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MIT MBA - The Full Experience [part 1]

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Published: January 12, 2024
Episode Description:

Praew tells Dane all about life during her first semester at Sloan. She explains how sections and cohorts are chosen, why becoming a social event leader is a worthwhile challenge, and how to make the most of being a foreign student in a diverse US university.


Praew's Unexpected Lessons at MIT Sloan: From Networking to Gender Disparity

Praew, a KBank scholar, shares her surprising insights from her first semester at MIT Sloan MBA. Initially expecting a focus on academics and grades, she discovered that:

  • MIT Sloan goes beyond academics: The focus on networking, recruiting, and soft skills development may surprise prospective students.
  • Diversity fuels learning: The mix of backgrounds and experiences in the student body fosters cross-cultural understanding and challenges perspectives.
  • Unexpected lessons abound: Real-world skills, relationship building, and global awareness emerge as valuable takeaways.
  • Embrace the unfamiliar: Stepping outside academic comfort zones leads to personal and professional growth.
  • Networking matters: Strong communication and relationship-building skills are crucial for business school success.
  • Cultural exchange is powerful: Sharing viewpoints broadens perspectives and promotes mutual understanding.
  • Gender disparities persist: Discussing differences in female leadership and work-life balance across cultures sparks important conversations.
  • A global mindset is essential: Adapting to diverse perspectives and experiences prepares individuals for success in a connected world.


MIT Sloan MBA, business school experience, networking, diversity, work-life balance, gender gap, Thailand


Dane Phillips: Hello and welcome to Insights. This is episode 42. My name is Dane Phillips. I'm the CEO of Elite Admit, and we are talking to Praew today. If you listen to our podcast 10 or 12 episodes ago, you have already met her.

And I think that's what makes this so cool. I am super excited. Last time Carl did it. But I'm excited to get to catch up with her because we are good friends and get along really well, but also because it'll be cool to compare what it was like right before leaving. And what is it like in the middle of the holidays. It's December 27th—right after you first semester abroad.

Praew, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Excited to get to talk to you again. Do you want to kick things off with an introduction?

Praew: Yeah, of course. Before we begin—thank you so much, Dane, for having me here for the second time. And hello, everyone. My name is Praew. I'm a scholar at Kasikornbank. Right now, I just finished my first semester at MIT Sloan MBA program.

Really excited to be here and to share my experiences on my first semester as well.

Dane Phillips: Fantastic. We'll talk a little bit about being a KBank scholar. We work with all the scholars from recruiting, hiring when you're in college, to development, to applications. Through the whole lifecycle and I love to stay in touch and hear how things are going during the process. Also, I think people may be under the impression that scholars have different experiences because you don't necessarily go through recruiting or you don't network as much because you know where you're coming back to. But I think that in general, that's probably not true and it's definitely not true for you. Because you're such a sociable person and are having the full MBA experience for sure.

What is the big take away at this stage? You had expectations going in. Obviously, we had a lot of KBank scholars already at Sloan. You had friends there, you got to meet them. So, you had expectations and now you've been there for a few months. Do you think your expectations have been met? Is it different but good? How would you characterize the difference between the before and the now?

Praew: There are so many things that I'd like to talk about. For what I expected before coming here to Sloan and what the reality actually is…For example, I thought that Business School would be similar to my undergrad, but in reality, compared to undergrad where people spend so much time studying and focusing mostly on getting good grades, here at Sloan and at MBA in general, I think people prioritize recruiting classes as well as social life. Prioritizing different things and managing your time is important so that you can spend time networking, recruiting, and going to classes.

It's such an important part of being here at MBA, and it's also such an important skill that you develop, because when you get back to work after two years, this is a skill that you will need to connect with your coworkers to get things done. To have time for your family and to get your work done. It's such an interesting like time to practice that skill and to make sure that you get the most out of the program itself and also to develop meaningful relationships with your classmates. That is the key difference between my expectation and the reality here at the MBA program.

Dane Phillips: It's hard not to have some misalignment between expectation and reality. Sloan is the top #3 or #4 MBA program in the world. You must assume that the professors are going to be extraordinary, but it's going to be super hard. It's so much to learn in such little time. It's a life changing experience. And you are naturally inclined to think that a lot of that is going to happen in the classroom. And realistically, I would say most of it takes place outside of the classroom, so it's not to say that you don't have great professors or great lecturers. But you're having these working teams and events. It's fun.

I don't think anybody could fully prepare themselves for how cool it is to move away, live on your own. Plus, you're a scholar, so somebody else is paying for it. You get to live in Boston, you get to go out, you get to socialize, you do all these events. I know that you're a Social Chair. We'll talk about that a little bit, but, it's fun, right? It's like a two-year break from your regular life and it's this totally different thing.

Praew: Exactly. And I would like to mention that people usually assume that because you're going to MIT, it's going to be full of nerds and people going glasses and not actually partying or having any fun. But in reality, of course I learned so much about technical stuff like accounting finance—whatever skills you learn in class—but also I picked up so many soft skills on how to interact with people, how to socialize with people in different contexts, small talk, how to do a coffee chat. And I think that is such a meaningful and extremely important skill that you can actually use in your personal life or your professional life afterward.

So of course, being at MIT, it's all cool. The professors are amazing, and they're teaching cool things in class, but you're also learning along the way, especially from your classmates. There are so many times in class that students were encouraged to discuss, and I learned so much from my classmates. Even in like small group classroom discussions. This is the reason why it's so important to have people with diverse backgrounds with different years of work experience. I would like to emphasize that I learned so much from my classmates socially, academically, and through their experiences before coming here to Sloan.

Dane Phillips: Obviously, we know the Dean of Admissions at Sloan and the former Dean of Admissions and I think we probably know that Ad-Coms group better than any other school and they are very, very good at what they do. We talked about that a little bit before the call. But I mean they put together the class and they really do look at it like puzzle pieces. It's not just the highest GMATs, highest GPA's. It's not just that these are the best, smartest people.

It's like a sports team. If everyone's the best individual soccer player, that doesn't make the best soccer team. In fact, we've seen it in sports all the time. A lot of athletes can get together and not work cohesively as a whole. And Ad-Coms are really good at finding hundreds of people that are going to come together and bring value both as individuals and as a group, they will do so during the MBA, which you're experiencing right now and then also make the school look good afterwards. It's a very difficult job and they do an extraordinary job of it and you're getting the benefits of that right now. To just to kind of lean back on to what you said. You are getting a lot of experiences outside of the classroom.

This kind of goes back to interview class where we use the bar rule where you need to be able to tell a story good enough for a bar. It needs to be good enough that you can tell it at a bar or a restaurant, get to the conflict, get the hook, give them four examples, rise and fall. Conflict. Action. Result. You can see that playing out on regular basis because this is how you engage with people. When you say you're talking to people or they're telling stories and you're learning, they're using a lot of those rules. They're creating tension and release. They're using concrete examples. You're learning. You mentioned work experience. Assume somebody tells a story about their job and you're able to be interested in it, understand it, and take something away from it.

Praew: And then also relate to that experience well. I can give you this interesting example. I was in special Class A, which is about creating a good workplace. People were divided into small group discussions and my group consisted of me from Thailand, a consultant girl, and an army guy. We were talking about the time when we had bad experiences working in some kind of environment and the stories each of us was sharing—the guy was talking about how people were not doing this and that in the army and how it affected his team. Then, I was talking about how sometimes my voice went unheard with this particular person not working on A, B, and C. And it turned out that all of us had the same experience, such as—this is a good kind of manager, or this is a bad kind of manager. This is a good kind of team and bad kind of team. It all came down to the same theme. Even though we were from such different backgrounds. And this was the moment that I realized that I learned so much from others. The concepts that we learn in Business School are actually applicable to such a diverse range of industries and experiences. It was such a moment of realization for me.

Dane Phillips: It's kind of crazy, right? You assume you're talking to somebody that's in the military and you think it's going to be a totally foreign experience and you talk to an MBB from whatever country working in some certain vertical, and that's going to be this totally different experience. You think that you won't be able to figure out how to relate. But then you don't have to even try. It's very easy to find those themes and those similarities.

We worked with a guy last year. He was American, but his girlfriend was Thai. He's now at MIT, but he was in the Navy then. And he would spend 6 months on a ship. He did supply chain and logistics, talked about morale and being in charge of the food and sodas that were available.

And it was like the 7-Eleven of the ship and really important stuff. Morale on a ship at sea is ultra-important. You can see that in the military but the same thing is true when you're working 90 hours a week as a McKinsey. The same is true when you're working in ESG and you're doing these new initiatives or you're having to deal with COVID. I know you had a project where there wasn't enough data and you're having to try to pull data from another location. Are those identical situations? No, but there are similarities.

Through that you're able to see that this is a good team, this is a good manager, or this is a good teammate. This is good quality in all those situations. And just as importantly, these are poisonous teammates, these are terrible habits, these are things that universally are problematic.

Praew: Exactly.

Dane Phillips: And it's really interesting that you mentioned the military because the military is a huge part of MBA and I think people don't really know that going in. In fact, it's why Round 3 exists in the United States and nobody else can apply to Round 3. The only people that get in Round 3 are military who were deployed. It takes a really special situation. But anyway, military is a really big part of that and it is fascinating to hear the kinds of experiences they have and what they can bring to the table. And they're making that transition for the private sector and public life. It's really cool that you're able to do that and connect with those people.

I think it's also really easy to say I took this away from, for example, the military story or the McKinsey story. Do you have any stories or experiences where you were kind of surprised at how much they resonated with other people? Where maybe the military guy or somebody else was like, “wow, that's really interesting?” What kind of Thai experiences do people find fascinating or helpful?

Praew: That's a very interesting question because most of the time this discussion would come up during big classroom discussions, where professors would ask people to share something from their own experiences and relate that to whatever concepts we were talking in class. I don't remember exact details or exact discussions, but what I find interesting and very intriguing to me is the fact that here in the United States, people often discuss gender disparity and the pay gap. Men and women are treated differently in the office here in America and that blew my mind.

Dane Phillips: Yeah, these are big conversations. It's important. You're going to one of the best schools in the world, they're not having that conversation everywhere. They should be but they're not. In the high-level workplace, of course they're talking about that, and they should be, because it's a huge problem in the US. It's supposed to be the most advanced economy and we still have the pay gap. The glass ceiling is very real. There are not enough women in leadership positions etcetera, etcetera. So, they do want to hear those kinds of stories.

In this aspect, Thailand surprises people in a very positive way. Thai women get married later than American women and have children later than American women. At least in your socioeconomic group and in the big companies, Thai women, while it's not a perfect world by any means, are a representation of success in many regards. It's not like you're just trying to catch up to America. I think in a lot of cases, America will want to catch up with Thailand, where I think women are respected. I think we do have more female leaders. There's a very common thing which is that Thailand has more female executives than anywhere in the world which you know it depends on what executive means and and things of that nature.

But if you compare it to your neighbors—other Asian countries, Thailand respects women and treats women really well. The pay gap is not as big—it again depends on PTT versus KBank versus SCG. But that's definitely interesting in both directions and it's an important conversation to have. That would be an example of where Thailand is not behind and trying to catch up with America. There's plenty that Americans can learn from Thais and from your experiences.

Praew: It took a bit for me to relate to the experiences people were sharing in classroom from their work here in the United States. When I got to share my experiences working in Thailand and about like how women are treated at workplace, the healthcare service, and everything we got in Thailand when working for KBank—how we have physician on site at our offices—people were so surprised. We can actually bring children to work—there's a daycare at office. Our CEO is a woman, and there are so many women in the board of directors, the President of the board, other directors. People were surprised at this; it blew their minds.

This is what we're doing, and I think that's why it's important to learn from peers. I get more exposure to problems here and there and also get to share my perspective on how they could improve or what else we can do to make people feel included and have representation at workplaces.

Dane Phillips: And they're learning that from you, that's what's great. Americans especially need to learn that there's this really false mentality of, “America is great and everybody's trying to catch up with us” and now Europe does a really good job of proving that wrong but to have somebody come from emerging markets in Southeast Asia and say we have less of a work pay gap, we have more female leaders, we have better childcare and things like that. No country is perfect, but Thailand is ahead of the United States in a lot of regards. The United States is it's 330 million people in 50 states. Alabama is very different from Massachusetts. I'm from Texas. Texas is one of the top 10 economies on the planet.

California and Texas as states are bigger than every country in the world except for eight countries. That means huge GDP's, these are very big states and yet Texas is 32nd in education, 36th in healthcare, 38th in economic equality. I just looked this up the other day. We are embarrassingly bad for a state with this much money. Texas is by no means the benchmark for success, despite how much money it has. In fact, when you have that much money, you should be infinitely better.

It would be really important for somebody from my state to interact with you and hear how great Thailand is doing in a lot of regards and have them kind of get competitive about it and go: “wow, we could do better than that!” The best way to get to Americans is make them feel small and make them feel like they have to compete and do better. And we do need to compete and do better. Every student that you're interacting with has a little bit of that. There are things that they're really proud of and they can tell you these are some best case scenarios. There are some things we do really well and hopefully you can aspire to them. And 5 minutes later they hear you say something, and they go: “oh my god, we're terrible because we don't have that.” I bet it's a lot of back and forth of being proud and being—I don't know if embarrassed is the right word—but embarrassed will often lead to ambitious. It'll get you up and say, “OK, that's embarrassing. We've got to do better than that!”

Praew: That's why I really enjoy my experiences here at Sloan, because I think Ad-Com here does such an amazing job creating a class full of people who are willing to share positive experiences so we all can be inspired. Or sometimes not so positive experiences so we can learn from them. And people here are open to be vulnerable, to share those things, either in a small group, discussions with your core team or with the class so that others can learn. This is why I really enjoy like the community here, especially for my section that here at Sloan we call East Section and Ocean. I really enjoy my Ocean and all the members of my Ocean who are always willing to share these experiences I can learn from.

Dane Phillips: How many people are there? People are used to sections as they hear that from Harvard. There is 8 to 10 sections there, but it's usually 8 sections of 100 people. And then at some schools you'll have cohorts of six. Wharton does that. Colombia does that. What's the MIT makeup? How many people are in your Ocean? And then what are your smaller groups called? How are they put together?

Praew: At Sloan, our class is about 20ish people, and we have 6 sections and each section is called an Ocean. For example, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Ocean, or Baltic Ocean. Each Ocean, which consists of roughly 65 to 70 people, is then divided into smaller core teams and each core team has 6 to 7 people. We take all the classes together and we work on group projects together and all things.

Dane Phillips: OK, so let's see, you said it was four groups of 6. This is smaller than 100 people. So your sections are already smaller than what you might get at some other schools. And then you have an even smaller working group. I guess the classic cohort size is 6 to 8, right? Are those put together for you? What's the makeup? Is everybody from different industries?

Praew: Before I talk about my own core team, I want to mention that I've heard from the Ad-Com that this years' Sloan MBA has used this amazing algorithm to diversify each cohort and each core team to have the maximum diversity within. The funny thing is that they put in key factors like industries, countries, nationalities, work experiences, age, and whatever in this algorithm, but they forgot to put in names. So, there are like four people with the same name in each group.

Dane Phillips: We're all Steve, but we're different Steves, right?

Praew: Exactly. So funny.

Dane Phillips: That makes name tags difficult, right? But the team is diverse and well structured.

Praew: Exactly. Take my own core team, for example. Four out of six of us are sponsored, but we come from diverse industries. We have a consultant, a financial recruiter from South America, an international student in finance, and even a full-time doctor, and another sponsored by an aerospace company. And then there's me, sponsored by KBank from Thailand.

This diversity of backgrounds and countries is truly complementary. The doctor, though experienced in her field, needs to catch up on business classes. That's where we step in, helping her out. In return, her experience working with patients means she has amazing skills when it comes to difficult conversations.

So, the learning goes both ways. I've learned a lot from her, especially those soft skills that come in handy under stress. And she's learned from me too. She appreciated my help with accounting and economic classes. It's a truly fascinating dynamic where we both learn and grow from each other.

Dane Phillips: Very cool. The patient care side of that, I mean, we use medical as an example of soft skills just because you have to get people to tell the truth, get people to be honest, you have to give bad news, you have to keep people positive when you want them positive, you need them to be sufficiently scared when they need to be sufficiently scared and they should take care of themselves. One of my best friends is an inpatient psychiatrist and it is hard work for sure.

There were two medical doctors in your year, not in your interview group, but in your year. And they do bring a lot to the class, some people are going into pharmaceuticals. We have a doctor that went into data science at Carnegie Mellon at Heinz. So, doctors can make that move and carry those skills with them. And that's helpful.

But as you point out, it is always a two-way street, so you have something to bring to that table as well. So, it's interesting that it is manual. You know, it's analog and algorithmic. It's manual in that the class, I know the ad coms and the ad coms are thinking very constantly about how is this person going to work as an individual, but also how are they going to get along with that small group or with that big group? What do they bring to the table? Is this unusual experience?

You want people from both sides of, for example, mergers and acquisitions. You want someone that's been acquired, you want someone that's bought things you want all of that represented in the class. But then when it gets down to the element of choosing that group of 6 to do that manually, I think at this stage would probably be next to impossible. And they're relying on technology to do that. And then of course, technology is not infallible. It is ultimately your responsibility to show up in that group and figure out how you fit together and is it gonna be through here are our similarities, or is it gonna be a focus on here are our differences? And then of course, balancing those things out.

Diversity has been a theme of yours. From the moment that you applied, that was really important to you and something that really resonated with you. The diversity of backgrounds, socioeconomic, intellectual. Obviously, as an ESG person, you recognize that you need diversity in business and structure, and you can't be too reliant on full old-school carbon and things like that so. I think that's a theme that has been part of who you are as a person long before you applied or were accepted to MIT. But it is nice to see that it continues to manifest and continues to be part of the DNA of your program. It seems like such a perfect fit.

I can see why you said—the phrase you used when we've talked was—that you found your tribe, that these are people that you just really feel close to and connected to and you're going through something special together. You create some instantaneous emotional bonds, right? It kind of expedites that. You mentioned undergrad—it can take years to get close to people. MBA kind of fast forwards that experience and part of it is out of necessity, but a lot of it is just that you know you all are doing something important. We're coming from different places, but we're facing a lot of these same challenges, and it does create that emotional bond.

I do want to dive into what you do at which scale. What is done at the Ocean scale? What is done at the section scale? But since we're 30 minutes in, I think this is a perfect time for a quick break for our listeners. We'll take a deep breath; we'll call this part A and then we'll jump right back into it and we'll get into again both the Ocean and the section.

Thanks so much for sticking with us. Hope you are enjoying this as much as we are, and we will be right back with Praew and episode 42.


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