One of the best academic courses I have ever taken, SCM.260: Logistics Systems (aka 1.260, 15.770, IDS.730), teaches the fundamentals of demand forecasting, inventory management, and freight transportation. It is a highly recommended course for anyone who intends to have a career in supply chain management and/or operations. Most of the theory covered in the course is available online (as SC1x) for anyone to audit for free on edX. I had taken SC1x online earlier as a verified learner. However, I still chose to do SCM.260 as part of my master’s in Supply Chain Management, to have another layer of learning and I believe it was one of my best decisions.
My background in supply chain is extensively focused on software technology. While I learned the basics of supply chain systems through SC1x, a deeper layer of learning through case studies and classroom discussions helped transition my basic understanding of the subject to building an intuition. I believe this was imperative for me, or for anyone else looking for a career transformation. For people, including myself, who haven’t worked in core supply chain (Demand Planning, Inventory management, Logistics, and Warehousing), concepts discussed in this course were not intuitive. It was imperative for me to build this intuition, more so, in the light of new era where a significant portion of companies are relying on technology and supply chain to be profitable in the least time and in the most sustainable fashion.
With a semester-long 12 credit spread, the course covered a lot of ground. What separates this course from others is the unique blended delivery wherein students are supposed to watch videos and complete individual exercises on MITx to understand the basic theory, and then attend the classroom sessions for a deeper and more practical discussion. Our weekends were spent watching the lectures on MITx, and Mondays began with a quiz at 8AM (who says Mondays must be boring?). We also had the opportunity to attend guest lectures from industry leaders on a few weeks during the semester. Our week ended with a group case study submission and the individual problem sets on MITx. The course ended with a bang with a final exam on December 15.
The concepts we learned in this course are used to solve several current and potential future supply chain issues, including the problems we are facing in our capstone projects right now! Adding to the cherry on the cake, the credits from this course also count towards the Business Analytics Certificate offered by the Sloan School of Management.
A huge thank you to my supply chain guru Dr Chris Caplice for all his efforts to teach students around the globe.
I sat in class, the professor again repeating the technique we were expected to learn but about which I was still woefully confused. I was immediately struck with self-doubt. I put my head down on the desk and started to cry.
The small upside was that at least no one could see my meltdown. Because I wasn’t actually in class but instead enrolled in online learning. And the professor wasn’t technically repeating himself; I was just rewatching the lecture video for the third time, intensely focused and absorbing nothing.
See, my graduate program is a little non-traditional. As part of the blended cohort of the Supply Chain Management master’s program, my classmates and I had to complete five online courses and pass a comprehensive exam before we could even apply to MIT. Because of this, I now consider myself a minor expert in online learning and want to share my pro tips with you!
I’ve stayed away from technical aspects of virtual learning (there’s already tons of great advice out there), and have instead focused on the emotional lessons I picked up on my journey. The five lessons below allowed me to stay positive, motivated, excited about my education, and, most importantly, sane even in the insane, isolated bubble of learning online.
Lesson 1 – Hold Tight to Your Perspective: I know that one of the reasons I lost my mind during that lecture was that I had also lost sight of what I was attempting. It was only later when my husband scoffed, “Who would have guessed that MIT would be hard?” that I remembered that grad school is supposed to be a challenge! What is apparent in physical classes but invisible online is the context of other people struggling to learn the material right along with you. Just remember what my husband reminded me of that day: This is MIT—it’s going to be hard!
Lesson 2 – The Perfection Conundrum: I can attest that Imposter Syndrome is alive and well at MIT, even off campus. When working alone behind your computer screen, it’s easy to get caught in a quest for perfection. Because I never truly felt confident in my knowledge, I would feel the panicked jump of my heart each time I encountered a challenging new concept, an incorrect answer, or a lost point on an exam. While I discourage judging yourself by others’ successes, if I had seen classmates who I knew were talented, passionate, and intelligent also “fail” to achieve perfection, I would have more easily set reasonable expectations for myself. Remember that feeling challenged isn’t a personal failing, but instead an opportunity to grow yourself and your knowledge beyond what you thought possible.
Lesson 3 – Build (Virtual) Bridges: As you might already know, virtual classes can quickly become isolating and lonely. While nothing will ever truly replace the catharsis of commiserating with a classmate over a coffee or pulling an all-nighter with a friend toiling at your side, I still recommend making connections where you can. This is going to require some effort as you will have to actively create opportunities for conversation—no organic bonding over borrowing a pen or getting lost together on the way to the first day’s lecture. Forge new connections boldly, ask strangers personal questions, be vulnerable and request help from someone with more experience, talk about your pets (everyone loves their pets). Be prepared to fight through some awkward web meetups and devastating time zone differences. Even from separate geographical locations, the friends you make in your classes will become invaluable to you. No one will ever understand your pain as much or celebrate your success quite the same way as your MIT compatriots.
Lesson 4 – Be a Little Selfish: When studying remotely, I was plagued by my divergent responsibilities. Simultaneously, I wanted to be a good full-time employee, good daughter, good friend, good wife, and good student. Working from home makes it easy to feel overwhelmed, isolated, and unmotivated. So I officially give you permission to be selfish. Even from home, it’s important that you allow yourself to focus on your education just as much as if you were physically at school. When I was preparing for my comprehensive exam, I had 5 courses (400 pages of required material, 14 handwritten notebooks, and about 1 trillion formulas) to refresh in just 4 weeks. The first thing I did was schedule myself off from work each Friday for the weeks leading up to the exam. More than just extra study hours, this time off was a clear sign to my employer and to myself that my time was going to be prioritized differently. For just that month, I focused exclusively on my own needs because I knew what I was doing was important to my future success.
Lesson 5 – Throw Some Confetti: The other side of not having classmates around to commiserate with is that you also don’t have folks around to celebrate with when you do (and you will) finally pass that exam/complete that report/get that experiment to function. Never forget that what you are doing is remarkable and impressive. Take the time to celebrate your successes and find people to celebrate with you, even if it’s a Zoom party with classmates or your best friend only pretending to be excited that your network optimization model finally works.
There is an emotional polarity to virtual learning—the highs are high, the lows are low and lonely—but there are of course also benefits to the experience. Where else could you, when feeling particularly frustrated by a subject, simply shut the professor down and stomp out of the room? Or crack a beer as you complete an exam? Virtual learning may not be the academic experience of your dreams, but I’m here to tell you there are great lessons to be learned from the experience: not just in your thesis subject, but also about yourself.
“Studying at MIT is like drinking from a firehose”: by now you’ve probably heard this famous MIT analogy plenty of times. Indeed, studying in Cambridge will feel like gulping from an endless stream of knowledge.
One of the many things you will have to complete during your first weeks at MIT (regardless of SCM Residential or Blended program) is enrolling in the courses that will allow you to graduate, this will allow you to control a bit the throttle of that firehose. There are basically two approaches you can follow when choosing what to enroll in at MIT, there is no better or worse, so let’s call them the “efficient” and the “holistic” way.
It all comes down to where you set your priorities in this exciting new phase of your life. If you want to focus on job-search, networking, researching for your projects and attending as many conferences as possible during your time on campus, then you may want to choose the former approach. On the other hand, if you really want to maximize the purely academic aspect of your learning, then (provided you spend enough time and research) all academic doors will be open for you at MIT. This latter way is nevertheless not free of sweat, disappointment, head-scratching, patience, rejection, and the necessary bit of luck too.
The efficient way of choosing subjects relies on a very useful tool programmed by MIT students called – pertinently – “firehose.” This tool is a web-based scheduler, with which you can successively select courses, and will add up in a week overview (see image) where you can see how your weekly schedule potentially will look. This process is quite easy, in the case of SCM you have to successively add your mandatory courses first (which are non-negotiables in any scenario) to build the wireframe of your schedule. Then you add some SCM elective subjects up until the required number (see SCM curriculum here). Until this point you should have no schedule conflict, as Maria J. Saenz, Josue Velazquez and the team make sure that all SCM lectures fit. Now the most important setting in Firehose is to click on “Fits schedule”, this will make sure that any further subject added in your search does not conflict with your existing plan. Finally, you can search any keyword (“Artificial Intelligence”, “Entrepreneurship,”etc.) and choose a couple of other subjects up to a limit of 65 credits per semester.
As you will see, this method will lead you relatively quickly to a feasible solution for your class scheduling problem. But as you should know from Chris Caplice’s optimization lecture in edX by now, heuristics can get stuck on local maximums, while there may still be your global “academic” maximum out there.
In order to discover this global maximum, you will need to look further at the full solution space. This includes shifting around some subjects, discarding some previously selected ones, and even getting into a bidding war for Sloan credits. The full course catalog of MIT is available here.Just make sure in the MIT course catalog to filter for courses offered in your year and semester.
Now, when you thought you had all bases covered… let me multiply that choice by 4. MIT offers not only their own course catalog mentioned above, but also cross-registration with 3 other major universities in Boston and Cambridge — including a crimson-colored one, up the street from MIT — so you will meet in some of your classes and assignment groups students from other local universities cross-registered at MIT.
As for my unconventional choices beyond the pure SCM curriculum, to give you an example: I am taking a class in Human Augmentation at the Media Lab called Human 2.0. I can only say that the class is as fascinating as the MIT professor’s TED Talk online, which is how I found this course. I am also enrolled in a Sloan Class on Mergers, Acquisitions and Private Equity. It’s quite MBA / finance-oriented and I got in via the waitlist, but it is a deep personal and professional interest of mine, and the professor is amazing at fostering discussions in class. Finally, I’m taking a class at Harvard on “Urban Innovation: Using Technology to Drive Change”, brilliantly taught by former Indianapolis Mayor and NYC Deputy Mayor Professor Stephen Goldsmith.
In summary, no matter what your interests or preferences are, you will surely find courses at MIT that will challenge you and enhance your learning experience beyond Supply Chain, provided you put some effort into finding them and use the right tools.
If someone had told me 3 years ago while my team and I were poring over an SAP Warehouse Management requirements document at 11 PM at night in a conference room near Stuttgart, Germany, that I would take a hiatus from my job to complete my graduate program in Supply Chain & Logistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I would have probably laughed them out of sight.
That night was the trigger for embarking on this incredulous journey. I remember searching for supply chain network design models to figure out other ways of optimally locating distribution centers. I chanced upon the Supply Chain MicroMasters offered on edX.org. The words “using the same curriculum that is part of the Masters SCM program” caught my eye. Wait, the #1 ranked SCM program in the world…with the same world-class faculty…for a fraction of the price?! Without further ado, I signed up for SC2X, the specific course which focused on network design. In the consulting world where no business problem was too big or too small and learning new stuff is business as usual, I thought to myself, “how difficult can this be, it’s only an online course”.
I was in for a surprise. The course was challenging, rigorous, quantitative, informative and brain tickling. The instruction was vastly superior to the other Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that had come my way but failed to hold my attention span. The courses were uniquely structured. They were self-paced, with short intense videos, followed by practice problems, recitations, exams – the whole shebang. Learning calculus and geometry after two odd decades was hard. But what was harder was learning to be disciplined managing multiple priorities every day, to persevere till the SAS code worked, to exercise restraint when faced with multiple distractions that life throws at you and to keep your mind open to receiving infinite wisdom. The course was determined not to let me go till I learnt every concept fully – and just when I felt like giving up, when life got too overwhelming – fires to fight, looming deadlines or my family left on vacation without me (yes, that really did happen) – something interesting would happen. There would be a new simulation software which was fun or an online game or a great hangout session with the *awesome* community, that I would get right back into it. Thus, started my tryst with MITx and the SCM MicroMasters program. I signed up for all the other SCX courses and the comprehensive final exam (CFx) all within the year. I was truly hooked.
I felt the light bulb turn on in mid-April this year when I attended a Distinguished Speaker series lecture by Dr. Sanjay Sarma, Vice President of Open Learning at MIT. Dr. Sarma spoke about the launch of MITx and the science behind the MicroMasters. The MicroMasters instructional design was developed in collaboration with MIT’s Neuroscience department. The course structure takes into consideration the below 12 principles:
You may ask: What are they and how does it matter? Research around mind wandering, for example, suggests short learning cycles (no more than 10 minutes) with quick Q&A for long term knowledge retention. Findings around peer learning suggest that community-based learning helps in faster reinforced learning…you get the idea. The MicroMasters is MIT’s contribution to the field of modern education based on MIT’s own research.
Fast forward to present day on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, MA, as I walk along the river from my class (Blended Masters in Supply Chain), I reminisce about ‘that’ night and I feel an odd mixture of satisfaction, gravity, pride and responsibility. It was a true leap of faith from MIT’s SCM MicroMasters staff and faculty. They built, we came. And we did come – from different countries, diverse backgrounds, different roads taken and not taken, but with similar stories, dogged determination, sheer grit and a limitless craving to soak up the knowledge. Our paths converged here at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), a veritable intellectual Disneyland. Life can be unpredictable, sure. But life also opens doors to fleeting slivers of opportunity – to seize the moment, challenge the status quo, to ask ‘why not’ instead of ‘why’, to embark on a journey to disrupt yourself and be the change that you want to see in the world.
What are the similarities among these companies: Dropbox, Intel, iRobot, Kiva Systems, Bose?
Well, they all seem unique with different business models that solve different problems, right? For example, Dropbox enables file synchronization and sharing; Intel designs and manufactures chips; iRobot, well, sells cleaner robots; Kiva, now Amazon Robotics, is an industrial robot company that automates warehouse operations; and Bose is well known for its high quality audio devices. How could these companies be similar?
It turns out that they are founded by MIT alumni.
The MIT Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Entrepreneurship is at the heart of MIT. A 2015 report by MIT Sloan School of Management estimates that around 30,000 companies are founded by MIT alumni, employing roughly 4.6 million people and producing an aggregated annual revenue of USD 1.9 trillion, equivalent to the world’s 10th largest economy.
What is the secret source for MIT that’s so successful at nurturing its students’ entrepreneurial spirits? Based on our first-hand experiences here, we believe part of it is the startup resources provided in different shapes and formats. True to the motto of MIT (mens et manus: mind and hand), these resources are a mix of academics as well as practical experiences. Below are some of the relevant and exciting ones:
The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Located in the same building as CTL, the Trust Center aims to educate MIT students in innovation-driven entrepreneurship and provides proven frameworks, courses, facilities, and advisory services, for students aspiring to be entrepreneurs.
MIT fuse. MIT fuse is a 3-week hands-on startup experience during the 3-week Independent Activities Period[ (IAP) in January for students to learn the essential aspects of entrepreneurship — including storytelling, research, marketing, UX, testing, etc. — from Entrepreneurs in Residence mentors and other startup founders.
t=0. t=0 is campus-wide festival of entrepreneurship and innovation, bringing together student clubs, departments and startups to showcase innovation and entrepreneurship. t=0 means “the time is now”, which mean that there is no better time than the present to start entrepreneurship.
delta v. MIT delta v is a 12-week academic accelerator program (June to early September) for entrepreneurial students. It is one of the most visible programs because it identifies the best startup teams from all different MIT departments and disciplines. delta v focuses on providing a unique combination of space (for cohort-based lateral learning), money (via fellowships so students can and must be full time), structure (as a forcing function for learning and building capabilities), and status (for personal confidence and exposure). In 2018, MIT delta v selected 27 teams that received intensive entrepreneurship training, direct advice from 250+ coaches and mentors, mock board reviews, up to $20,000 USD equity free funding, $2,000 USD monthly fellowship and access to office space and prototyping tools and labs in MIT or New York City.
MIT $100K. MIT $100K is a business plan competition that has been running for 20 years and facilitated the birth of 120+ companies. The competition includes elevator pitch, executive summary contests, and detailed business plan judged by panels of experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and legal practitioners.
MIT Innovation Initiative. The MIT Innovation Initiative collaborates with all five schools at MIT to strengthen the vibrant culture and programming of innovation and principled entrepreneurship. Under the MIT Innovation Initiative, the MIT Entrepreneurs Hub helps students and alumni navigate MIT’s vast entrepreneurial network and find teammates, partners, and supporters.
MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. IDEAS is an annual competition for social entrepreneurship among MIT students. It encourages students to solve problems and improve quality of life issues for people around the world by applying their MIT education in real-world situations. Since 2001, $975,000 has been awarded to 150 winning teams that have served the needs of tens of thousands of people.
Entrepreneurship for SCM Students
The SCMr program is 10 months long and the SCMb program is 5 months long – both are relatively short compared to other MIT programs. However, as aspiring future entrepreneurs, you can still maximize your exposure to the MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem and the abundant resources, if you plan carefully and ahead of time.
The best place to start even before you come on campus is to read the book Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, by Bill Aulet, the Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. It also helps a lot by researching all the events and resources that you are interested in and preparing you for a more purposeful selection of resources once you arrive.
Once on campus, for SCMr students who are serious about entrepreneurship, you can consider taking 15.360 Introduction to Technological Entrepreneurship and 15.911 Entrepreneurial Strategy classes in the fall, and then 15.390 New Enterprises class in the spring. Depending on your workload, the stage of your current entrepreneurship journey, and your interests in a specific industry, you can also consider other classes such as 15.366 Energy Ventures, 15.367 Healthcare Ventures, 15.497 FinTech Ventures, 15.394 Entrepreneurial Founding and Teams, or 15.392 Scaling Entrepreneurial Ventures. You can register and participate in the MIT $100K PITCH Contest and test your idea with a 60-second “elevator pitch” in front of a large audience for a cash award. You can also join many of the workshops offered by MIT IDEAS and compete in the first round of the IDEAS Global Challenge and win up to $15,000 per team to make your idea a reality.
For SCMb students, due to the time constraint, you can consider taking 15.390 New Enterprises class in the spring if you are new to entrepreneurship, or taking 15.392 Scaling Entrepreneurial Ventures or 15.911 Entrepreneurial Strategy if you already know the basics. Both SCMr and SCMb students have time to participate in the MIT $100K ACCELERATE and LAUNCH Contest and have a chance to win the $100,000 grand prize. You can also join the additional workshops offered by MIT IDEAS and compete for the second round of the IDEAS Global Challenge.
Last but not least, if you are committed to your startup ideas and have made good progress, you can apply for the MIT delta v in March for the opportunity to spend an intensive three months from June to early September in Cambridge or New York City to fast track your venture.
Through this blog post, we hope you have gained some insight into the MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem and are excited about the resources provided by MIT. Future SCM students who aspire to create your own startups upon graduation: what are you waiting for?
The MIT Supply Chain Management’s Blended Cohort for the year 2018-19 is a pretty diverse group of individuals. I use the word ‘Individual’ to emphasize that each person as an individual committed over one and a half years of his or her life doing the micromaster’s credentials, managing work/life balance, and spending over 12 hours a week going through the course material. It was an individual achievement of each and every one of the thirty-six people in this year’s batch.
Getting into the MIT Supply Chain Blended program was an amazing opportunity for me. I decided to take this opportunity, but I had my fears about whether I would be able to cope with the coursework. Coming from seven years of a full-time job, it was difficult for me to imagine going back to the university to the ‘classroom environment,’ even though I had completed my micromaster’s credentials.
We had a lot of opportunities to mingle with the SCMb batch during the first week. From all my interactions, I got to know that most people like myself were coming in with industry experience and did not have an understanding of what we were truly in for.
Studying online gave us a lot of flexibility on how to study the different courses. While watching the videos, some people preferred to go fast, some preferred to go slow, but each and every one learned at his or her own pace. The one common thing that each of us had was the desire, perseverance and commitment to complete all the five micromaster’s courses and take the CFx exam.
Being here at MIT is a dream in itself, but watching Dr. Yossi Sheffi, Dr. Chris Caplice, Dr. Eva Ponce and all the other faculty members who made the videos and with whom we all interacted virtually teaching us in real life is a surreal experience. It is hundred times better learning from them in real life than through online videos.
However, learning in-classroom brings about its own challenges. It has advantages and drawbacks, the first being that the flexibility that online learning provided us is not there. The pace of the classroom setting is defined by the instructor. There are no repeats or rewinds or pauses! But with thirty-six individuals going through the same situation, these drawbacks are easily overcome by group study sessions, hard work and support from CTL advisors and post-doctoral candidates. They make sure that you will survive.
I remember in the first week, we had our first social event with the SCMr batch and with all the CTL faculty and post-docs in attendance. Dr. Josue Velazquez (Executive Director of the SCMb program) came up to me, introduced himself, and during the conversation, he himself said ‘Our goal is to challenge you during your five months here.’
Fear not, though: during the first three months here I have heard the phrase that studying at MIT is like ‘drinking through a firehose.’ It has absolutely felt like drinking from the firehose with managing the pre-readings, class assignments, homeworks and the capstone, but I have definitely felt challenged by the pace and the knowledge transfer. My experience here is very different from what I imagined when I got my offer letter in May 2018.
I would recommend each and every one of you to attend this program if you receive your offer letter because you will not regret the decision even once.
The decision to come to MIT was not easy; leaving behind my family and going for in-classroom learning. But I have survived with the help of new friends and the staff at CTL.
I’m a 40-year-old proud father of two boys. I’m a Belgian and work full-time job as an operations manager in a Chinese factory. I like to go play basketball and hang out with friends. So, what would drive me to spend about 8 hours a week on on-line learning?
The short answer to that question is “all of the above.” It’s because I’m a father and a husband. It’s because I’m a foreigner in China, and it’s because I always want to have time to spend with my friends, that I engage in online learning.
As much as I love my kids and wife, at some moments they can be a bit much to handle. That’s when I need some time alone to find answers the questions I’m struggling with. Besides this, I also find it important to set an example for my kids. I want to teach them and show them in practice that learning never ends. I want to show them that learning can be fun and that even dad sometimes must do homework. Both being an example for my kids and getting some quiet time for myself I can find when I’m learning online.
I like my job and I’m always trying to find ways to do it better. Since the internet became available, a world of knowledge has opened up. No more hassle convincing my boss that I need time off or that I need money to take a class. No more struggling with trying to follow in an all-Chinese class or realizing when I’m already in the class that it is not what I expected. Now if I want to know about something, I go to Google and YouTube. If I want to know more about the subject, I take an online course on edX. If that’s still not enough, I can go to offline classes. What’s more, now I now have good enough knowledge to select the best offline class out there. This is exactly the process I followed before I got accepted in to the Supply Chain Management Blended program at MIT.
Family and friends come first in my life. So, when they ask me to join them for a game of basketball, a drink or a day hiking, I want to be able to say yes. I also want to keep learning and, as Murphy’s Law dictates, the two times will always overlap. With online learning, this doesn’t have to be the case. I can take the lessons and tests at my convenience. I don’t have to disappoint my friends anymore, and I don’t have to choose between my family and my passion for learning.
Without online learning I would have never thought about applying to a world class institute like MIT. Without MIT I would never have had to opportunity to not only meet and work with the brightest people in the supply chain field but also call them my friends. I now have the knowledge to do a better job and the knowledge to teach my kids. I now have time to spend with my family and friends without sacrificing time to learn. If knowledge is power and time is money, then I would say online learning is one of the most value-adding things a person can do.