How to Make the Most of Your Last Break

This December, I was faced with the realization that I was approaching my final “break.”  I have no additional grad school in my future, and I don’t know when I will take more than 2 consecutive weeks of vacation during my career. Moreover, future vacations will always be at least a bit overshadowed by thoughts of work left undone. It is a unique (and wonderful) feeling of freedom to finish final exams and presentations and “check out” for 4 weeks.

I am normally one to over-schedule my time off (as well as my time on), but I took a rewarding step out of my comfort zone this year and planned nothing over my break. By “nothing,” I mean that I had a couple of weekends set aside for my wife and me to go visit family over the holidays, but nothing in the way of a big trip or project. I was worried I would end the break with regret that I hadn’t taken full advantage of it, but having a more relaxing, spontaneous schedule was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Instead of having an epic, 4-week adventure, I scattered a number of “micro-adventures” throughout the break. My wife and I have a 1-year-old pup, an American Brittany Spaniel named “Gus,” that we have trained for hunting. I used the break to take him out about a dozen times to different bird preserves and local conservation land I hadn’t yet visited for both hunting and trail runs. In the afternoons/evenings, I worked through a long list of to-dos that have been accumulating over the year. Fortunately, these were much less chores and much more projects I have been hoping to accomplish with this much-needed free time. Lastly, I took the opportunity to make a small trip down to North Carolina to visit my favorite professor from undergrad, a much overdue trip.

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Most importantly, I ended the break feeling two things: first, despite not having a big trip/adventure, I felt the excitement and satisfaction of nevertheless having an adventurous break. Secondly, I felt relieved – normally I come to the end of a vacation or break to the realization that I have to get caught up with the things I missed, but by spreading out activities and projects alike, it made for a great blend of spontaneity and accomplishment.

For those who still have the luxury of 4-week breaks or who are looking forward to them in future plans of grad school, I encourage you to do a few things:

  • Change your routine: Whether that means waking up earlier or later, take the opportunity to “buck” the routine – it will be a relief in its own right
  • Manage your to-dos: Find the right amount of things that actually need to get done and will feel good to accomplish, and make sure not to overload your time with chores that you won’t enjoy
  • Have Adventures: Even if you can’t travel, find places close-by that you haven’t visited, go for runs in new neighborhoods, and do whatever else you can to make sure your eyes fall on new scenery
  • See Friends: I love staying connected with my friends, and it is hard when they are spread across the country. Time spent face-to-face with old friends is easily the most rewarding use of my time.

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Hands-On Learning at Fisher

One of the more common themes of recent podcasts and books I have listened to/read is how the classroom format of most educational programs favor certain types of learning, and thus favor some students over others. In a nutshell, lecture-based education is largely based on verbal and logical/mathematical learning styles, and rarely physical/kinesthetic or social formats. All styles have their own place, but one thing I did not expect and have been ecstatic to experience here at OSU is the extent to which hands-on learning is woven into the curriculum. Lecture-based classes are still the norm, as they should be, but my classes this semester in particular have featured heavily interactive components as opposed to the traditional reading-lecture-exam format I expected prior to the program.

One such class is Professor Camp’s Technology, Commercialization, Entrepreneurship class. While a Fisher class, a good portion of the students are PhD or masters students in engineering, biomedical sciences, or other related fields. In the class, we have been split into groups and paired with technologies and patents developed here at Ohio State. We have spent the semester tasked with exploring, studying, and validating markets for these technologies.  The class typically opens with a lecture where we learn the next step in the framework for bringing new technologies to market, and the rest of class is spent in groups with our technology inventors putting together strategies and actually reaching out to potential customers.

Another heavily interactive class is Professor Lount’s Negotiations course. For those at Fisher, I highly recommend taking the full 14-week course. Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vernon Law once said, “Experience is a hard teacher – she gives the test first, and the lesson after.” In this course, we spend about half of our class sessions in pairs or groups conducting simulated negotiations, all of which feature their own host of challenges and complexities. Only after the negotiations do we learn the underlying sources of conflict as well as the strategies to use going forward. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it has been an extremely effective way to experience and learn both these concepts and related strategies.

To students and professors alike, I would highly encourage more opportunities to complement lectures and concepts with simulations, projects, and other opportunities for hands-on learning.

Beyond the Classroom – Real Estate Development Site Tours

One great aspect of the MBA program here at Fisher (and of OSU in general) is the extent to which the university is connected with the city’s local businesses. Student groups and faculty have hosted local business leaders from small startups to CEOs and CMOs from the city’s array of Fortune 500 companies.

Last semester I took a Real Estate Principles class which basically focuses on the real estate development process from cradle to grave. Taking advantage of the great connections between the university and local business leaders, the class featured 5 site visits to local development projects.  At each visit, we had the chance to meet with the real estate developers, project managers, and other key players involved with projects to learn the nuances of their developments and get a bit of first-hand knowledge to accompany our classroom discussions.

The central project for the class was a team-based development project where we were assigned several blocks in a downtown environment and were challenged to put together an investment proposal for the development site. Our class site visits were scheduled such that we had the opportunity to meet with industry professionals, get questions answered, and see live projects to keep our own projects moving.

With an increasing number of online programs and online education in general, a unique and valuable benefit of an on-campus program is the ability to have experiences such as these. Having site visits with local professionals to compliment in-class lectures and readings provides a learning environment that neither format accomplishes on its own. This is just one more way OSU’s strong network provides rare, valuable opportunities for its students.

Escaping the Cold in Columbus

When my wife and I moved to Columbus two years ago, we were excited to be back in the Midwest, to be close to family again, and to reconnect with friends. Moving back in May, we were also excited to be approaching festival season in Columbus, which basically runs from May to mid-October and features a variety of outdoor festivals with excellent food (my personal favorites are the Jazz and Ribs Festival in the Arena District in July and the Greek Festival downtown on Labor Day weekend). In fact, there were only two things we weren’t excited about on our return to Columbus: January and February. For all of the amazing things that can be said about Columbus, our weather isn’t winning us any awards or attracting any new visitors.

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There are few ways to escape the snow and ice, but one excellent way to get some fresh air is to visit the Franklin Park Conservatory (http://www.fpconservatory.org/). Located just east of downtown, the conservatory and adjoining botanical gardens are situated in the middle of Franklin Park. The conservatory offers visitors a collection of tropical and desert biomes from across the globe, such as the Pacific Island water garden (my favorite), Himalayan highlands, and American desert. Each of the rooms is held at about 70 degrees and is full of plants from the respective biomes. The building’s walls and ceilings are made of plexi-glass, so you get the full effect of being outside (fresh air and vitamin-D), plus the much needed warmth of being indoors. Throughout the winter I stop by at least once a week, and frequently I bring a book or class readings and work there in lieu of a coffee shop. With annual student passes for $30, it is a small price to pay for a weekly getaway.

Campus Hacks – Getting Around OSU

In the fall of my senior year of undergrad, my college offered a “career planning” class to help itinerant, liberal-art students like myself launch their career search. While I was excited to take some focused steps towards my vocational search, I was immediately skeptical when the first exercise of the class was to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test. The Myers-Briggs is essentially a multiple-choice test that asks test-takers questions like “Would you rather eat spaghetti with a friend or go see a horror movie alone?” I was already skeptical of personality tests, and while I was giving the Myers-Briggs an honest effort, the bizarre mix of wandering yet oddly specific questions seemed to confirm my doubts.

We received the results two weeks later. I got chills as I opened the results analysis and discovered that Myers-Briggs knew more about me than I did. The first sentence of my analysis was, “Despite the fact that you travel to the same locations on a daily basis, you take different routes and time each route to determine which is most efficient.” I was stunned – I do this constantly everywhere I go. Shocked and humbled, I changed my attitude about personality tests that day.

With the help of Myers-Briggs, I have learned to embrace my subconscious need for punctuality. A logistics/efficiency junkie and advocate of alternative transportation (i.e. walking, biking, and public transit), I have spent the last few weeks testing each bike and bus route to campus from my home in German Village. To make most efficient use of time, energy, and resources, I have developed a number of “Campus Hacks” that are helpful for those who (a) hate traffic, (b) don’t want to show up to class sweaty and disheveled, and (c) prefer to do their networking on COTA (Columbus’s public bus system). For my first grad life blog, I wanted to share some of these tips to help reach and navigate campus as efficiently (and comfortably) as possible.

BIKING
• Pack strategically!

  • Pack your dress shirt separately: I roll my dress shirts (to prevent wrinkling – it’s only semi-successful) and wear a different t-shirt (polyester – performance wicking) while I ride. Once I arrive at school and stand in front of an A/C vent for long enough to cool down, I change shirts and leave the sweaty shirt on my bike outside to dry off.
  •  Invest in good Tupperware: Nothing is more disappointing than a leaky lunch. Pay the premium for good containment supplies to keep your books dry and lunch intact

• Keep a small but ample arsenal of supplies in your locker

  • Coat and tie or Business Wear
  • Fleece: I am always cold in class, and carting a sweatshirt or fleece back and forth everyday takes up unnecessary space and weight in my pack.
  • Granola bars/snacks: Something that can supplement breakfast when time is against you
  • Comb/hair stuff: I get terrible helmet-hair when I ride my bike.
  • Gym Clothes: I keep a pair of tennis shoes, shorts, t-shirt, socks, and even dress shoes in my locker. This way, if I decide to work out during lunch or after class, I don’t have to carry these. On days I ride the bus, I bring the sweaty stuff home and replenish my locker supplies.

BUSSING
• Make productive use of time on the bus: sometimes the weather throws curveballs, and the real benefit from the bus (besides the socializing, of course) is the ability to get other things done in-transit.

  • Print readings and homework out a few days in advance. This way, if you have to take the bus on short notice, you can be sure to make best use of the time.
  • News Aggregators: It’s hard, but important, to make time to read about current events, the economy, etc. I use an app called Feedly, but there are several others out there. Basically, these allow you to build your own newspaper: you choose the media sources and even the categories. The app simply filters new articles from those sources into the categories you setup.
  • Download Podcasts: Podcasts are another great platform for keeping up with current events or other topics of interest – they are free, and sometimes after a series of busy days, projects, and other work it is much more enjoyable to sit back and listen. My favorites are NPR Planet Money, On Being, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and The Art of Manliness series. Downloading them in advance via WiFi will save you on your data plan!
  • Audio books: The Columbus Metropolitan Library is amazing. My next blog post will probably be entirely about why it is the best library chain in the world and why it is so valuable to citizens of Columbus. In the meantime, I will just mention that if you have a subscription to the library (free) you can download audiobooks to your smartphone or computer (free) through an app service called OverDrive (free). Okay, so it’s not “free” – you pay for it with your taxes – but it is an amazing, underutilized resource.

Travel well!

-Pete