Receiving that phone call, meeting up with friends to shamelessly brag about getting accepted to Fuqua, handing in my letter of resignation to the company that I hated and loved for six years, leaving everything behind and flying to Durham in the summer of 2019, deciding on a home in American Village after realizing that Ninth Street is not for me, and finally the first day of HSM Bootcamp mid-July. I had heard how fast time flies once school starts, but it only really registered in mid-December while I was walking out from my last exam of Fall Term 2. Time and tide wait for no man, but man did I wish I had known a few things before the craziness of those first terms came and went.
What could I have done better to fully maximize the experience and really soak in each and every moment? As any good Fuquan would do, instead of stopping at the thought, I decided to put together a shortlist of clichés and oh-so-obvious insights in the hopes that somebody joining Team Fuqua could make use of it someday.
Priorities—of the infinite ways to approach them, I stuck to the good things come in threes rule:
1. I’m here to make friends and build connections to help me succeed as an inclusive leader of consequence in this sometimes cold and ruthless business world.
Whenever there was a schedule conflict, I learned to prioritize spending time with my classmates. Bonding can take on many different forms, but in the end it’s all about the stories you tell each other and the memories you end up sharing.
Here at Fuqua, we are in Durham, North Carolina—the American South—where hospitality means everything and real conversations are encouraged. We are at Duke, where we have the full support of the faculty and the larger Duke community, which adds so much more to the MBA experience. Most of us swarmed campus during Campout for Duke basketball tickets, spending two nights and three days outdoors in front of tents chatting with each other as if we had just learned to talk. I have had the fortune to work closely with one of the leading research facilities in the world, and despite my lack of experience and many mistakes in the beginning, my counterparts have been nothing but obliging. And more than once I barged into the office of the Career Management Center to have some of the most meaningful conversations about my career I have ever had.
Looking back, I met and connected with many more people in those first terms than any other time in my life. My classmates became my closest friends who broadened my perspective and made me think so hard about things I had never thought about before. If I were to do it over, I would choose not to bail on wine and cheese nights because of assignments or on rugby because it was too hot and I didn’t bring my shorts. After all, is the highest grade on that paper or the physical comfort in that moment the most important thing in the long run?
2. I’m here to actively explore career options.
MBA recruiting is especially difficult for those who are still undecided, which was the case for many of my classmates. In my case, I thought I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to pursue, but thinking about all these cases, I soon got caught up in the consulting fever like a lot of Fuquans do. In a way it made absolute sense, the MBA is essentially a program for those who value having options, and what industry could offer more options than consulting!
I ended up leveraging my consulting interview practice to receive and accept an internship offer from one of the best health care companies on earth. Do I have any regrets about spending more than eight weeks including the winter break solely on preparing to recruit for a very specific industry? Absolutely not. Casing with my classmates became yet another activity that we could do together. I had countless 1 to 2-hour mock interview sessions scheduled with classmates, many of whom I had not had the pleasure of getting to know earlier on in school. In addition to preparing for our job interviews, we bonded and added more memories to the Fuqua journey. In particular, I was most humbled by the help that many second-years actively extended, and I thank all 29 of them who mock interviewed me throughout the course of two months. Recruiting turned out to be another true Team Fuqua experience.
3. I’m here to learn about the American health care system.
Academia is certainly important, and while I have aced most of my classes by passing them and acquiring verbal promises from professors that they will provide life-time warranty in the form of free consulting, looking back I wish I had spent more time on the subjects that really grabbed my attention. Not simply for the sake of grades, but to really learn them.
The 6-week term format can be a really short time to digest a concept, let alone an entire course. While all the grades on my transcript will be something I can proudly tell my grandchildren about someday, really learning the material became an agenda for my spring terms. I took Health Care Markets and learned how to see through biased research or unintended consequences in policy. I enrolled in the student consultant program to earn credits for gaining real-life experience with actual clients, helping them solve real business problems. And throughout these interactions I was able to connect with even more classmates who had so far just been great people to hang out with, but turned out to have great professional insight having come from big pharma, medical research, government policy, non-profit, and more. In a very literal sense, focusing on my specific curiosities opened up a whole new dimension of conversations. And yes, so far, I can satisfyingly say that I am definitely getting my money’s worth.
It was not all peaches and rainbows. There were a few dark times when I was physically burned out from everything happening at once, when I felt I was far behind everybody else, when I was numbed by the rejection letters coming in from employers in heaps and piles. Everybody feels this way at some point, and the moment we opened up to each other about what each of us were going through, these became the good times, fond memories to look back on, and friendships that I would not trade for the world. The first terms at Fuqua were all about prioritizing, learning what I wanted, and most importantly, being in it together. As I hear from friends who recently got accepted to Fuqua, I mean it with all my heart when I tell them I wish I could do it again.