When I first came to Harvard Business School, I was excited about almost everything: cases, classmates, and living in the East Coast for the first time. However, I constantly wondered: Will I have the chance to exercise my creativity here? As the first semester raced by, I started to worry about finding a creative oasis in the HBS community.
Enter the We Are HBS podcast.
Started by the HBS Student Association in 2017, the podcast is entirely student-produced, recorded in the iLab on HBS campus. Each year a new group of students develop a new season. I initially met the team when I was interviewed for an episode; inspired by their creativity, I eventually joined as the podcast’s marketing director.
A SHARED PASSION FOR STORYTELLING
In uncovering why team members got involved with the podcast, one theme quickly emerged: We are all passionate about storytelling.
Director Valentina Zarya, who was an undergraduate at Wharton and an editor at Fortune magazine, shared: “I was a writer in my past life. When I came to HBS, I still wanted to do something where I would report on the human experience, but I wanted to experiment with a different medium. I really like getting to know people and their stories, and journalism is a great way to better understand the community you’re in. This felt like the right outlet – different than what I’d done before.”
Host Bhargav Srinivasan, who is part of the 4-year JD/MBA program and a former Bain consultant, added: “I hosted a basketball podcast when I was an RC. That was much more about performance. It was sports radio. With We Are HBS, I wanted to get back in the booth, but my reasons are now much more like Val’s. As an 8-semester HBS-er, listening to the community’s stories sustains me.”
Co-host Jade Enns previously worked as a consultant for SAS in North Carolina, and came to HBS hoping to pivot into entertainment and media. For her, audio as a storytelling device was specifically compelling. “I love podcasts as a medium. I came to HBS knowing that I wanted to either start one or get involved with one. I also like comedy because it makes you look at things to understand, what’s actually going on here? That’s the mission of the podcast – to go beyond the official stuff at HBS.”
Both of the show’s producers were avid podcast listeners when they decided to take on this role. Farrah Bui had been a radio DJ during her undergraduate years at Princeton, before joining Google’s consumer product team. “I’ve always been passionate about technology, and I wanted to learn more about creating podcasts, as it’s something I’m personally interested in.”
Amelia Elverson, who joined HBS’ first class of MS/MBA students after working as a consultant at Microsoft, shared that she wanted to leverage her engineering background with something that was creative. “I thought joining the team would be interesting and engaging, and a great way to meet cool people.”
TAKING LISTENERS BEHIND THE SCENES
For the podcast’s second season, we focused on uncovering stories that revealed facets of the HBS community in a new light by taking listeners ‘behind the scenes’. We aimed to reveal not just life on the HBS campus, but also our guest’s unique backgrounds and passions.
In Love@HBS, we track the love stories of HBS students: from a married couple that got accepted at the same time, to two RCs who took the scary leap from friendship to dating in their first semester. Black@HBS shares insights on what it’s like to be black on-campus from both students and faculty. Hustle@HBS illuminates what it’s like to balance a side hustle with the full-time work of being a student.
“When people think HBS, they think buttoned-up,” Bhargav said. “It’s often this very corporate image. But in Love@HBS and Black@HBS, the people we featured were sharing pretty radical concepts and breaking molds. They were happy to share their stories even if it’s going on airwaves and anyone can listen to it. That’s just who they are.”
‘WE’RE NOT ALL MONEY-GRUBBING ROBOTS!’
I asked the team what they hope people will take away from listening to the podcast.
“That we’re not all money-grabbing robots!” Amelia laughed.
Valentina clarified: “Podcasting is one of the few mediums where you aren’t being judged by how you look, or what you see and read on a resume. It’s purely about how you’re telling your story.”
Amelia added, “It’s in the voice of the person who is telling their own story too. Sometimes we focus too much on resumes, which is a weird, contrived format. I like that with our podcast, none of it is scripted. There’s an actual back and forth between the host and the person.”
There was a strong desire to provide a more nuanced view of the community. “When you’re from the outside, the ‘institution’ of HBS can be a little intimidating,” Jade said. “But I want listeners to know that you can find community here, with just about any aspect of your life. At first I thought: oh no, everyone here is so sophisticated. No one likes trashy TV. But actually, so many people do! Like the Bachelor! My section hosts weekly viewing parties of The Bachelor.”
Farrah summed it up: “I think there’s a misconception that business school students are not creative. But this is an example of creativity – we’re creating this podcast, sharing it, and building something in a very non-traditional business-y way. The most rewarding part of this experience has been launching something unique, with equally unique individuals who inspire me to look at the world differently.”
IN-DEPTH VIEWS OF LIFE AT HBS
I asked the team what advice they’d give current MBA applicants.
Bhargav shared, “Do the hard work of introspecting and reflecting. Really invest in that process as you’re writing your application essays – when you take that time, you uncover the truth, and it shows on the page.”
Valentina suggested investing time in upfront research on each school before applying. “It might be tempting to think that you can repurpose one application for all of them, but that’s tougher than you might think. You’re also doing yourself a disservice if you apply to places you ultimately won’t want to attend.”
Farrah stressed the importance of finding the right fit. “Don’t rely too heavily on others’ opinions of whether or not a specific school or program — or doing an MBA at all — is right for you. It’s easy to get attracted to chasing a sense of achievement and get wrapped up by the brand recognition, but it won’t shed light on how happy you’ll be. Take time to think deeply about why you’re making this decision.”
If you’re looking for inspiration for what personal story to tell, and want to get a more in-depth view of life at HBS, listen to the We Are HBS podcast! Episodes are available on our website, or on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your audio fix.
Isabel Yap is part of the HBS Class of 2020. Prior to Harvard, she spent 4 1/2 years working at Guidebook, a venture-backed, early-stage startup in San Francisco and London, most recently as a product manager. Yap is also a published fictionist whose short stories have appeared in Tor.com, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.