Reflecting on my INSEAD experience so far on my last day in Kampala, Uganda, brings a fresh perspective on what was and what could have been. A lot has happened in the past 7 months, and as the recruitment drive moves into full swing for the majority of my class it’s only fair to look back on the academic journey and share some thoughts for prospective students. Nostalgia is at the door but it isn’t time to open it yet!
The INSEAD academic journey is consuming, with the bulk of the work done in groups and for most people with non-traditional backgrounds (i.e. from non-quantitative disciplines or professions), the core courses can seem fairly daunting. However, navigating the maze that is P1 and P2 is what fundamentally enables one to truly experience the breadth and diversity of the student body, with most of my learning at INSEAD shaped not only by the in-class discussions (which more often than not are complemented by some fairly deep class engagement) but ultimately by the experiences and perspectives of my group and section mates.
As a student, you spend the core courses with a defined section of approximately 75 students where you get to learn concurrently across the first two periods, with the nucleus of the academic journey a smaller group of approximately 5 people who navigate the joys (and pains) of group work with you. This formative group is assigned ultimately by the school and forms the foundation of your academic journey, although a highlight for me was the depth in which our group got to explore our backgrounds and perspectives through the PLDP process. It didn’t hurt that I was able to travel with 2 of my group mates during my second period to Spain and Tunisia!
However, building upon this is the elective offering that allows each student to customise the next phase of their academic journey through a diverse array of subjects and areas of interest (from frontier technological developments to advanced finance, there is something for everyone!). A rarely explored offering, and one I would encourage students keen to leverage the INSEAD faculty beyond the traditional offerings is undertaking an Independent Study Project (ISP), which allows students to either craft a project in an area of deep interest or solve a “live” problem with a company or business (in both cases sponsored by a member of the INSEAD faculty).
Having previously worked in finance and predominantly in the sub-Saharan Africa investment space, I felt this was the perfect avenue to incorporate my INSEAD learning’s whilst exploring more deeply the experiences and perspectives of entrepreneurs who’ve launched financial services businesses in sub-Saharan Africa. Supervised by a senior faculty member in the Process and Operations Management Department, I have been challenged to look at potentially new solutions to problems I thought could only be solved in specific ways. This has, during my MBA journey, enabled a deeper reflection on the role of innovation and sustainability in finance, particularly in developing markets. An ISP is consequently a unique tool within the MBA to learn something new or build upon your previous experience, but for me, it has thankfully been a bit of both.