The Rotman Pulse: How I Transitioned From A Poet To A Quant

I wasn’t surprised when I was invited to take a compulsory quant bootcamp to kick off my Rotman full-time MBA program. After all, my entire academic and professional journey had revolved around language, words, and writing. With a degree in journalism and four years of experience in the field, I had become all too comfortable in crafting stories using words.

Prior to bootcamp, Word was the only Microsoft office tool I was good at using. When it came to PowerPoint and Excel, I couldn’t tell a cell from a slide. To me, they were merely default software installed on my computer, never opened.

The two-week camp went by very quickly. For the most part, the instructors catered to our non-quantitative backgrounds. They spoon-fed us concepts at a slow pace, so the math wasn’t too hard to digest. But my biggest headache was, of course, getting everything done in Excel. In my Statistics and Business Math class, I remember the instructor typing in formulas on the fly. With a few random clicks, the results would show up neatly on the worksheet. He completed the process so adeptly that it felt like magic to me. I had to keep asking, “Professor, can you repeat what you just did?”

Rotman Section 1 group photo at the start of term

A ROCKY TRANSITION

It turned out the bootcamp was the gentlest of warm-ups compared to the whirlwind that awaited us in the official term. When the term commenced, juggling four courses, and absorbing vast amounts of new knowledge within a mere six weeks was nothing but drinking from a firehose. What I had spent two weeks learning during the bootcamp barely scratched the surface of what was covered in just the first hour of the first class. While I was able to tell the difference between balance sheet and income statement after bootcamp, I was expected to already know how to bookkeep accounts by the end of the first accounting class.

Old friend Excel made a strong return in the course of Decision-making with Models and Data. This time, it baffled me not only with formulas, but coupled with charts, graphics, and sophisticated statistical language. After the first week, our first assignment was to analyze a group of complex data sets. As I stared at the long list of variables and raw observations, I felt utterly lost, unsure of where to even begin. The first part of the assignment required calculating summary statistics like mean and standard deviation for various variables. I resorted to pen and paper, painstakingly crunching numbers with a calculator before finally transferring the results into Excel.

But then came the second part – and I hit a wall. The task demanded creating tables to display distributions and patterns within the data, and I found myself completely stuck. I turned to my classmates for guidance, and they gave me a hint of using “pivot table”. Intrigued but bewildered, I tried spinning the existing datasheet in different directions, hoping for some magical revelation. Unfortunately, my attempts were more of a befuddled dance than anything productive. Due to time constraints, I didn’t have enough time to delve into the solutions, and my first assignment came out a complete failure.

Flora’s first encounter with the Rotman building

THE JOURNEY TO AN A+

As discouraging as the initial setbacks were, I refused to let the challenges define my entire MBA journey. I knew that transitioning from a language-based background to analytics would require dedication, hard work, and a willingness to seek help when needed. Determined to transform these obstacles into steppingstones, I embarked on a journey of discovery and growth.

With persistence and a thirst for knowledge, I gradually began to navigate the realm of data analysis. I vividly remember the moments when I constantly went to instructors for clarification during class breaks, or when I huddled in study rooms with peers, seeking their guidance on the nuances of complex formulas. These seemingly small actions marked significant milestones in my progress. As my understanding of Excel and statistical methodologies deepened, I found myself more at ease with creating data models and interpreting results.

The conclusion of this story is that I earned an A+ in the data class, proficiently harnessing the Excel power to create data model, run regression, and interpret the results. Looking back, I concluded three key strategies I employed to overcome the challenges and master the quant-heavy course.

Toronto skyline from the lake

1) MANAGE TIME WISELY AND SORT OUT PRIORITIES

Navigating through four courses within a tight six-week timeframe was undeniably intense. Balancing lectures, assignments, exams, and extracurricular activities like club events and case competitions required impeccable time management skills. Recognizing the areas where I needed to improve, I devised a comprehensive study plan that addressed these challenges head-on.

In my study plan, I systematically organized the various components of each course, ensuring a clear roadmap for my studies. Breaking down the complex syllabi into manageable segments, I identified the most challenging topics that demanded extra attention. For instance, in the statistics course, I recognized that hypothesis testing and probability theory were areas where I needed to concentrate. Armed with this insight, I allocated dedicated time slots for delving into these intricate concepts. By dissecting the course components and understanding their individual significance, I was able to set achievable daily goals. For instance, I allocated specific time blocks for studying hypothesis testing, ensuring that I complete all the practice questions in this topic.

To maintain a healthy study-life balance and avoid last-minute stress, I also established realistic deadlines for completing assignments and exam preparations well in advance. By knowing what to do at what time, this systematic approach greatly helped me stay focused and efficient throughout the term.

Rotman Meeting

2) MAKE THE MOST OF THE ROTMAN RESOURCES

At Rotman, a wealth of academic support was readily available to us, and I ensured that I made full use of these invaluable resources. One-on-one tutoring sessions and group scholar sessions led by 2nd-year students were particularly helpful. Attending these scholar sessions allowed me to interact with peers who had faced similar challenges and grasp the intricacies of the courses. The upper-year students leading the sessions knew precisely where we might encounter difficulties and tailored their explanations. As exam time approached, the scholars organized more frequent review sessions to address any last-minute questions or concerns, giving us the extra support needed to excel in our assessments.

In addition to the scholar sessions, Rotman offered free Excel training and certification opportunities, further enhancing my proficiency in the software. Excel, once an intimidating tool, became a powerful asset in my data analysis endeavors. I also took the initiative to attend workshops organized by the Business Analytics Club, where I learned the basics of using Power BI. This additional knowledge expanded my skillset and allowed me to leverage another tool for data visualization and analysis.

3) SEEK GUIDANCE AND COLLABORATION 

Flora Zhang

Throughout the course, I quickly realized that seeking help and collaborating with classmates who had a stronger quantitative background were invaluable strategies. Instead of struggling alone, I actively participated in study teams and sought help from classmates whenever I came upon unfamiliar topic. The support and diverse perspectives from my peers not only helped me grasp difficult topics more effectively, but also fostered friendships that made the learning journey more enjoyable.

Reflecting on my transformative journey, I am committed to paying it forward. I recognize the immense value of collaboration and guidance, and I aim to provide the same support to others who might face similar challenges. Whether through tutoring sessions, study groups, or mentoring opportunities, I believe in creating a community where everyone’s strengths can contribute to collective growth.

Receiving an A+ in that data course was not just a validation of my academic performance; it was a testament to the power of determination and the willingness to embrace challenges. The experience had taught me that with the right mindset and a commitment to continuous learning, I could thrive in any field, even one seemingly distant from my initial expertise in language and journalism.

And now, as I step forward, I’m exhilarated by wielding this freshly honed data-driven prowess during my internship. This new-found analytical acumen not only aligns perfectly with the strategy field but also sets the stage for my envisioned career trajectory. Armed with these skills, I’m poised to navigate the complexities of strategic decision-making, where data insights merge seamlessly with thoughtful planning, propelling me toward a successful and impactful future in strategy.

Flora Zhang is a passionate storyteller and a full-time MBA student at the Rotman School of Management. With a strong background in journalism, Flora spent four years working as a journalist, exploring diverse topics and honing her skills in effective communication. Originally from China, she completed her undergraduate degree majoring in English and French, followed by her first master’s degree in journalism in the UK.

Flora has developed a great interest in the vibrant world of business and strived to pivot her career to help solve real-world business challenges. Now, as an MBA student at Rotman, Flora brings a unique blend of journalistic curiosity and business acumen to her studies. She is dedicated to leveraging their diverse experiences to contribute valuable insights and perspectives to the business world.

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