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Oh, business school students.

January 21, 2011

I can tell that this will be an immensely entertaining semester at school. Being a grad school student is just…different. I don’t know why. Students are more laid-back, but teachers are willing to do different things too.

In one of my classes, the professor is eager — maybe too eager — to engage the class in discussion. In questions. And I mean, this isn’t anything new really (most teachers engage the class in discussion and ask questions). But it seems like the difference between grad students and undergrad students is that when an undergraduate doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he hems and haws and it’s painful for everyone.

But grad students have learned out to BS.

And it’s just hilarious.

And so I’ll give you a couple of examples of what I mean in a few paragraphs…but first, some exposition. All names have been changed to preserve the identities of the victims.

high school

A high school, just like this.

The building for my school is often nicknamed “(Insert Building Name Here) High.” The idea being that, once you get into upper-level courses, all of your classes are business classes in this Building. But even more, most of the people in your classes are people who are in all of your other classes, since you’re specialized by major (accounting, finance, MIS, whatever) and then further specialized by tracks (audit, tax, operations and supply chains, etc.,) Classes are pretty specific for tracks, and you can easily end up taking a full schedule of courses only with the people in your track for your year. Hence: (Insert Building Name Here) High.

But there is a class I’m taking — the one I’m talking about — that is different. It is interdisciplinary. It is cross-listed in our course curriculum as both an accounting class *and* a finance class, and both accounting and finance majors need to take it.

Which is pretty fun. It’s interesting to see where finance and accounting intersect…but within two days of class, we’ve seen how very different accounting majors approach things than finance majors.

For example, when finance majors answer questions in class about finance issues, there’s no problem. It goes something like this:


Finance Majors

Yeah, whatever. I don't understand financese either.

And when accounting majors answer questions in class about accounting issues, there’s no problem. It’s something like this:


accounting major

The "blahs" represent the translation difficulties between accountingese and English.

But the hilarity/schadenfreude/embarrassment comes in that the professor will call people out…and since he doesn’t know (or care) which major you are, he might ask you a question that’s out of your major. That might look like this:


And people can't handle it.

Within 2 days of class, I have heard so many obvious BS answers. Within one hour and fifteen minutes alone, two people used the term “synergy” unironically.

What’s even worse is whenever someone gives a business fluff answer — or gives a wrong answer — my teacher will try to take what they said and turn it around to a right answer.

This is an exchange that actually happened.


SCENE I. — The classroom across the hall from the facilities manager’s office. STUDENTS are seated in rows in a semi-circle, while the PROF presents in the remaining space. STUDENTS occasionally look out the two doors to the classroom, checking to see if the facilities manager will walk by. Many contraband beverages lie in various states of reveal on the desks and the floor. This classroom is just one of many in a State of the Art building whose floors and desks are kept immaculate by the facilities manager. GIRL is staring off into space.

PROF: So, it appears that two companies can have the same earnings per share, but different stock prices, and therefore, different price-to-earnings ratios.

(PROF looks over at GIRL in front row, prepares to ask question)

PROF: Let’s think about it in terms of other factors. Would you expect a higher or lower P/E ratio if the return were less certain?

GIRL (GIRL answers confidently): Oh yeah, I’d totally expect a higher P/E ratio if the return were less certain.

(Other STUDENTS anxiously turn to see how PROF will respond.)

PROF (PROF looks up, formulating something to say quickly): Let me put it in a different way. Say that I were willing to give you a dollar every year. Say that in one case, I guaranteed that you’d get a dollar every year…but in another case, maybe I gave you a dollar in some years, but maybe in other years you got nothing and in other years you got $2. The “average” over time comes to a $1/year, but you don’t know for sure. Would you pay more to buy the right to receive the constant, guaranteed $1/year, or would you pay more to buy into the less certain $1?

GIRL: Welllllll….

(GIRL pauses for a few seconds)

personally, I’d pay more for the constant, guaranteed $1/year…but that’s just because I’m conservative and risk averse…that’s just me personally.

PROF (PROF turns to class, satisfied that the crisis has been averted): Right. Most investors would *personally* pay a premium for more certain investments, because they are conservative and risk averse. This generally comes in terms of a lower rate of return from the investment blah bah blah…

That’s what’s cool about this professor. A student can give the most off-the-wall, insane, or incorrect answer, and instead of calling the student out on it in any way, the professor will turn the answer around and make something out of it. Here is a dramatization of one of the synergy examples.

Prof Guy

The question that began it all

word salad

Maybe the guy wasn't so eager, but his answer seemed confident.

Prof Guy 2

Interpretation magic here.


Right on

"Yes...they finally understand me."


…I guess I’m already learning real skills in that class, though. The lesson is this: volunteer answers on the subjects you know, so you don’t get accidentally called on stuff you don’t know. But if you get called out anyway, don’t let your lack of competence slow you down at all.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Seth R. permalink

    I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t just be better if we were back in the days when professors had balls and would not only tell the student “you’re wrong – that answer sucked” but actually enjoy doing so.

  2. Seth,

    That happens and has happened in some of my other classes. It’s a different kind of hilarious. I’m not sure which I prefer — but I think I prefer that one because it makes having a right answer sweeter.

  3. I’m assuming you drew those pictures. I think this is the first time I’ve seen you do a blog post this way. I like it. I very highly recommend checking out Hyperbole and a Half. She has in my opinion absolutely mastered that kind of blog technique.

  4. Carson,

    yes, it was my brother who first suggested HaaH to me. It’s surprisingly a lot more difficult to pull off, and I’ll have to really work at it.

  5. Taylor B permalink

    Spot on, my friend, spot on. This is why I tuned out of INFO 303, INFO 364, and MGMT 466 about two weeks in. The honors sections are even worse.

  6. Taylor,

    The only thing I regret is that since all the classes are in our “state of the art building,” I can’t bring popcorn to class.

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