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Real Humans of the MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2023

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Rebecca Durr, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2023

Age: 31
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Undergraduate Institution and Major: UC Santa Barbara, B.A. Chemistry & UC Berkeley, Ph.D. Chemistry
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 5 years in academia (chemistry), < 1 year teaching professorship (chemistry), 3 years sustainable materials/textiles R&D in the outdoor industry

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
Like so many others during the pandemic, I had a lot of time around the home to renovate my basement, splurge on LEGO kits, and feed my rye sourdough starter (until I ran out of flour). Lock-down also afforded me the time to reexamine my career. Being only a few years out of my Ph.D., I was already an exceptionally qualified bench chemist and materials innovator, yet I wanted to more purposefully pivot to be a Leader, not just a leader in STEM. My core skillset is quite unusual for a scientist in that my key strengths are as a communicator, leader, competitor, and achiever, which I knew could be profoundly impactful in the business sector. Quarantine provided the time and space for me to reimagine my career, and eventually I decided to pursue my MBA in order to accelerate my career in this direction.

Why did you choose MIT Sloan? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I knew I was going to get exceptional MBA programming at any of the schools to which I was applying, so the student and alumni networks and campus culture became a primary factor in my decision. Sloan really is a low-ego place, which I have found is essential to creating a safe (and therefore innovative) environment. My peers and I truly believe we have something to learn from everyone around us, and we’re right. Sloan is also located in what could be considered the biotech capital of the world. The programming, community, and network are all positioned for students to accelerate into this innovative and technology-driven environment, and I plan to fully utilize those resources. Also, data is one of my love languages, so the curriculum emphasis on data-motivated decision making and logic appeals to me.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
My superpower is that I can speak the highly technical and communicate it to any audience as digestible. I have a rare technical background in the MBA world: there aren’t many Ph.D. scientists pursuing MBAs, as typically the skillsets don’t overlap significantly. From my experience as a bench scientist, I am skilled at experimental design, data synthesis and trend analysis, viewing data with a skeptical eye, and understanding the value in trying to disprove something rather than prove it. But there are secondary benefits to coming from a chemistry background that I am just discovering. For example, it’s incredible the amount of overlap finding the slow-step in a chemical reaction has with identifying a bottleneck in a process build-up diagram.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I have traveled to all seven continents and nearly 40 countries. Still, that is only a small percentage of the countries on the planet, and one of the things I’m looking forward to most is traveling with my new peers, some of whom can show me around their home countries!

Post-MBA career interests:
My ultimate goal is to promote more female-led ventures, particularly in STEM and sustainability, both as a founder and as a funder. At Sloan, I am co-founding my own venture, and I am working to secure seed funding to accelerate this venture. In the short-term, I plan to gain exposure to operations and entrepreneurship, and transition into the venture capital (VC) and new technology sourcing and selection side of entrepreneurship. I can have a substantial impact on multiple ventures as an investor, and I am very excited to move into the VC space.

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Spend several weeks of introspective time assessing your strengths, weaknesses, things you’ve liked about past teams/jobs, things you’ve disliked about past teams/jobs. A consultant could be helpful for this stage in terms of helping to synthesize what appears to be a lot of disjointed information. What comes out of this analysis is a clear picture of who you are as a human, and what drives you. This will come in handy not only for the application process but also as you progress through this next stage of your career and life.

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
There was one school to which I applied that I really didn’t feel drawn towards, and was unsure if I even would attend if accepted. I still applied, but let my indecision get in the way of better resource management during the application process. I’d recommend not applying to a school unless you’re set on attending.

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
I would have skipped the standardized testing portion. I didn’t like the value the application process placed on a test score, and felt my contributions to an MBA program were more strongly represented by what I was providing in other aspects of the application. In the end, I got through it by just cranking out the studying and exams, and setting deadlines on how long I was willing to commit to the studying/exam portion of the application. I ended up applying with my GRE score, if that is useful to anyone going through the process!

What is your initial impression of the MIT Sloan students/culture/community?
Sharp. The community is clever, observant, communicative, quick-witted, lively, and driven. It’s an outstanding group to call my peers, mentors, and friends!

What is one thing you have learned about MIT Sloan that has surprised you?
How much my peers have achieved in their careers thus far, coming from all sorts of backgrounds! I am learning things every day from my new colleagues, and am so grateful to have them alongside me for this MBA journey.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
Not being able to formally visit campuses and meet students before attending was difficult. I was able to visit a few schools informally through friends I had made during the admissions process, which was instrumental in my final decision to attend Sloan over my other options. Getting a “feel” for a campus and student body was really important for my decision process.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
My dog getting bored at home while I’m away! But luckily, the mountains and rivers are only a short drive away, so I’ve been getting out on the weekends to explore quite a bit.

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I am excited to see where I personally am this time next year! There are so many opportunities here at Sloan, and I’ve always tried to follow what feels exciting to me. I’m very curious and excited to see which paths become roads, as I begin crossing the next horizon in my career.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.