Yale School of Management

EMBA In-Residence: The Most Memorable Weeks

When our 14-day residency period began in July, MBA for Executives Healthcare Faculty Director Howard Forman offered prescient advice: “The first two weeks of our program will be among the hardest, but most memorable, weeks of your life,” said the professor of diagnostic radiology, economics, and public health at Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital. “Take as much of it in as possible.”

Getting work done between classes during in-residence

We understood the wisdom of his words. But we underestimated the “hard” part. I was not alone in fancying myself a little too efficient to, say, grapple with assignments past midnight or let fatigue dictate what I ate (hint: whatever happened to be in front of me). This behavior hadn’t overtaken most of us in college, graduate school, business, or parenting. Why now? Despite the complexity of the material, we considered ourselves equipped to manage.

But not even the comforts of Evans Hall and a perpetual supply of coffee, home-baked biscotti, fruit, and the occasional dumpling could prevent us from feeling frustrated and humbled somewhere along the way. At one point, classmate Jason Heavner, an internist specializing in pulmonary and critical care medicine, furrowed his brow while bringing all of his intensivist training to the latest microeconomics assignment.

“And you thought medical school was challenging,” I said.

He shook his head and chuckled. “At least the arm’s connected to the shoulder!”

Our only company after working toward midnight in Evans Hall: The stellar late-night cleaning crew

However, if asked about my favorite moments during those initial days, I’d recall sitting at the dining table-turned desk on the 19th floor of the Omni Hotel with cancer biologist Sandra Saldana-Ortega, hunched over accounting spreadsheets until our backs ached, amid cardboard boxes sagging with Mexican takeout. Or filling a whiteboard with probability permutations and computations with manufacturing and engineering director Christopher Roughton and real estate investor Benjamin Schor, accompanied by the hum of the late-night cleaning crew’s vacuum. Memorable, indeed.

They smile, block the wind for a few minutes, offer an encouraging word, maybe hand you some water. This reminds you that the rewards—the learning, the journey, the revelations about yourself—blossom with each setback.

From left: Ashish, Kam, David, Nancy, Luisa, and Love find a moment to connect during the first two-week residence period

After the regular school year began, a young, full-time MBA candidate who had heard rumors about “the same curriculum in a different format” struck up a conversation at a paper towel dispenser. “We heard you guys covered half our semester in two weeks,” she said in disbelief. It certainly felt like it. And I didn’t even mention the predominant aspects of our education: a delicate balance of work, family responsibilities, commuting to New Haven. 

That’s when it occurred to me that the two-week boot camp was a microcosm of the entire two years. Both resemble racing a marathon or an Ironman triathlon. To get to the finish line—or the starting line, for that matter—you need training partners. Because at some point, you will hit the metaphorical wall.  

When this happens, you seek support from the like-minded people sharing your experience. Sure, a couple of them might have exhibited a minor meltdown yesterday. But today, they’re pulling you along. They smile, block the wind for a few minutes, offer an encouraging word, maybe hand you some water. This reminds you that the rewards—the learning, the journey, the revelations about yourself—blossom with each setback.

You catch your breath. You find a pace. You begin to feel strong and determined again. Because you know that the next time you struggle, you have 61 partners—and friends—beside you. 

About the author

Katherine Nichols

MBA for Executives, 2017