We’ve offered lots of past warnings about tone and messaging in the context of “contribution” essays for your MBA app, and today is another that’s worth studying if you’re tackling one of these beasts. The essay prompt may ask, explicitly or implicitly, “What will you contribute?” It comes up in the MIT “mission” essay that…
EssaySnark spends very little time on social media and we were reminded of why this is when we stirred up a hornet’s nest yesterday among, of all people, college professors. After seeing their responses to our tweet we are very happy that you Millennials are making your way through the workforce and will one day soon be in charge.
Because the attitudes of these professor-people got us royally depressed.
Any admissions folks out there who happen to click onto EssaySnark, we hope you’ll share this with your faculty — or at least use it as a point of conversation.
Or maybe we’re totally off base in which case we hope that people will use rational arguments to show us the light.
Here’s where it started – we’re recreating the exchange in this post because some of the tweets have been deleted. The original thread is here .
1. A College Professor account retweeted another professor’s tweet that retweeted this — this is from a student:
What the student was complaining about, in case it’s not clear, is that she spent time trying to make her request to her professor politely, and (EssaySnark imagines) she felt somewhat dismissed by the response. You can see from her subsequent tweet here that she was just making a joke. It’s not that big of a deal — but apparently us calling out the professors about it is!!!!
We’re extrapolating here but: A two-word reply to a carefully-crafted email has a way of making the recipient feel like the effort they put in was not worth it. (The “sent by iPhone” thing became an unfortunate distraction; this isn’t about replying by iPhone, it’s literally what the reply was. This happens just as much through Outlook or gmail or whatever.) The professor’s reply wasn’t rude; it just wasn’t thoughtful. It did not demonstrate respect for the student. There was no malice, but it also was unnecessarily terse.
It’s kind of like when you’re out at a restaurant and the waitress comes to take your order and you read what you want off the menu then put the menu aside and go back to talking to your friend, without making eye contact or saying “thank you” to the waitress. It’s the same sort of behavior. It’s purely transactional, it’s here’s an answer to your question now go away behavior.
It’s particularly ironic when so many professors on twitter complain about their careless, thoughtless, frivolous, ungrateful students who have unreasonable expectations.
2. Naively, EssaySnark replied saying we’re on the student’s side:
Because Earth to Professors: You’re working with kids! You’re supposed to be the adult in the room!
And OMG did this thing blow up (at least, as far as the tiny little insignificant slice of the universe where college professors complaining about their students dwell!).
We foolishly replied back to a bunch more but it was distressing to see how far afield the debate got flung within mere moments, and also how flawed the reasoning was from so many of these professors (and how some of them chose to take our generalized statements very personally as if we were attacking them on how they interact with their students — um, no?).
This is why we decided that we needed to post.
“My time is more valuable”?????
And then this…
And finally, let’s just all take our toys and go home why don’t we:
Dang we’re bothered by this, not because we think this twitter-professor-person would actually do that, but at the reaction.
We point out that being polite and treating students as equals is good behavior, and this is how they respond?
The claim that “my time is more valuable” is ridiculous. No wonder you’re all bent out of shape about your students emailing you. How dare they! You are a very important person!! “DYKWIA??????”
If these are the prevailing attitudes among professors then there are major problems within the culture in colleges in America.
All the bschools we’ve ever experienced are very, very focused on culture. Apparently that’s not universal in higher ed. Certainly the student population in MBA programs is older, they’ve been out in the world, they’re at a different place in life, presumably they won’t be making frivolous requests or wasting professors’ time. Like, apparently, asking for an appointment to meet, like the student did who started all this. The nerve!! But hey, folks, college kids are people too! Perhaps part of this is that college students today are younger, and/or many times have unrealistic expectations or demands or need more hand-holding, or are just in a different place and mindset than the aging faculty who are teaching them. That whole generation gap thing, and this is how it manifested yesterday on social media.
Or perhaps it’s as the Dalia Lama has said, that compassion is only felt between equals.
But we sincerely hope that grumpy professors do some soul-searching around what their mission in life is and who they seek to serve, and how they might do that. Aren’t you a teacher because you want to teach? Yeah we get it, lots of demands, maybe you really want to be doing research. Or maybe it was just a bad morning.
This terse-email-reply thing is not important. It appears to be a symptom though.
Here’s our hope for all of you:
As you progress in your career and assume positions of greater power, please don’t also assume an attitude of superiority. Yes, professors are busy, as are senior managers in a firm. Yes, as someone who works under that person, you should be respectful of their time, and not send unnecessary emails, or whatever.
But no matter what!!! NO MATTER WHAT!!! When you are in a position of power, it is YOUR DUTY to earn people’s respect every day. You do not get to be flippant or rude or dismissive just because you’re earning a high salary. If someone calls attention to something you’re doing that others might interpret this way, then a better reaction, instead of getting defensive and petty, would be to please stop and examine it and question maybe the way you’re coming off is not ideal. THAT MAYBE OTHERS HAVE FEELINGS and that the way those in power interact with them does matter. It does matter.
Oh we’re so bothered by this.
While we’re on this rant, from the ‘snarchive for those writing essays: If you are human, you do not have underlings.
We soon realized the error of our ways in responding to something on twitter and backed out:
No wonder we're so screwed up in America. We're still arguing **about the EMAILS!!**
Have fun over there you guys.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 28, 2018
We’re still getting notifications of dozens and dozens of replies so if you’re looking for a drive-by experience, go ahead and click over to those threads. We’re not participating anymore. Apparently we can’t take the heat in the kitchen.
This was an unplanned post today. Thank you for reading to the end. For MBA applicants, perhaps this can gain insight into possible topics for your essays for schools that care about teamwork and interpersonal skills and being NICE (thank you Tuck!). Interpersonal interactions MATTER.
Where did you encounter an unpleasant situation? How did you turn it around? Or if you failed to do so, as EssaySnark clearly did, how did you navigate through thereafter, what action did you take if any to try to make change to the system, or at minimum what did you do to channel your own feelings of frustration?
What small injustice in the world have you helped to right*?
The stories you tell in your MBA essays need not always be these huge massive gold-ribbon accomplishments. Sometimes a very small incident can lead you into a fascinating topic that the adcoms (at certain schools) would be eager to have you discuss. What goes on in your workplace that you thought was wrong, and how did you change it?
To wrap up our soapbox diatribe today, this is what we were proposing be done in the situation of the original student’s emails – it’s not difficult:
We're talking 2 secs! Instead of "Sure, 9:00" you write Hi Student! Sure, that works great, how about 9:00? Thanks, see you then! Prof. X" You're not writing them War and Peace as your reply.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 28, 2018
It’s simple recognition that it’s a PERSON on the other end of your inbox.
It’s something that you can start to adopt into your email practices today.
*Not trying to imply that we did any righting of wrongs or fixing of injustices in the world with our tweet; if anything, our calls for politeness got voted down by the mob. The “right a wrong” thing is to prompt you to do some further thinking!! And also to examine your own values. Maybe EssaySnark is off on all of this, maybe a professor’s time is more valuable and should be protected!! Clearly we don’t think so but if you have a different view then find out what it is, and use that as your investigation into your own character and behavior and mine all of that for your essays!! This is what they mean when they say that essays require self-reflection. You start in on a topic and you think about how you feel on it, and what ways you’ve acted, and what examples from your life are related. Presenting evidence of your own behavior is how you demonstrate your character to the adcom in whatever way is relevant to the questions they’re asking.
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We had thought we actually blahgged about this very important issue for Wharton essay 2 but apparently not. Apparently the post that we wrote last year on the Wharton “contribution” essay that warned of tone does not cover this other very important point that we thought it covered. So when we kept pointing BSers to…
Today’s post is not about school culture which is a very important aspect for you to learn about and understand in your process of figuring out which bschools to apply to. If you want to learn more about that, then please see the many posts here on essaysnark.com about “school fit.”
Today’s post is about culture in the broader sense of the term, as it’s most usually applied.
This piece published on Medium last year from an American teacher who’d spent time in South Africa goes a long way towards expressing what we mean. It’s written as advice to college freshman who may find themselves with a roommate from a different country, and frankly it’s something that all Americans should read. It explains away many of the stereotypes that Americans hold about people who live on the continent of Africa, and it touches on many details of culture through example. Here’s another article with quick business anecdotes from ex-pats working in Australia .
Most of the European MBA programs that you might be interested in are very international in makeup – much more so than the American schools. Programs like INSEAD and LBS frequently have questions in their applications asking about international experiences that have shaped you, or a time when you dealt with culture shock. Tuck and more recently Stanford have also had questions in their apps asking about international experiences and perspectives. It’s not mandatory for you to have traveled outside of your home country in order to be a successful applicant to these schools – but it certainly helps.
That being said, oftentimes we get BSers who have done a bit of traveling who still stumble with these sorts of questions. Careful reading of the prompt is important (that’s always important, but it seems particularly critical with these types of essays) – people often overlook what’s truly being asked for.
What’s so great about that Medium piece linked above is that the author provides direct examples from her own experience and the experience of others. That’s key to all good essays, and it’s of paramount importance in writing to these prompts especially.
You may have accrued a colorful series of stamps in your passport which shows that you’ve traveled all over the world, but if you don’t have an appreciation for how people are different then it’s going to be difficult to present a compelling answer in this essay.
So, one small brainstorming exercise for you to embark upon today:
What does culture mean to you, and how have you experienced it for yourself firsthand?
Want more help with your apps to the European bschools?
We wrote a book on it!
Since we spent most of last week freaking you out about how hard it is to get in this year, we figured we may as well start digging into some actual essay-writing advice, to help you get on that horse and ride it. We’ll start with Booth. There’s a simple way to answer the Booth…
It’s Saturday, so apparently that means we’re doing an essay review. The essay we’re presenting you today (submitted for consideration for these freebie reviews here) was written for HEC Paris but no matter; the chunk we’re going to talk about is relevant to pretty much any school’s “Why?” essay – “Why MBA?” “Why us?” “Why…
We often see people struggle with essay questions that certain schools ask where you need to talk about culture shock. INSEAD has a question:
Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain?
London Business School has had one like this and will likely have something similar in this year’s application:
London Business School offers a truly global and diverse experience. Describe any significant experiences outside of your home country or culture. What did you gain and how will your experience contribute to London Business School?
When a school asks this type of question, you need to select an actual experience that you had in traveling to a foreign country, whether for a work project or a study abroad in school or just as a tourist, and explain what happened.
You should be focusing in on a moment in time. The essay should go along the lines of “I went to such-and-such a place in 2010 for this reason and this is what happened to me. When that happened, this is how I reacted. This is how other people reacted. This is what I did then. What I learned from that experience is this.”
What we often see in this type of essay is blah. Blah blah blather blah. People often go all philosophic on us and they very quickly tie themselves up into very fancy word knots. We often get breathy essays about the nature of culture (huh?) or what their country means to them (double huh?).
Bschool essays should NEVER be conceptual; these are not academic theses. You are not going for a PhD program; you’re going for a practical business education. The adcom wants to know what you have experienced elsewhere and what you’ll bring to their community. These two schools in particular definitely prefer candidates who’ve traveled abroad, at least a little. If you’ve never ever left your home country, then it’s a slight negative for you in the app process here (you certainly will need to explain to the adcom why an international MBA is so important to you if you’ve literally not left home before).
For these types of questions, you would want to offer up an actual experience that you had. Identify one time you went somewhere. Give the adcom a specific story of when and where and and what happened there.
Think about how you’d tell someone in your family the story. You’d go into the actualities of it. You wouldn’t wander aimless in some monologue about culture. If you did that, your sister would walk out of the room and leave you talking to empty space. Instead, the focus needs to be on what you thought/felt/saw/did, in the context of being a stranger in a strange land, and what you learned from that experience.
Don’t make your adcom reader walk out on you (mentally) when she’s reading your essay.