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Your One Wild and Precious [Time at HBS]

The Harbus surveys RCs and current ECs to uncover their MBA priorities.


Each year, the Portrait Project—created by Tony Deifell (MBA ’02)—poses the graduating class an ostensibly simple, yet deceptively hard-to-answer question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The question, taken from the late Pulitzer-prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” seeks to distill the essence of the graduating class, and capture the venerable spirit of Harvard Business School. To an institution that prides itself on “educat[ing] leaders who make a difference in the world”, Deifell’s question strikes at the heart of “what difference, is it, that you are hoping to make?”

While many of us are likely still some way from being able to answer such a question with conviction, all of us are faced with a question similar, and arguably more pressing. As the new Class of ’25 joins the ranks of current HBS students, and the returning Class of ’24 prepares to enter the ranks of HBS alumni, we find ourselves standing at the precipice of seemingly endless possibility. In a situation where innumerable paths and opportunities appear before us (and one where every day on campus costs us in the region of $500), we are inevitably confronted with the question—towards which endeavors should we devote our time at HBS?

To gauge aggregate sentiment towards this question across our colleagues and peers, the Harbus editorial team conducted a brief survey of 113 RC students and 25 returning EC students to understand how they plan to spend their time. In our analysis we loosely describe the MBA experience as being the sum of three categories of activities (1) Professional, (2) Academic, and (3) Social. Further, we note that this article is written from the perspective of the RC class, for whom this question is likely to be particularly nebulous and stress-inducing at present. Three insights from our analysis follow.

1. RCs appear, on average, to be relatively indecisive. Results from the RC class survey showed a surprisingly uniform distribution, with the mean respondent (denoted by ‘x’ in the chart below) planning to allocate 34 percent of their time to professional activities, and 33 percent to each of their academic, and social activities. Noting that some interpretive liberties have been taken in drawing our conclusion, we will argue that this strikingly balanced allocation is symptomatic of underlying indecision within the cohort—that is to argue that those who do not know what they want, will want some of everything. While the bold among the RC cohort were willing to dedicate significant portions of their time to one particular activity, with at least one respondent indicating that they planned to allocate up to 90 percent of their time towards social activities(!), such individuals were few and far between (outliers are denoted by dots in the chart below). In general, while RCs seemed to agree that professional activities were the highest priority among the three, with greater average values and a slimmer range, the majority of the RC class planned to allocate between 25 and 40 percent of their time to each activity—an approximately even split.


2. RCs will trade professional certainty for academic enrichment. While the above analysis displays the results for the RC class in aggregate, we are conscious that the results, particularly for the professional activity time allocation, may be skewed by a small subset of individuals with employer sponsorships or return offers. As such, the chart below disaggregates the RC class’ survey results into three sub-groups of respondents based on the question: “Do you currently intend to return to your pre-HBS employer, upon completing your MBA?” The majority of respondents fell within the ‘No’ category (74 percent) with the remaining respondents divided into the ‘Maybe’ and ‘Yes’ categories (15 and 11 percent, respectively). Across all categories, the proportion of time allocated towards social activities remained relatively consistent, at 33 to 35 percent, however unsurprisingly, professional and academic time allocations varied materially. The results showed a clear and meaningful trend—those RCs with greater post-MBA job certainty were willing to trade their professional activities for academic ones, while largely maintaining their social efforts.


3. ECs offer a slightly more nuanced perspective. Understandably, some cynics might suggest that deriving insights from responses provided by the (uninitiated) RC class, is in itself, questionable. As a result, we also sought input from HBS’s one-year-wiser EC cohort in the Class of ’24. This class, in general, appeared to favor social activities over professional and academic ones—with 38 percent of their time allocated to social activities, vs 33 percent for the RC class. Their verbatim, which broadly fell into three categories, also offered the RC class some battle-tested words of wisdom. First, build connection: “I spent way more time during RC year on academic and professional activities. While I do think both were valuable, I definitely regretted not forging as many social relationships!” Second, be deliberate: “Be more conscious of time spent on a weekly level. RC year was spent on a more 'what's the most urgent thing to do today' point of view, and somewhere I lost the big picture in chasing every day. Have a better idea of how you want to allocate time at the beginning of the week and adjust that as required.” Finally, stay true: “While HBS offers numerous paths, keeping sight of your own goals and values is essential. Embrace opportunities that resonate with you, and don't be swayed by the crowd. Your unique path is what makes your journey special.”


While nothing about the above intends to represent groundbreaking insight or discovery, we hope it gives you a better—or at least marginally more quantified—sense of how your peers are approaching the MBA optimization problem. If nothing else, we hope you take some solace from the fact that few, if any, of your colleagues in the RC cohort currently appear to know how they should be maximizing their experience at Harvard. Above all, we hope that in two years’ time, if not with an answer to Deifell’s Portrait Project prompt, you will all at least be satisfied with your answer to: “Tell Me, What Is It You Plan to Do with Your One Wild and Precious [Time at HBS]?”




Edouard Lyndt (MBA ’25) is from Australia. An example of someone who took the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ thing too far, he has explored a range of career paths spanning M&A, strategy, product management, and even (very briefly) professional fighting. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, cooking, and exercise.



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