Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The year that was

I expected the start of the year to be rough and it was. Recruiting for Summer Internship positions in a top Business school like Darden is very competitive and challenging. I came back from vacation early and put in a great deal of effort in preparing for interviews. As expected, I did not get many interview calls but was happy on getting couple of my top choices. Though I felt I was doing my best and interviewing well, I did not have much luck early on. However, things changed for the better in February when I made through to my top choice. Life changed dramatically. I was done interviewing and could relax and enjoy myself. Making a transition to a top consulting firm was one of my top priorities and I was pleased to have achieved it. Rest of Q3 at Darden went by in a flash.

‘Traveling’ was one the key ‘things to do’ that I had indentified earlier and Europe one of the primary destinations. The Barcelona GBE during spring break was my first opportunity to travel to a European city and it was even better to have done it with good friends. It was a great experience and set me up for the backpacking trip later in the year. My two week backpacking trip in May has to be the highlight of the year. I meant this to be a teaser to prepare for bigger and longer backpacking trips in the coming years. I was totally fascinated by the things I saw, people I met, and the freedom and excitement you experience while backpacking.

Quarter 4, for me, was the time between my two European trips. I played some tennis, soccer, partied a lot and did a little bit of studying. It was enjoyable time, Darden and academics were not high on my agenda. I was more interested in preparing for my upcoming trip to Sydney, Australia where I would be doing my Internship. I had never been to Australia before and was naturally very excited for both work and travel reasons. When I finally made it there, I absolutely enjoyed the work and culture at the consulting firm. Better still, I managed to find time to explore Sydney, Melbourne and surrounding areas and was thrilled by the quality of life in Australia. Not surprisingly I signed my full-offer soon after I received it. I felt extremely fortunate to have secured a full-time job in such a tumultuous economic environment.

I was back in Charlottesville in early August for the second year at Darden. First quarter turned out to be little harder than expected. In hindsight, I should have been better prepared knowing fully-well that I had front loaded my class and was also taken a couple of really tough courses. I was also really excited to meet the incoming class and be of any help in anyway. First quarter was pretty uneventful as I didn’t do much other than what was required. I spent more time hanging-out, playing video games with my roommate and partying, but having worked pretty hard earlier on I felt I deserved to take it easy. The exceptions to the rule were academic tutoring and career coaching for the First years.

Mid October I managed to take a few days of for a trip to Minneapolis. It was a wonderful trip as I got to hang out with the usual suspects, few of my closest and favorite friends, at the places we frequented so often when I lived there. We re-visited the good old times. Sometimes I wish I was still back there but then again, I guess you got to move on. For thanksgiving weekend I headed down to Atlantic City with another group of friends from Darden. Though the place was unusually quite we had our fun playing poker and blackjack. Trip was enjoyable and full of friendly banter, mainly attributable to the company rather than the location. Q4 like Q3 was more about outside Darden activities than inside. This included lot of going-out, a hiking trip, Wednesday & Sunday Salsa dancing, and little soccer and basketball.

Couple of years back I abandoned my yearly goals in favor of a continuing ‘things I want to do list’. I’ll write more about the list sometime later. Nevertheless, Year end is still a good time to reflect on things I and examine whether I spent my time on things most important to me. Traveling was key item for me and I especially wanted to travel to Europe. Having been on 4 continents during the year, including Europe, and having traveled to East coast, Mid-west and West coast in the US, I have a lot to be happy about. I am also quite pleased with my efforts at Darden both academic and career related. When I could I did help out others with preparation on recruiting and tutoring first years on academic. Overall pretty satisfied on this front too. On the personal side, I improved tremendously on my Salsa dancing skills and picked up little bit of other ‘Ballroom Dances’ too.

Even though I had plenty of free time, I did not pick up anything specific i.e. entrepreneurial, innovative or community oriented activity during regular academic session. This time could have been better used. I read a couple of interesting books but lesser than in any of the last few years. I planned to learn speaking Spanish but did not make much progress. Something I hope to correct soon. I am still not sure if I should have done something different day to day or it was just fine enjoying life. “Things I want to do’ list provides me more clarity on what’s important long term but as far as the short term goes I am happy to let things drift. I will have to think about that sometimes soon.

Looking back, it was pretty eventful and exciting year and I am quite pleased with how things went. I hope 2009 will be as exciting as this year was. Do let me know on exciting things you have been up to this year and plans for the coming year. Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The real deal on Darden's rigor

I have fielded a lot of questions of late on the Rigor of the Darden program. Before I go into detail on our schedule and try to assess how rigorous it really is, I must state that it’s different for different people. Also, we are talking about being in Business school so I assume whenever someone says ‘rigorous’ it is in comparison to a Business School rather than a 9 to 5 job.

In my view I will divide Darden experience in 3 very different sections

The Choke: The day starts early and it never seems to end. Three back to back classes are followed on by company briefings, case preparations and learning team meetings. Most are busy from dawn till late i.e. 11-12 PM and still have things pending. Feeling of being choked is one of the drastic explicates used to describe this. The section typically covers your first 2 quarters at Darden from August end to the first week of December.

Easier said than done: Word’s that can best describe the period through Q3 and Q4 of first year. By now you have figured out how things work and what you need to do. However, it’s easier said than done. Though you are up to speed on academics, this is the time for recruiting. Balancing preparation, interview schedule and travel and can be a bit tricky. Start of Q3 can be very busy time but tapers off towards the end. If you get an offer early, your life transforms. If you don’t, though your schedule frees up you still live with anxiety and uneasiness.

The Cruise: Second year at Darden, as you would expect, is very manageable as far as schedule is concerned. Life couldn’t be better for those who have an offer from their summer and have decided to take it. For those who have an offer and are still recruiting, its little more work. It’s not so merry for those who are doing full time recruiting and do not manage to get an offer early. The curriculum is entirely elective and courses are by no means easy. However, the overall schedule is not that packed. For the overwhelming majority second year is enjoyable and relaxed time, though anxiety may be little higher for those without a full-time offer.

So this is my take on the Darden rigor. To summarize I would say Darden is rigorous, probably more so that other Business schools, but it is manageable. The subject perhaps is little over-hyped. Also, I think it’s great how Darden prepares you well for the Business world. All the effort we put in has great rewards as most of us learnt during our internship. I felt, and heard from all my Darden colleagues, that we were very well equipped and attributed it to Darden curriculum and teaching method.  Anyway, on the topic of Darden’s rigor, I have collected some other posts for you to refer to get a broader perspective. I would encourage you to check out similar sources from other schools for a realistic comparison.

The Darden Rigor (A graphic representation)

I Survived the first 2 months – Irene Mastelli

Typical day at Darden – Bill Gray

SY, it’s different… - Vika Osipenko

This too, Shall pass.. – Sania Chaudhry

Hope this gives you a better picture of the rigor and schedule of Darden life. Make your own judgment.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

India and how we stopped worrying about terror attacks

Terrorist attacks have become so common place in India it is surprising we haven’t done much about it. Why one wonders? Here’s my take on the possible reasons and why we have become so complacent.

Identity and tolerance: To understand the first cause, you have to go all the way back and look at the India’s History. India is an amalgamation of cultures formed over thousands of years. There were many kingdoms which rose and fell over this period. Many conquerors who came from all over the world and settled here, bringing along their customs. Many great kings that integrated these small kingdoms to somewhat close to the size India is today. Indians are known for their hospitality and they are very welcoming. Apart from its natural wonders, many say this is the reason why so many came and settled. Thus many Indians believe that the core to India’s identity is acceptance and tolerance. That’s what has made us what we are today. So if someone expresses a need to be different, it’s accepted. I am not saying that violence and terrorism are accepted. Hugely different thoughts, philosophies and cultures are acknowledged without any attempt to figure out how they would integrate together. When views are conflicting, it causes some tension. It’s true that diversity is what makes India so great. At the same time some legal and social framework is required to make everything compatible. 

Public Apathy: When there is some great tragedy Indians tend to react with fury and passion. However, this withers away fairly quickly. Of ten people reason that as long it doesn’t affect them directly, they needn’t act. “What can we do”, “what we do doesn’t matter”, “we can’t make a difference”, are all pretty common attitudes. The most typical of all is “Chalta hai” a Hindi term which means “it’s ok”. While Indians are known for their laid back, forgiving attitude, in some cases, like the one we are witnessing today, it’s not okay. We need to take it upon ourselves to raise our voice, take action and bring change. 

Hopelessness: though some people want to act, sometimes they are deterred by a sense of hopelessness. “It’s all because of things across the border”, “these guys are just fanatics, and how can we stop them”, “Nothing will change till, our politicians are all corrupt” typify this feeling. Well, not every problem is created across the border. Issue of marginalization, poverty and desperation is very real in India. There is a reason and motive behind every action. Politicians are elected by us and accountable to us. Let’s give it a try first and then judge if it made a difference. We have to find the root causes and make an honest attempt at fixing it. 

Lack of leadership: I saved the best one for the last. Whenever there is a terrorist attack on Indian soil the first thing we hear our leaders say “It originated from Pakistan”. Even if every claim was true, I am not saying that it isn’t, what are you doing about it? Protect our borders better. Raise awareness international through a systematic process. Address security gaps. The problem in reality is a complete lack of leadership up top. I am not referring to any particular party. All of them have always tried to use events to gain political mileage. Apathy of the general public lets them get away with it.

Will things change?

I believe they will. For some reasons things are different this time around. Terrorist made a huge mistake. While they carried out attacks in Mumbai they targeted westerners, particularly Americans, Britishers and Israelis. These three players have a huge say in International affairs. In fact they get to decide who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’. So for once, India has the world’s sympathy and backing. So this time when India says that Pakistan is harboring terrorists, World listens. In Pakistan’s defense, they have long abandoned direct support for these militant groups and just about turn a blind eye now. With International pressure mounting they will no longer be able to do so. In all fairness their current President, Zardari, is trying his best to manage the situation and not let things go out of hand. It is a very complicated situation after all. 

However, that alone will not solve the problems in India. With the brutality of the attacks and targeting of International citizens, the visibility on India has increased tremendously. While politicians, for once, have begun to look at the security situation and scamper for solutions, the public too are voicing their concern on the sorry state of affairs. Hopefully this results in real changes on the ground and improved security and Intelligence going forward. 

The final issue, however, is the grass root problem of marginalization. The economic boom in India does solve many problems but it will still take a while to alleviate poverty. The issue of is a difficult one but there doesn’t seem to be any talk about that yet. Last but not least, there is the Kashmir issue. Ultimately people’s whishes have to be respected. That’s how things work in democracy. 

Question remains on whether this is a sign of a turnaround. This is probably not the last big attack we will see in India but hopefully the real issues will be addressed and things will get better in future. Let’s do our part and hope for the best.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

India’s nemesis

India has been facing terrorism for over 30 years now, perhaps lot longer. I am not even sure when it started but it has existed as long back as I remember. Two Indian Prime ministers (head of state in India) have been amongst the 40,000 or so killed in terrorist attacks over the past 20-30 years. Not everything relates to Islamic fundamentalist. Fe w attacks were in retaliation of India’s peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka, Sikh extremism in Punjab, Naxalite (Communist revolutionaries) insurgencies among others. Majority however are related to Islamic fundamentalist fighting supposedly for rights of ‘Kashmiris’

Kashmir, a beautiful state in northern India, has quite often been called “Paradise on earth”. I lived in the southern part of Kashmir and from what I saw I can easily say it was amongst the most beautiful places I have seen. Kashmir presents an interesting quagmire for anyone to resolve. To be perfectly accurate in the sequence of events I will quote verbatim from Wikipedia

The Kashmir issue
“Ranbir Singh's grandson Hari Singh, who had ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1925, was the reigning monarch in 1947 at the conclusion of British rule of the subcontinent and the subsequent partition of the British Indian Empire into the newly independent Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. As parties to the partition process, both countries had agreed that the rulers of princely states would be given the right to opt for either Pakistan or India. In 1947, Kashmir's population "was 77 per cent Muslim and it shared a boundary with Pakistan. Hence, it was anticipated that the Maharaja would accede to Pakistan, when the British paramountcy ended on 14-15 August. When he hesitated to do this, Pakistan launched a guerilla onslaught meant to frighten its ruler into submission. Instead the Maharaja appealed to Mountbatten[9] for assistance, and the Governor-General agreed on the condition that the ruler accede to India."[10] Once the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, which included a clause added by Mountbatten asking that the wishes of the Kashmiri people be taken into account, "Indian soldiers entered Kashmir and drove the Pakistani-sponsored irregulars from all but a small section of the state. The United Nations was then invited to mediate the quarrel. The UN mission insisted that the opinion of Kashmiris must be ascertained, while India insisted that no referendum could occur until all of the state had been cleared of irregulars”

Terrorists groups fighting for Kashmir and based Pakistan
These organizations are banned by India, US and European Union

Others forms of Islamic extremism has emerged
Objective: “Demolish the faith (Hinduism) of India”

Objective: “Liberation of India’ from western materialistic cultural influence and to convert it into an Islamic society.”

For a full list of terrorist organizations
Interesting articale in NY times on the origin on terrorist groups in Pakistan

Obviously the situation is grim, attacks have mounted. This year India faced 7-8 major attacks in several big cities. 4000 innocent civilians have died since 2004. A British report put in India amongst the 20 most dangerous countries to live in the world amongst countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, etc. How did we get here? How does one cope?

This brings to the real topic I wanted to write about. However you will have to wait until my next post.

“India and how we stopped worrying about terror attacks”

Friday, November 14, 2008

The real game theory

The first year Darden curriculum covers basic concepts of strategy, what it is and how to come up with one and how to leverage your strength and position yourself in a competitive environment. We also learnt a little bit about game theory in Decision analysis. Strategy doesn’t make much sense without execution and we got insight into operations and execution. I am a big fan of hands on learning and I put my learning to great use.

Through the 3rd and 4th quarter of last year and the beginning of the Second year my roommate and me spend a lot of time playing video games. This is probably one of the rare times in our lives where we can spend significant portion of time on what majority in the society consider “not so valuable activities”. Our favorite game is “Age of empires” which is essentially a strategy game where you build a civilization and armies to attempt to defeat and conquer your opponents. The game has multiple dimensions on which you must do well to succeed. You need to be faster, have better economic power, more equipped troop’s and better battle strategies than your competitor to win. We modified rules so as to make this a more strategic game that heavily favored the “defender”. The defender basically amasses huge defenses at a predetermined location that attacker must penetrate. Essentially to win as aggressor you needed a superior economic and military strategy and excellent execution.

My roommate also happens to be an excellent video game player which makes the task of winning extremely difficult for me. We were at a point when we both agreed that it was almost impossible to win this game as the “attacking” team. However, I decided to give it one last shot. At this point you might have guessed that I won the game otherwise I never would have written this post. Other than bragging about how I won and why I won, I wanted to compare this to everything I have learnt about strategy at Darden.

I took some time just before the game to reflect on a strategy. I recalled a case in the First year decision analysis about one party having additional information and thus a huge advantage. We had applied game theory principles and concluded that the best option for the other party was to randomize its strategy. I picked a nontraditional team with strengths such that it was not apparent how I would attack. This prevented my opponent investing in particular capabilities that could counter me as he could not zero in on those I would leverage. Secondly I thought about my core capabilities and how they were different from my competitor. I invested my resource in developing my core capabilities. In terms of the actual battle I need a sustained attack to penetrate opponent’s defense and given the limitations of my resources, I had to think about what I produce to enable sustained production of key defense troops. Another execution and operational element was assembly and deliver of key units to particular location. In past we have several times done this akin to a batch which I endeavored to change to a more continuous flow process. In our post game conversation my roommate conceded that he did not expect the attacks to last as long. As he saw the first attack and looking back at our experience he assumed that it could not be executed in a sustained way. End of the day a lot of different initiatives and actions were aligned towards a single goal which helped achieve the objective.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it proves business school students are geeks. It definitely conveys that we have plenty of free time and not much use for it. Other than all the entertainment value, at least for me to some extent it brought together different elements of strategy and execution. We do have some simulations for marketing and operations, maybe strategy games could be included as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Drunken poetry

I remember I used to write poems as a kid. I considered it the best way to communicate thoughts and feelings as well as an underlying deeper meaning. I haven't written anything for about 9-10 years. But today, a little drunk, I felt like writing something. So here it is


I move again
Running from myself
Out to explore
Seeking something more

What is it I want to find
Something that I already left behind
More I want, more I lose
Future or past I have to choose

Interesting thoughts
endless desires
Not materialistic but living
Experience's the strife

Is it enough to exist
Or more important to live
If former its easy
But if its latter
What does it mean?

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Meaningless conversation

Poor Guy: My situation’s bad. I feel deprived, cheated!

Uncommon man: Really?

Poor Guy: I am robbed of my wealth. Maybe I cannot get the things that I have wanted, in fact deserved, for so long.

Uncommon man: Why? Because you couldn’t get the most expensive furniture you wanted?

You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need

Poor Guy: How can you say that I don’t need it? What do I need, what don’t I need?

Uncommon man:
If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t
It's because we're so trapped in our culture, in the being of being human on this planet with the brains we have, and the same two arms and legs everybody has. We're so trapped that any way we could imagine to escape would be just another part of the trap. Anything we want, we're trained to want

Poor Guy: It’s not all about what I own. My life is more than that. I am a fun and interesting person. I can tell you about one time when…..

Uncommon man:
People are all over the world telling their one dramatic story and how their life has turned into getting over this one event. Now their lives are more about the past than their future

The best way to waste your life, is by taking notes. The easiest way to avoid living is to just watch. Look for the details. Report. Don't participate

Poor Guy: Well I do participate. I am smart, well-educated, fun and outgoing

Uncommon man: Labels!
I want out of the labels. I don't want my whole life crammed into a single word. A story. I want to find something else, unknowable, some place to be that's not on the map. A real adventure

Poor Guy: We are seeing a real adventure. Look at the events that are going on. Life is going to change forever.

Uncommon man:
The moment when your addictions no longer hide the truth from you. When your whole life breaks down. That's the moment when you have to somehow choose what your life is going to be about

Look hard at yourself. Are you near it or far from it?
What this means:
This post is about materialism in today's Life. It intrigues me that so many people directly measure their happiness from material possessions they can obtain and/or the overall wealth as opposed to actions or feelings. The post and the thoughts are inspired by writings of the author Chuck Palanuik. All words in italics are direct quotes from the author. While the above conversation might strike as meaningless to many, I sincerely hope that it does instigate some to look for meaning rather than material.

The above post is an imaginary conversation that uses quotes from author Chuck palanuik to convey a message. The post does not claim that the author would respond similarly in this situation and should be interpreted as such.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reaching for the moon

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Famous words of Neil Armstrong when he first stepped on the moon in 1969. Moon has always draw our attention. From ancient mythology to scientific research we cannot get enough of it. Soviet Union were the first to reach the moon with Luna-1 in 1959. USA the first to accomplish a manned mission in 1969. From mid 1960s to mid 1970s there were 65 instances of artificial objects landing on the moon.Only 5 countries have manned to send satellites to the moon. Now its India's turn. On October 22nd India would launch its first moon mission Chandrayaan I. In past India has successfully developed SLV,ASLV, PSLV, GSLV launch capabilities and has launched numerous satellites many countries. This moon mission would be Indian Space research Organisation's first attempt at sending a satellite outside the earth's orbit.

Chandrayaan I mission includes a lunar orbiter as well as an impactor. Over a two-year period, it is intended to survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography. The mission includes five ISRO payloads and six payloads from other international space agencies such as NASA and ESA. It is carrying these payloads for free. If successful this would pave way for a new era in space exploration. ISRO already has plans for a second mission Chandrayaan II and is considering building reusable space aircraft and future manned mission.

Wish us good luck in scaling the final frontier.
More Info:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Narnia Revelations

I am just back from a talk by Rev. Dr. Michael Ward , a Cambridge scholar, on what C.S. Lewis is up to in The Chronicles of Narnia – and why it matters. The event was organised by the Darden Christian fellowship. Well! before I go further and comment on the talk I have 3 disclaimers to make

1. I have not read any of the Narnia books, I did read up the history of Chronicles and Narnia, the story behind the first book on wikipedia before I went to the talk.
2. I am an atheist and have been for a while
3. I know little bit about C.S. Lewis and I did attempt to read "mere Christianity" but could not complete it

OK, having read the disclosure if you are still reading this post you are probably an Atheist, agnostic looking for a conforming point of view or a Christian hoping that I was finally enlightened and have turned around in my ways. Well at least at this point I am going to please neither. I am just writing some observations, thoughts and raising some questions based on my observations.

Firstly let me recap what the talk was about i.e. from what I understood. Rev. Dr. Michael Ward conjectured that C.S. Lewis's had a central theme behind The Chronicles of Narnia that related to the planets and deeper all encompassing divinity. That C.S. Lewis believed that planets and heavenly bodies are not mere matter but more and divine presence is everywhere and all encompassing and hence hard for us to notice. The reason he left it secretive was that he believed in "kappa element of romance" i.e. the meaning/motive behind writing stories that does not immediately present itself. Hence we wanted to leave things to reader's imagination and hoped that they would connect the dots. This is probably not a very accurate description of what he said but what I understood and truly hope its close to what he was trying to convey. In either case its not very relevaant to what I am about to discuss.

Whats interesting to me is that while the "Chronicles of Narnia" is considered fantasy/fairy tales by many, others associate it with theology and mythology. Most people, especially people of faith, I found are trying to find a deeper meaning or association with theological concepts from some other text. Why? that's an interesting question. Why does it matter if there are connections or not? Maybe people are curious, they want to understand the intent of the reader. If we talk about intent there has to be some speculation on the conclusion. Maybe C.S. Lewis drew ideas from his belief and modelled each story on different planets and their mythological characters. Maybe this was just a way think about new concepts or stories. Or maybe he did intend to bring out certain subtle relations and connections to make a deeper point about "more than just matter" and "divine all-encompassing presence". Why is it so important for people to draw meaning from a primarily fantasy series? Maybe association is another validation to a belief derived from something stated elsewhere?

While I was listening to this eloquent speaker who really retained audience attention so well, I jotted down some notes. Key theme that reappeared were analogies. If something represents something in one context, it can help infer a similar meaning in another context. Example here was that of light illuminating series of dust particles and being very evident when we were besides it. However if we were in the path of light beam we could not see the light beam but only what it illuminated. I guess the point was not everything meets the eye. I think that's a good example to convey that point. However, I am sceptic. I believe in frame of reference so I see analogies skeptically. In sharp contrast I found that these were very reassuring to the audience. One of the reasons I went to this talk was to observe. I assumed that most people in this audience if not all would be devout Christians and I was curious to find what is convincing to someone with faith. I definitely need to research this more thoroughly but it seemed to me that associations and analogies were very important.

As an Atheist I totally understand and agree in finding meaning in everything. That's been the crux of my existence. Ask questions, find out how? why? what it means? So the question that is on my mind is why do people looking for associations when they try to find meaning in something? I don't know why yet but I hope someone can enlighten me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Must read for Business school applicants

Everyday I get some very common questions on MBA applications and admissions with not so easy answers. Obviously everyone wants the most returns with least amount of effort. However, when it comes to B-school applications it not easy to judge where your effort is best spent. There is lot of judgement exercised by the admission committee in making their decisions and hence there is no objective answer on whether you can make it to so and so school based on your profile. Nevertheless people still ask the questions and I still attempt to answer several every week. I felt it might help some applicants if I post some guidance based on my experience. So here goes -

Q1: Can I get into so and so Business school. Here is my profile GMAT:X, GPA:Y , Experience 5 years in Z, Extra curricular A and B?

If it were so easy to grant admissions based on just the above information, trust me the admission committee of every school would not be spending hours and hours reviewing and discussing every application. Adcoms are looking for everything from your academics, your analytical skills, communication skills, quality of your work experience, your achievements on and off work and thought and reflection on your decisions. Why you have done the things you have and why you want to do things you have set out to e.g. pursue MBA etc.

Having said that you can to some extent ballpark your chances based on how you compare to the average applicant on some dimensions. Look at incoming class profiles (you will find the on the school websites in information for prospective candidates) for every school to determine how you compare with mean/median GPA, GMAT and work experience. This is only an indicator and does not give any concrete answers. Only way you will know for sure is to apply and give it your best shot.

Q2 Which schools should I apply to?

Apply to schools that you are really really excited about. Maybe its the teaching method, faculty, culture or people. Make sure it meets your career objective and it provides an atmosphere you can do well in. Pay some attention to whether you can get into the school by looking at the incoming student profile (refer previous question) but don't let that dictate your answer. As I mentioned in previous question its not just about a few parameters. Refer to my previous post 2007 and 2008 for my thinking on school choices.

Q3 How do I find out more about the school? How do I know if I fit?

The best place to start is the school website. Look at the resources for prospective applicants. What does the school say about itself. What is the teaching method, curriculum, culture, profile etc. What is the school philosophy and how does the school position itself. Rankings help here but see whats behind the rankings. Go to other sites on the web explore what is being said about the school. Blogs are a good source of this information. Some books also provide an overview of the school. Next, look at the things that are important to you based on where you are now and where you want to be. Examine different dimensions, not just career. Your fit or lack of it will start to come out. This research will put you in good stead when it comes to writing the essays.

Q4 What should I write in my essays

Each school has its own set of questions and is trying to find different information. Write a interesting story but keep it crisp. Dig deep and find out what drives you. The essays are insightful when you write not just what you want to do but why you want to do it. Think of incidents that shaped you and make you the person you are. Before you get down to the essays you should have resolved in your mind why you are pursuing MBA, what set of skills you have and those you looking for, what environment best suits you, and where you are headed long term and why? One thing I found helps in this introspection is to ask yourself 'why?' repeatedly till you fight the root driver of your feelings or thoughts.

Here's Sara Neher, Darden's admission director's advice on applicant essays

Useful links

Where do I start

Thinking about career goals

More to follow....

I'll keep adding to this post. Leave a comment if you want generic questions answered

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time for US to follow the world?

For most part of the 20th century America has dominated the world scene be it Business, economy or its military might. It is still by far the largest economy in the world and also has the distinction of being the oldest democracy. However over the last several years it has faced with some challenging issues. What does the future hold for this nation?

Having lived in US for several years as an international I have seen some great and not so great aspects of the American society. On a per capita basis US is perhaps one the most wealthiest countries in the world. However GDP per capita hides more than it shows. The obvious one is the divide among the rich and the poor. US ranks lower amongst most developed nations. Of course there are other measurements such as 'gini coefficient' and 'HDI' that do reveal some insights into this. I do however question the validity of such measurement as indication of well-being or happiness. Some of the happiest and most content people I have met were farmers in rural India who by UN standards live under the poverty line of $1/day. Anyway my point is not to debate these measurements but to inquire of the philosophy the increase production/ consumption as the answer to all questions on well-being.

Communism and Socialism were invalidated as answers to societal and political problems in late 20th century. There is simple lack of long term incentive to individuals to perform well. However we have found of late the glaring gaps of blatant capitalism, free market and government non-intervention. I wouldn't say that this is a recent problem in US. Health care and discrepancy in benefits available to rich and poor have been issues for debate over the years. By intervening in the markets US has severely impacted its credibility to preach on many occasions coax countries on free market philosophy.

Coming back to the original question of leadership. It is quite obvious that India and China would grow at an exponential rate from here. Many other developing countries would also catch up. We would most likely see them stand up on the global stage and weigh in on issues. Sometimes leadership is all about bringing the best out in others and letting them blossom. In my opinion US may be best served by following this approach and working towards integration with the world on thoughts, policies and collaborative actions. "lets make world a better place rather than let me show you how to do things our way!"

Though Europeans have had their issues, they have shown leadership in some areas. Signing Kyoto protocol and agreeing to reduce carbon emissions do stand out. Another important aspect is the current political structures in the European countries. In most countries you either have Labor or Social-democrats who lean 'left' in political terms. Might it be time for US to take a cue and think in terms of Public infrastructure, health care etc rather than how to pump more oil and give more tax credits to let people spend more. Not just Europeans but countries around the world are standing up and taking lead on issues that face the world. I do not agree that sending troops into sovereign nation is a act of leadership. It could be, but sometimes its better to be persevere and work collaborative towards a solution.

I may have been little bit all over the shop discussing this but what I am trying to say is countries around the world are doing interesting things. It might be time for US to notice that and learn; it might be time to follow.
Added Sep 22
Some intersting articles on the topic.
Funny and cynical view on the same subject -
Fallout between US and Europe on how to tackle the latest financial crisis. Some quotes and link to the article

“There’s a view in Europe that this is a U.S.-made problem, and that it should be solved in the U.S.,” said Charles H. Dallara, the managing director of the Institute for International Finance, a group of 340 global banks"

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, criticized the United States and Britain for opposing German attempts to put greater regulation, or at least reviews, of the financial sector on the international agenda last year, when she was leading the Group of 7.

“Everyone who produces a real product knows what it looks like and what standards it is up to,” Mrs. Merkel said, while traveling in Austria. “One also needs to know with a financial product what’s involved. Otherwise, these sorts of things happen that we then all have to pay for.”

Christian de Boissieu, chairman of the French prime minister’s council of economic analysis, said: “The U.S. must take charge of the budgetary costs of the crisis. I’m all for trans-Atlantic solidarity, but this doesn’t include financing the bailout.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting the best out of case-method

“That’s amazing”,
“I didn’t know that”
“That’s just not right”,
"I don’t agree at at all”
“Whats going on here?”
“ I have no clue”
“How is that related?”
“This is not working!”
are just some of the thoughts that go through your head while sitting through a case discussions. We have all been there and can relate to it. Sometimes we are amazed, sometimes confused and at times frustrated. Case-method is a roller-coaster ride. It is meant to be one. Some first years came by asking for advice on how to deal with case-method and the classroom discussion. I will share my experience and attempt a brief assessment of how one can maximize learning experience through the case-method.
Look at the case method as a three stage process first ‘prepare’, second ‘participate and engage’ and third ‘reflect’.

How often have you not followed the discussion as you were trying to brush up areas of the case that you didn’t read prior? To knowledgeably contribute to the discussion at hand you must adequately prepare all material prior to the case discussion. A lack of basic understanding can jeopardize the process by taking discussion to either irrelevant or already stated and documented facts. This does not mean that one should have figured out the complete answer to the problem. As and when you encounter issues you should note them down and raise them at an appropriate time in the classroom.

Case-method will only be effective when one chooses to actively participate in the conversation. The most insightful comments are those that directly relate to the topic under discussion or are an elaboration, responses or clarification to a point made short while earlier. To contribute effectively one must be engaged and attentive. If not one merely states a position they held before coming to the class which may or may not add value. My best learning moment came in a case that asked us to decide whether a for-profit company should take up a loss making venture for the benefit of the society. I was adamantly in the “no” camp but changed my point of view when a third camp framed it as “How can it be done” rather than “yes” or “no” question. While I had my point of view for good reasons I was attentive and interested in other points of view and left the class feeling enlightened. The discussions are least constructive when students hold certain assumptions such as “I know the subject better than anyone else”, “I know the subject and this is not going to add much value”, “I know my point is right and must convince others”, “I don’t really know the subject and must not talk”. In these situations the prophecy fulfills itself as the person leaves with the same opinions they held prior to the meeting.

Another important part of case-method frequently overlooked is that of reflection. Quite frequently we leave the classroom with some new insights, questions or frustrations. On one hand we must seek answers and clarify concepts that were not completely resolved during the discussion and on the other we must examine the process. We should explore if we were able to effectively learn from others, understand their viewpoints and clearly communicate our own. At the same time ask the basic questions; was the discussion effective? Did we collectively meet the objectives we set out for the class? This examination is primary source of ongoing improvement and learning.

I believe in the roller coaster ride that is the case-method. It is truly a powerful way to learn and like all things powerful it must be used right. So prepare, participate and engage and reflect to make your case-method experience a great one!
Readers please feel free to add from your experience. Lets do this in true case-method style.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Consulting summer internship in Sydney

I have done so much in the past few weeks both on and off work that I feel I can write a book on my summer internship and time in Australia. I am still a blogger though and I will make an attempt to distill all that in a blog post. As a result this post would naturally appear more as a laundry list rather than insightful write up of my experience. Hopefully in the near future I can follow up with some thoughts and reflections.

After the first couple of weeks of settling in I was beginning to get deeply involved in my project. The project was an organizational transformation initiative for a Business unit for a huge telecom company. As part of this initiative we were looking at Profitability analysis, operational performance, organization, performance evaluation, service and growth strategy all organized into different work-streams. I got to own a work-stream as well as contribute to analysis and discussions in other streams. Our team was based out of Melbourne so I was on the road for most of my internship. I definitely did enjoy the traveling-consultant lifestyle but it does get tiring. Another interesting aspect of my team was all the five members were from different continents. It was also somewhat reflective of the diversity in the office. For obvious reason I cannot divulge the details of the work I did but it was definitely exciting and I got to contribute a great deal. Darden first year had prepared me really well for this internship as I was well versed in different business areas as well had more than adequate analytical, communication and leadership skills to excel in my work.

Our company also organized numerous events and social activities. These included the Sydney harbor bridge climb, several lunches and dinners with other consultants at some of the best restaurants, client briefs with partners, AFL (Australian football league) experience at MCG in Melbourne, experience sharing meetings with consultants and managers and a dinner at partner's houses. There was no dearth of activities to keep us engaged and entertained as well as give us a good insight into the lifestyle of consultants, managers and partners. To add to that we also indulged in the office social events and the consultant off-site.

We (SAs) did get together to plan a few events ourselves. First was an exciting trip to Blue Mountains where we hiked one day and explored the ‘Jenolan caves’ the next. The place is just a couple of hours drive from Sydney but being there it felt isolated and exotic. All of us really loved this adventurous experience. The second was a trip to Phillip Island where the highlight was seeing the penguins, feeding the Koala, wallabies and kangaroos. I have never seen these animals live before so that was great first for me.

I would sum up my summer experience as very rewarding both on and off work. I don't think this post does justice to that but if you get an opportunity to see some of the pictures you will get a better taste. I came off learning a lot, enjoying myself, developing good relationships and not to forget getting the offer! I was definitely very pleased to secure the offer. Too wrap it all up we received personalized cuff links from Tiffany and co as parting gifts. With the summer internship wrapped up I am excited to get back to Darden for the Second year program.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The best and the ‘West’

The Olympic fever is on and the Chinese have put up a spectacular show. Whether it’s the amazing infrastructure they setup, the flawless execution and organisation, the hospitality of the locals, the sporting crowds, or the spectacular performance of its athletes blowing away the opposition, they have been impressive. Any which way you look at it they have done a brilliant job and I admire them for that. I think it truly deserves applause no matter your viewpoint on the Chinese political and human right situation.

However, it seems that nothing Chinese achieve is going to be good enough for the ‘West’. I have news feed from different sources across the world just so that I get different perspectives on complicated issues around the world. Views from the western media on Olympics have been particularly intriguing. Before the Olympics started there was furore over Chinese human rights record and the Tibet issue. Western media blew the Chinese apart conveniently forgetting parallels such as NATO occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guntameno Bay, attacks on minorities and migrants in US, ruthless detention on illegal immigrants etc. Then there was huge outcry about polluted Beijing and China’s irresponsibility when it comes to climate change. China accounts for 13% world’s Carbon dioxide emissions with 1.3 Billion citizens while US accounts for 25% of world’s emission with 300 million citizens. Add to that it is the only developed country not to have ratified the Kyoto protocol. Ah… and there was the opening ceremony where the Chinese had the girl lip sync to the song sung by another girl, presumably because of physical appearance. I agree that is very prejudist but aren’t these values transported out of the west where ‘fashion industry’, big labels, reality beauty shows and ‘who wants to be a supermodel’ rule? What about the controversy of the underage gymnast in the Chinese team. To my knowledge Gymnastics is the only Olympic sport where the age limit applies. I guess the objective is to prevent children being pushed into the sport and being exploited. Then why does it not apply to other sports such as swimming where Australia is happy to push 15 and 16 years into Olympic competitions. Also how can one claim these girls are underage, just by appearance? It’s very apparent to anyone with some understanding of Asians that due to their culture and physical attributes they look lot younger than westerners. Having said that, they could still very well be underage and the Chinese may have cheated but to assume this and pass judgement is plain ignorant and prejudist.

The ‘west’ has time and again raised the issue of ‘freedom of press’ in China and Russia. They say it is the only way to ensure unbiased reporting of events. Well! If you look at the past 5 years of American journalism or even at the events currently unfolding in Georgia I would have serious doubts about this claim.

Coming back to the Olympics, so why is there such a huge outcry against the Chinese? Is the ‘West’ jealous that someone has challenged their long standing dominance or are the Chinese just oppressive, dictatorial, cheats and child abusers? You decide!!

One person I am sure the Chinese are grateful for is ‘Phelps’. Thanks to his extraordinary performance American press has finally something good and relevant to talk about.

Disclaimer: I have not run any fact check on this, neither do I claim to have an unbiased opinion on the issue. I have just attempted to put forth my thoughts on what appears to me as a very hypocritical stance whose underlying motivation is not very clear to me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Management Consulting Summer Internship in Sydney – Week 1-2

We started our internship with 3-day training in resort in cape-cod. We were all provided lavish rooms in villas on the resort and most of the training took place in the conference rooms in the villa. The event as much for socializing with other interns form all over world as familiarizing us with tools used by the firm. Also included were case practice and sessions to help us understand what to expect in the consulting world. I particularly enjoyed the social events in the evening; casino night was easily my favorite.

After a long flight we reached Sydney on Monday and were glad that we didn’t have to go to work today. I joined another intern to explore the surroundings and get a first look at Sydney. At first impressions I compared Sydney to New York, lot smaller with little more culture and lot more flair, ah and of course lot better weather too.

View of Sydney harbour bridge from down the street

Our office was on the 22nd floor right in downtown with a great view of the opera house, Sydney harbor and the bridge. You feel truly blessed to have such a view at work. We figured that concentrating on work would be a challenge to which our manger joked about putting us on the opposite side of the building but thankfully didn’t. We were setup with laptops and familiarized with the processes and policies. The rest of the week was slow as we got onboard and up to speed on the project. We did get opportunities to meet with partners and they briefed on some of the work they were doing. I was amazed at both the quality of the work and opportunities to make such a huge impact. It all sounded very interesting. Some of the B-school myths about consulting were getting cleared.
View from our office

There were 4 interns from US B-schools HBS, Tuck, Hass and Darden (me) and one from Melbourne Business school. The US school interns were all based in Sydney, by choice. I was assigned to a project for one of the big banks in Australia. However, the client suddenly decided to cut back on costs as it approached end of financial year (End of July in Australia) as a result the project was delayed. As an intern, it was not possible for me to wait so they reassigned me very quickly to a project for a telecom client. This work pertained more to organizational change and turnaround, which I had no previous experience in and hence very excited to pursue. I always thought I would be pretty good in organizational issues through my years of experience in service industry but I guess I’ll find out soon. IN spite of quick reassignment I had free time on Thursday and I was offered an opportunity to leave early and explore Sydney. I took the opportunity and headed to check out Bondi Beach which though not crowded was a good sight. I still firmly believe that nothing can beat the beaches back home in Goa.

Bondi Beach
The weekend the office headed for a Ski-trip offsite to Thredbo. The winter here has just about started and we landed their on the first weekend the Ski slopes opened. Rumour has it the entire event was moved up so that Summer Associates could participate. That would make us an unpopular group but if the office folks felt such emotions they did a good job of hiding it! With only one ski slope open most people chose to skip skiing in favor of hike to Mt. Kosciusko. There was plenty of snow around and it was just slightly above freezing. The 3 hour hike and back was delightful. A small group of us had some extra fun slipping and sliding on the slopes rather than sticking to the trail. The scenery around was beautiful and especially so while sitting on the lift up and down as it allowed us time to view and absorb it. Later that night we had bit party at the local bars and club. It started just before the France-Australia rugby test and went late into the night. The dinner and drink expenses were all borne by our firm which I thought was exceptional generosity. My HBS-buddy and me ordered a Kangaroo and we had the pleasure of cooking it as well. It’s very common to find “cook it yourself” places in Australia apparently and I enjoyed both the Kangaroo and the experience of cooking it.

On our way up to Mt kosciusko

Next morning we tried a run on the bob-sled which was lot of fun. On our way back our colleagues were generous enough to divert to Canberra to give us a glimpse of the city. We also stopped by parliament building for a few minutes. We were back in Sydney late evening. I reflected on the exciting and eventful first 2 weeks on my internship.

Parliment building in Canberra
To be continued…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summer Internship

I realise I haven't really talked about my internship yet. If you follow other MBA bloggers you might be seeing their posts on internship progress, while I continue on and on about my travels. The reason is I haven't started it yet; I start tomorrow. I am interning with a top consulting firm in their Sydney, Australia office. The world of consulting excites me and I feel lucky to have secured an offer from my top choice firm. I am equally excited about working in Australia. I have never traveled there and continue to hear excellent thing, especially about Sydney. I first fly to a destination within US for a 3-day training and offsite, and then head down to Sydney. Its going to be a long flight!
Since I came back from Europe I haven't done much except eat, sleep, drink, watch movies and read books. Though I did take a intermediate salsa class and play a few games of tennis. All in all it was a pretty leisurely time. Now I have to change gears again to a hectic work life. I am not sure how I feel about that. I was getting used to doing absolutely nothing and living at my own pace. Well! lazy thoughts apart I am still pretty excited about Sydney and consulting work. I shall keep you posted on my progress.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Backpacking in Europe - Paris : Day 3-4

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things!

Having covered a lot in the first 2 days, the next two were less hectic but equally enjoyable. Weather wasn't the best though but the slight persistent drizzle didn't stop me from seeing what I wanted to. My disappointment was not being able to see Palace of Versailles as it was closed on Mondays. I only got to see it from outside and walk around in the gardens. However, the visit to 'Hotel des invalides' on Day 3 and Basilica of Sacre Couer, Notredame and Ste Chappelle more than made up for it!

Catching the RER train to Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Gardens in Palace of Versailles
More from the gardens
Pillars opposite to Hotel des invalides

Hotel des Invalides
Moulin Rouge in Montmartre Basillca of Sacre Couer
Inside Ste-Chappelle

Paris has way too much stuff to see in 3 or 4 days. Everything is spectacular and interesting, city is diverse, exciting and on top of all that, Romantic. I definitely think it lives up to all the hype that is created around it.

This brought and end to my 2 week backpacking trip. I felt I wanted to travel more, a lot more. There were so many places in Europe left to cover, I had to come back. I felt such incredible energy and freedom during this trip. I was doing whatever I wanted, going where ever I wanted staying as long and enjoying myself to the fullest. At the same time I learned a lot about Europe's history, art, culture and lifestyle. I felt enlightened enough to the recognise the limited extent of my knowledge and understanding. This trip certainly cleared some misgivings I had about Europe and Europeans. It came at the right time for me as I try to be more open minded and perceptive. I have always been on a quest for meaning and purpose, and this experience was another critical element of my construction and philosophy.

I leave you with a famous quote from Mark Twain

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Backpacking in Europe - Paris : Day 1-2

Paris, je t'aime! Well what else can I say. A lot has been said and written about Paris. I definitely found it to be a very romantic city; beautiful with great history and culture. At the same time I was amazed with the number of people. A huge urban sprawl wasn't one of things I expected to see in Paris and it was that neat either. This facts apart it still was a really delightful place to be in and I thoroughly enjoyed my 4 day stay. In fact there is so much too see in Paris and I took so many pictures I'll have to narrate my story in 2 posts. Here goes

Beautiful narrow streets in Latin Quarter
River seine from one of bridges

Famous Pyramid entrance to the Louvre. The museum houses over 200,000 paintings. It took me about 5 hours to cover. Most people stay for the entire day

Napoleon's dining room(Part of Napoleon's quarters) Inside the Louvre

Obelix at Placa de la concorde. You can also see Champs-Elysees and Arc de triomphe in the backgroundView of Champs-Elysees from in front of Arc De Triomphe

Arc de triomphe at the end of Champs Elysees

My first close look at Eiffel tower

Champs de Mars as seen from an Eiffel tower. A concert had just started.

Spectacular view of Paris from Eiffel tower. You could identify many landmarks. Can easily see Hotel des Invalides with golden crown, place where Napoleon is buried.

The other side from Champs de Mars. View from Eiffel tower

Eiffel tower lit upFirst two days were indeed exhausting. There is so much to see in Paris and the streets are so inviting that you could walk them endlessly. I certainly ended up doing that a lot. Next two days were quickly exciting. Stay tuned for more pictures.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Backpacking in Europe Part 2 - Barcelona

My second stop on the backpacking trip was Barcelona. I was not staying in a hostel this time around but I heard 'Kabul' is a really good one and located very close to 'La Rambalas'
I had been to Barcelona before, in March, and covered most of the popular sites. I have written all about it here

this time around I chose to enjoy the Barcelona Nightlife and cover sites around the city. I'll describe those in this post.

Sitges beach as you approach from the town
Streets of Sitges

View of Barcelona from Mirablau bar on Mt. Tibidabo

Exotic Restaraunt in midtown Barcelona. It had couhes and beds for couples to lie on and eat. Never seen that before. Barcelona has excellent variety of restaraunts with great food. Its much cheaper than other European cities. It also boasts excellent nightlife with clubs open 7 days a week, packed from atleast wednesdays to sundays and open till about 7 am in the morning. Sorry I dont have more pictures for public viewing ;)

Heading towards Monserrat on cable car

Looking down at the tram system from St. Juan

Beautiful shrine atop St. Juan

Approaching the Monastery in Monserrat

Monastery entrance

This trip to Barcelona was little bit different from my earlier one but equally if not more enjoyable. Barcelona is a beautiful city with lot of character. It boasts a variety of sites from historical, architectural splendours, musuems, palaces to gardens for recrreation to variety of restaraunts, bars and clubs for exciting night life. If you haven't been here you are really missing something!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Backpacking in Europe Part 1 - Madrid

Here is my travelogue on the backpacking trip in three parts. Since there is a lot to write and pictures tell a thousand words, I will make this a photo-blog, mainly narrating my travel through pictures. It so happens that this is also my 100th post and writing about my Europe trip seems an apt way to go about it. When I started this blog I never would have wondered that I would reach this milestone. Anyway, here goes. Hope you enjoy this 3 part series

First Look at Plaza Mayor. it was originally founded in 15th century
walking down calle mayor. One of the beautiful streets in central Madrid
Kids dressed up for Festival of San Isidro. The celebration marks the beginning of the bull fighting season
Traditional dance form I caught in Plaza Mayor

Cathedral Nuestra sra. de la Almudena. Right next to the the royal palace
Palacio Royal. view from the cathedral. Palace is magnificent and the luxury reflects the grandeur of Spain in medieval times
View of Madrid from the cathedral
Fuente de neptuno (Fountain of Neptune) on Paseo del Prado
Entrance to Museo del Prado. One of the most famous museums in Europe. Has a great collection from 14th century to modern times
Downstairs Bar at cats Hostel. Hostel I stayed at. It was a fun and exciting place to meet travelers from all over
Parque Del Retiro. A huge park near the center of Madrid. Houses 2 museums, a lake, rose garden and was the biggest park I have ever seen

Rose garden at the park

More from the Park

The magnificent entrance of the National Library

Goodbye Cats Hostel. I am Leaving Madrid for Barcelona

I did also manage to see Musuem Thyssen Bournemisza, Archaeological Museum and the Atocha station. Also of note is the fact that night life in Madrid goes from 12 am to 7am every night, yes 7 days a week. The flurry of tourist does help to keep it going but the lifestyle amongst city's younger population is pretty much of living life and partying. Not only did I enjoy the great sights and museums Madrid had to offer but also the exciting and energetic nightlife. I Definitely recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't been there yet.

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