This past week I was happy to participate, along with my teammates Melinda Lanius, Ben Fulan, and Alonza Terry (PhD students in Mathematics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), in a non-mba Case Competition hosted by Cornell and Rockefeller Universities (http://cr-casecomp.org). Out of 60 team applications, only the top 30 were chosen (that means we were in the top half!).
It was an excellent experience. Usually case competitions are an activity that MBA students participate in to hone their analytic and presentation skills. This event, however, was designed to “foster the next generation of consultants with advanced degrees”, so it focused on translating our skills from PhD programs towards the problem solving process that occurs when consultants help organizations and company’s with internal problems. Those problems can range from implementing a new type of technology to suggesting potential business acquisitions and mergers. The event even had a panel of recent Doctorates who answered questions about transitioning into a non-academic (and very lucrative) career.
Most of our competition at the event sprang from the life sciences (chemistry and biology) but we lucked out that the case prompt dealt with Yahoo!’s strategic plan for the next 3-5 years. I might have had a thing or two to say about that particular topic after my exciting internship at Time Inc. this summer…
Below I am including our team’s cover letter and my own abbreviated resume as a submission example (if anyone is interested in applying to a case competition in the future) in addition to our slide-deck.
This event taught me one very important thing about the difference between academic writing and the professional world:
In academia, you spend 80% of your documents laying out your literature/ theory, data (whether a text, observations, or numbers), and analysis, then in the final 20% offer conclusions, implications, and impact.
In the professional world, you spend 80% on impact and implications. The rest is provided as an appendix which is likely never read. No one cares “how” or “why” you came to your results, they want to know what the stakes are and what the resulting actions should be. The audience gives both a startling and yet intoxicating level of trust. At the same time, it is terrifying to realize how easily such an audience can be swayed by a new buzzword or elegant logic chain that bears no resemblance to reality.