Fiona Li (2Y 2020) shares academic experience as an International student and the courses that impacted her the most.

GCC Series: Knowing What You Want and Learning to Prioritize

This Q&A with Fiona Li (2Y 2020) is the beginning of a series from representatives of Kellogg’s Greater China Club. Click here to view all the posts in this series!

Describe your academic experience at Kellogg in one line.

A perfect combo of breadth across different areas of business and depth into finance once I decided to pursue a career in this direction.

Have you studied abroad before Kellogg? What was your expectation of studying at Kellogg?

No, I did my undergrad in Beijing, China. My expectations included great autonomy in shaping my curriculum and lively classroom interactions drawing on diverse backgrounds of my classmates. Most classes met expectations; some blew my mind.

Coming from a non-traditional MBA candidate background, what were some of your concerns and how did you mitigate them?

I studied political science in college and worked as a journalist. Coming in, I was worried about struggling with the basics. The intro classes spelled out for me the foundations I needed to build and took the anxiety out of the first quarter. Having a few months to explore the course options, it was much easier to develop a plan for the rest of the two years. As my post-Kellogg career plan took shape, my studies in the second year had a clearer focus and motivation.

How did you use the academic resources at Kellogg?

The best resource was talking to second years (like in most things b-school) but I always recalibrate others’ opinions to my baseline knowledge, interests and priorities.

What were the three courses/professors you like the most?

1.“M&A, LBOs and Corporate Restructuring” and “Global Entrepreneurial Finance” with Jose Liberti

At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, these two classes are the highlights of my MBA. Professor Liberti, or Jose as students know him, treats us like colleagues and devotes an inordinate amount of energy to ensuring our learning is not only thorough, but also a great deal of fun. The classes combine strategic thinking, financial theories and rigorous modelling. We debate messy, real-life complexities involving legal battles or ego-driven decisions in distressed firms, family businesses and cross-border deals. Every year, the challenging content attracts students, often with strong interests and knowledge in finance, who want (yes, voluntarily!) to go to class 6+ hours a week, meet 6 to 8+ hours in a group, and work another 10 to 20+ hours on readings and valuation models. Friendships and camaraderie invariably emerge as a byproduct of common interest and shared effort. Beyond finance, the classes served as a lesson in hard work, team play and authenticity.

2.“Customer Analytics and AI” with Florian Zettlemeyer

If, like me, you don’t know how to code and experience severe imposter syndrome whenever the conversation turns to AI, machine learning or neural network, Professor Zettlemeyer is the perfect instructor to demystify coding in R language and using AI for business. Prof. Zettlemeyer’s ability to break down technical topics makes it fun to learn even the most tedious code. His extensive experience working with companies in their advanced analytics means we get to hear great stories about how things do and do not work in the real world. The course is well worth the effort, even for careers outside marketing, because so much of the business world during our professional lives will be driven by data analytics. We could all use a better grasp of this new language of business.

3. “Business Strategy” with Craig Garthwaite

As an intro class, this one might appear daunting for International students because of the fast pace of the class and how much you have to read. However, the payoff in strategic thinking is long-lasting if you embrace the learning experience and grow a thick skin toward being wrong when cold-called upon. This was my introduction to the American classroom where my goal is not to answer correctly or sound smart (Yes, let that go. No one will remember what you said.) but to challenge myself to construct arguments and find my voice in a fast-moving discussion.

Anything else you would like to mention about the academic experience?

The academic experience is what you make of it. It is your choice when/whether to prioritize studying or other arguably more important things. Know what you want to get out of the MBA and use that to guide your choices.