My favorite course this semester – surprisingly – is Intro to Accounting. Accounting - and accountants - have a reputation for being terribly dull, and even the professor apologizes frequently for the dryness of the material. But I am positively loving it. Tracking accounts feels like one long logic puzzle, and I love logic puzzles. I also appreciate that the course gives specifics on how to do a particular job. I am learning how to put together the four financial statements that all accountants are responsible for creating, and how to do so in accordance with the standards of the profession.
In fact, what excites me about the MBA overall is that it is professional training, with direct on-the-job applications. My field – international development – doesn’t have a single professional degree. Most of us have master’s degrees, but in a variety of different fields. I studied geography, which gave me a solid understanding of the global context in which development occurs and some analytical tools for understanding why one place is different from another. I also learned how to write, how to do social science research, and how to think about development issues – all very useful. But understanding the context in which I perform my work is not actually the same as knowing how to do my work.
Much of the work in international development falls broadly into the category of Project Management. But my academic training didn’t include any coursework involving practical elements of managing development projects. None of my graduate or undergraduate courses dealt with the kind of questions that came up within the first week of having an office job in a development organization, for example:
What is the best way to design a budget spreadsheet?
How do you avoid circulating and saving multiple versions of the same document?
Is it possible to conduct a meeting that doesn’t waste everyone’s time?
What are TORs and how do you write them?