brief respite from work life. Imaginably, I am a blend of these decision drivers.

Any way you slice it, make no bones about it: The MIT SCM program is the destination for all things Supply Chain Management.

Fulfillment Center in Quiet Logistics
Visit to a Fulfillment Center ran by Quiet Logistics in Devens, MA

Hitherto, much has been written about the numerous events we have partaken in with an authentic and insightful account for each of them. Nonetheless, there are several key themes which come to the fore when synthesizing ten months of activities into a “Maximum of 3 pages plus exhibits (if needed). Double-spaced using a font size 12 (not smaller than the type on this page) with the same font size for exhibits and printed on only one side of each piece of paper.”

You will know what I mean when you get here.

HOMEBASE (in more ways than one)

Attending classes at Sloan or MIT at large is a daunting exercise. Being surrounded by the best and the brightest in their chosen field (prior to MIT) is equal parts inspiring and unnerving. This observation becomes amply apparent when fellow classmates share their well substantiated rationale or pose perceptive questions that evoke insightful discourse — subtle but telling indicators of intellect and contemplation.

MIT 100K Competition
MIT 100K! Entrepreneurship tradition in full form at MIT.

MIT SCM program: a select cohort of students (30+), bound by circumstance but tightly knitted by common undertaking and shared motivations: Graduation and Career Progression.

The MIT SCM program affords both a “BIG class experience” (represented by six other MIT programs with whom you share classes, represented six separate acronyms: LGO, SDM, MSMS, MBA, MFin, SF) and “small class feel” due to the conditions listed above. Never feeling like a face in the crowd, your SCM familia is there to provide abetment, camaraderie and counsel when required.

Home base for the MIT SCM program
View outside Building E40 on a cold winter afternoon. Home base for the MIT SCM program.

By no means is this limited to your brother / sister-in-arms but also by the elders and custodians of the MIT SCM program. If you need proof, look no further than the following:

  • The personalized career development support we get from Day One
  • The holistic and immersive education in Supply Chain Management
  • The kaleidoscope of activities that the MIT SCM curriculum1 offers

Let alone, the bevy of events2 that the MIT and Sloan community organizes and coordinates on a daily basis.

Secretary of Transportation dialogue during IAP in January’15. Talk about ACCESS!
U.S. Secretary of Transportation dialogue during IAP in January 2015. Talk about ACCESS!

Finally: once a SCMite, always a SCMite. This value has been conveyed on multiple and separate occasions. That the MIT SCM program, CTL and MIT community is and will always be the abode to which we can return for scholarship, counsel, or simply to give back, is a heartening and invigorating prospect.

A homebase in every sense of the word.

CULTURAL ASSIMILATION

The cultural milieu at MIT is one which recognizes and stimulates creativity and innovation. The willingness to experiment and draw inspiration from all aspects of life in the pursuit of reinvention and originality is most aptly encapsulated in MIT’s motto, “mens et manus” (a.k.a mind and hand).

Correspondingly, the SCM program is no exception to the rule. Arriving in August, we were immediately thrust into the pace of orientation. The proverbial term of “hitting the ground running” best captures the mode and sentiment during that particular phase in our journey. The academic learning curve was steep, and swift adjustments were critical. For some, it was “merely” the adaptation to academic life, yet even that was no small feat due to the academic rigor that MIT places on its students.

For most, the MIT program represented a ‘head first’ assimilation into a multitude of fresh experiences (which includes but is not limited to): being in America, American culture, multi-nationality, cross-cultural melting point, MIT rigor, MIT cadence, recruiting, US networking style, behavioral interviews, case interviews, professional to academic transition, club activities, classmate interactions, lifestyle adjustments, fly-outs, thesis update calls, food preferences, et al.

Late night BBQ at Gyu-Kaku
The MIT SCM program’s love for food manifests itself in many ways including late night BBQ sessions at Gyu-Kaku!

As you might gather, this journey is by no means an easy undertaking or for the faint of heart. The condensed (think ‘concentrated curriculum – thesis + coursework + recruitment’) and abridged (think ’10 months’) nature of this program requires one to stay focused, adjust and adapt rapidly. Determination and resilience by staying the SCM course (pun intended) is not only a desirable trait but an essential attribute of a SCMite.

CAREER COMMITMENT TO SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT

Undoubtedly, the MIT SCM program is a destination, but more implicitly, it is a pit stop. After all, the duration of the program is 10 months but the career embarked upon graduation is an indelible decision with a lifetime of implications. In any case, isn’t that what most are here to achieve? This reality is reaffirmed by the tightness of scheduling, specificity of course content, and targeted supply chain recruitment that the SCM program affords. And yes, time management and the ability to prioritize are prerequisites too. Did I mention being prepared is imperative?

As a result, by way of deciding between an MBA (which inherently apportions a more generalist business education) and a Master’s of Engineering in Logistics (Supply Chain Management), one has to perform an honest introspection so as to deliberate the trade-offs that each endeavor will amount to.

AB Inbev Brewery, Merrimack, NH
Beer, as far as the eye can see. Site Visit (one of many) to AB-InBev Brewery @ Merrimack, New Hampshire.

For example, one might have to consider one’s willingness to be exposed to and engaged in a specific functional area of business after graduation. Or, for that matter, one might have to carefully contemplate the opportunity cost of 10 months in the SCM program versus two years in a traditional MBA program. These are just the beginning of the many trade-offs, calls, and decision points which will be tried and tested throughout your time at MIT.

The brevity of the SCM program intrinsically provides for less flexibility to explore outside of SCM but will provide a comprehensive education in SCM. As always, time is of the essence but is immaterial without a plan (or in business-school speak, “strategy”) and context.

PARADIGM SHIFTS A PLENTY

But probably the most important question you have to ask yourself is WHY MIT? Taken together, there exist a wide tapestry of educational institutions that provide general business education or supply chain management training. This actuality even excludes the recent proliferation of available of online content one can peruse and study for free and at their own leisure!

For me, the decision to attend MIT comes down to one thing: Paradigm Shifts.

MIT Dome
The Coffered MIT Dome reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy.

Particularly, my decision to attend MIT is reinforced by the numerous occasions when a case facilitator poses an incisive question, a fellow classmate provides insightful commentary, or a professor makes a blatantly candid statement. These moments have engendered countless opportunities for introversion and paradigm shifts which would not have been conceived through didactic learning. But more critically, these instances are only possible in an environment where classmates are intelligent and thoughtful, opinions are respected, and facilitators are reassuring.

It is often difficult to understand how one comes to a decision, but the MIT environment comes pretty close to replicating the circumstances surrounding a business decision point. By way of providing varied perspectives, it forces one to take on a multidimensional perspective and encourages you, the participant, to sit in the driver’s seat to simulate the decision making process.

In the end, factual learning is important but tacit learning, decision making, considering motivations, making judgement calls and understanding a counter-party’s rationale are crucial skills for any business person’s career. This guidance cannot and will not be replicated outside of a classroom setting such as MIT.

So, knowing what you know now and before deciding to embark on this intense yet remarkable sojourn, let me leave you with one simple question, “What is your objective function?”

Winter 2015 saw 120 inches of snow.
120 inches of snow in the dead of winter. Be prepared!

1 Activities include: alumni talks, Research Expo and Fest, soft skills training, treks, professional society counseling, site visits, SCM recruitment events, speaker series

2 Activities include: various club involvement, networking events, case prep, LinkedIn counseling, more treks, world leaders and eminent thinkers discussions

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What’s Your Objective Function?

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