Term 3: Dissertation, PDP, & Personal Reflection

We are now well into Term 3 here at Aston University and my main focus is getting through my dissertation.  During Term 3 there are two main requirements that we are supposed to be doing.  The first is to fulfill out PDP requirement, which is designed to help prepare us for our careers.  We have the option of studying abroad, securing an internship or work related activity, or attend workshops designed to build certain skills.  I decided to do a mixture of a work related activity and a workshop.

My work related activity was covered by the Hult Prize competition that I competed in here at Aston and in Dubai.  This counted towards my PDP requirement because it was all about building a business and I would like to start my own business once I graduate.  Though this work related activity was accepted, I also was required to participate in one additional workshop.  I decided to do a one day strategy simulation workshop, which gave us scenarios for a business in which we had to make strategic decisions.  There was some friendly competition and we all were able to experience a little bit of what its like to make decisions while running a company.

In working on my dissertation, I have had to be disciplined.  It is difficult to stay focused and work on it when the deadline isn’t until September.  However, I know that time flies, so I am doing my best to get it done as early as possible, especially since we are required to have around 12,000-20,000 words of quality research.  In talking with other classmates, they have the same feelings towards completing their dissertation.  Others have told me that they are forcing themselves to go to the library for four to five hours a day so they can get it done.  When I am not working on my dissertation, I try to stay busy on my business idea.  I will be testing/piloting the idea this summer with a potential business partner.

I can’t believe how fast my time at Aston University has gone.  It seems like yesterday I was just arriving in the UK to start this adventure.  Since the majority of my work here at Aston is finished, I now will take the time to reflect back on some of the highlights of Aston and try to give some advice to anyone thinking about getting their master degree from Aston.

Throughout my time at Aston, I felt that I have grown considerably in my business knowledge.  During the actual course, I didn’t notice the progress I made as much as I do now.  I feel that I have a better way of approaching and thinking about business and strategy as a whole.  When I came to Aston, I told myself that I wanted to focus more on learning and less on the grades I received.  In doing so, I feel that my learning has been enhanced, which has resulted in pretty good marks.  With the learning I have experienced, I now feel that I can transfer it into the real world instead of just using it for an exam.

Besides the actual learning that took place, I also have gained a lot of confidence in my own abilities.  Before coming to Aston I knew I wanted to start my own business.  However, I didn’t really know where to start.  As I near the end of my time here, I now know what I need to do to succeed and I have to confidence to make it happen.

I am also grateful for the exposure I have had with students from all over the world.  I have met and worked with people from almost every continent.  It is a cool thing to have friends and contacts from all over the world.  I hope to keep in contact with many of them, and who knows, maybe I will work with some of my classmates in the future.

For those who want to get a master degree, prepare to work hard.  Without a good work ethic, spending the time, money, and energy on a degree won’t be worth it.  However, if you put the work in, you will leave in a better situation than when you entered.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding Aston or earning a master degree.

Amsterdam

My wife and I made a weekend trip to Amsterdam with some friends of ours.  It was a fun break to have before I really start to focus all of my time and attention on my dissertation.  There were a couple of highlights that stuck out to me.   The first was visiting the Anne Frank house and learning more about her life and the lives of others like her.  It was a insightful experience and I would recommend it to everyone who has the chance to visit Amsterdam.  The second highlight of the trip was riding bikes through the tulip fields and enjoying the scenery. Overall, my thoughts on Amsterdam was that it is a very pretty city with a lot of charm.  There were plenty of great places to sit out by the canals and enjoy the view.  Below are a few pictures from our adventures.

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The time here at Aston University is moving quickly.  Before I know it, I will be turning my dissertation in and taking on the real world.  Though we hope to visit a few more places before September, my main focus is now to work on my dissertation.  I recently came to the realization that it is going to take a lot of work and discipline to produce a quality paper.  I will talk more about this in my next blog post.

Greece and Turkey

My Easter Holiday started out with a bang as my wife’s parents came to visit us from the States. They were only in Birmingham for one day before the four of us went on holiday to Greece and Turkey.  We stayed in places we found on Airbnb, which is cheaper and allows you to feel like more of a local.

Our first stop was Athens, Greece.  Here we visited the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, and a few museums.

Temple of Zeus
Temple of Zeus
Parthenon
Parthenon

Next, we went to Santorini, which was more of the relaxing part of the trip.  We got to stay in a cave house just like the ones you see in the brochures!  We had a great view from our front porch and were able to go to the beach, though the water was freezing!

Lunch on a black sand beach
Lunch on a black sand beach
View from our front porch
View from our front porch
Red Beach
Red Beach
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Watching the sunset

 

We then our way to Selçuk/Ephesus, Turkey.  Selçuk is a small town with a lot of history, as the ancient city of Ephesus is just outside of it.  This was probably my favorite part of the trip.  The people here were so nice and welcoming and we were able to learn about the ancient Ephesians that dated back to Biblical times and beyond.

Library in Ephesus
Library in Ephesus
Believed to be the last place Virgin Mary lived
Believed to be the last place Virgin Mary lived
Original baptismal font at the Basilica of St. John
Original baptismal font at the Basilica of St. John

We then traveled to Cappadocia, Turkey, which is known for its chimney caves and rock structures.  We stayed in Göreme, which is known for its house caves.  We visited an underground city and hiked through the scenic countryside.

Underground city
Underground City
Ice Cream Valley
Ice Cream Valley
Göreme
Göreme

The last stop on our trip was Istanbul.  Here we visited the historical sites and in between our adventures we explored the city, though we didn’t have enough time to see everything, as the city is massive!

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar

We had a great time visiting Greece and Turkey.  We loved trying new foods and meeting the people there.  It was a great way to end term 2 and have a little time off not worrying about assignments or exams.

Exam Week

I got back from Dubai on Sunday and had exams on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, as well as a couple of papers to finish up. Since I wasn’t able to study much over the weekend when I was in Dubai, I didn’t prepare for my exams as much as I usually would. However, I did the best I could given the circumstances.

Since this was my second time taking exams at Aston, I knew more of what to expect. Since the exams are mostly essay based, I have gotten a lot better at organizing my thoughts before I start writing. This has helped me to argue all the points I need to without leaving out important information and running out of time, as the exams are all timed. Most of the exams are case study based, which I enjoy. I think that case studies better prepare me for the real world because I have to dissect all the information I have been given and decide which information is relevant. In addition, I am able to see how what we are learning directly impacts real companies and their situations.

The exams from this term not only tested us on the material we learned this term, but they also built on the material we learned in the first term. Though this meant more studying and work for us students, it is helpful in learning the material.

Much of the material I was tested on during my undergraduate degree has been forgotten. This is due to the fact that most of my exams during my undergraduate studies were solely theory based, which sometimes made it difficult to understand how it related to the real world. In addition, with many theory-based exams, students just cram everything into their head right before the exam and then forget it all once the exam is over. Since most of the Aston modules build on each other and use practical examples, it makes it easier to retain the material I have learned.

By the end of Friday, I had finished my last exam and turned in all the papers I had finished up. I think I did fairly well, though I can never be sure until I get my exam results once the third term starts. I am glad that exams are over and now don’t have to worry about any pressing deadlines during the Easter holiday. I don’t plan on doing another degree after my MSc at Aston, so this will most likely be the last university exams I will ever take!  The focus for university work will now be on my dissertation, which will be due in September.  During the Easter holiday in between terms, I will be doing some traveling with my wife and in-laws, so I’m sure I will post about my travels next month!

Dubai

A week and a half ago I had the opportunity to go to Dubai with three other teammates to compete in the Hult Prize competition for social enterprise startups.  Since my team won the Hult Prize competition at Aston, we were then able to go to Dubai for the regional competition.  The competition started with 20,000 applicant teams, with only 250 teams being invited to regionals.

We arrived in Dubai early Friday morning at about 2:00am.  We then caught a taxi to our hotel and went to bed.  The next morning we got up and went to explore the city a little before our competition started. We went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and explored the mall and fountains around the area.  We then went to the beach for a bit since it was a lot warmer there than in Birmingham!  After relaxing a little at the beach, we then went back to the hotel to freshen up before we made our way to Hult International Business School for some instruction on the competition.

Once at Hult, we got a quick tour of the campus and then heard from three guest speakers.  One of the most memorable speakers was the winner of the Hult Prize in 2013 and he gave some very candid advice on how to make the most out of our experience.  After dinner, we were all free to mingle with the students from other schools.  We were able to meet like-minded people from all over the world.

After networking, we then went back to our hotel and practiced our pitch late into the night.  We had to turn our powerpoint slides in at 8:00am the next morning and be ready to pitch our business idea at a moments notice.  After much practice, we finally went to bed feeling good about our presentation. The next morning, we got up early to practice a little more before making our way to the competition.

Once arriving at the competition, we got our schedule for the day.  In the morning we sat in on seven pitches from other schools.  The quality of the ideas and presentations were very good, but we still liked our chances.  After lunch, it was our turn to give our pitch.  We all were feeling nervous, but optimistic about our pitch.  Coming out of our pitch, we felt that our presentation couldn’t have gone much better. We did feel a little nervous though because one of the judges asked a question that threw us off a little.

After dinner, the winner was announced.  The winner ended up being a team from Toronto, Canada.  Though we didn’t win, we were proud of our accomplishment and had all become good friends through the process.  The judges told us we did very well, but were concerned with the scalability of our business model.  Though we had very little sleep that weekend, I am very glad I had the opportunity to be involved in the Hult Prize.  I was able to learn how to better control my nerves in high pressure situations and networked with loads of great people from around the world.  I would highly recommend the Hult Prize for anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, anyone interested in joining or starting a startup, or anyone just looking for a great experience to enhance their CV.

Check out some pictures below that were taken while in Dubai.

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Life in Birmingham City Centre

As you probably know, Aston University is located on some prime real estate.  Literally a few minutes walk to the city centre, you can get pretty much anywhere you need to on foot.  Coming from the suburbs, I have never lived in a big city, not to mention a European city with old architecture.  I had always wanted to live in a big city and Birmingham is fulfilling that void in my life.  Though Birmingham is a big city in terms of population, it still has a community type feeling.  I live about 25 minutes from campus and I pretty much walk across the whole city centre.  On my walk, I pass banks, restaurants, pubs, canals, the Mail Box (mall), a hospital, grocery store, the court house, Victoria Square, multiple hotels, and a cinema if I go a few blocks out of my way.

The following are some interesting facts about the city of Birmingham:

  1. Birmingham is the home of Cadbury Chocolate
  2. Victoria Square has one of the largest fountains in Europe
  3. Almost half of Birmingham’s residents are under 30
  4. Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice
  5. Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter produces around 40% of the UK’s jewellery
  6. About 1/3rd of Birmingham’s residents are ethnic minorities
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Picture taken by @trangtq241 via Instagram of Aston Uni and the city centre. It was posted today on Aston’s Facebook page.

Below are the links to where I got the facts shown above.  My professors would tell me to use the Harvard referencing system, but I’m not getting any marks for this, so I can’t be bothered. 🙂

 

http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=WT-General%2FPageLayout&cid=1223092626367&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FWrapper

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-30775684

http://visitbirmingham.com/media-centre/facts-and-stats/

My Top 3

Aston University has a lot of great things to offer its students.  I think it may be helpful for students thinking about coming here to have a insight about what current students like about Aston.  Here are my three favorite things about Aston University.

1. Diversity

Aston University is probably the most diverse place I have ever been.  You will probably pass people from 50+ different countries on your way to lecture each day.  It makes sense that Aston is so diverse because the city of Birmingham is just as diverse.  It is very insightful for me to learn about different cultures and ways of thinking.  It will prepare me for my future plans of working in international business.  In addition, you will have friends from all over the world once you leave university.

2. Aston Enterprise

I really enjoy how Aston has such a large focus on entrepreneurship among its students.  There are at least four competitions and two incubator-type programs I can think of off the top of my head for aspiring entrepreneurs.  It gives students a change to really learn what it takes to run a business and get practical experience pitching business ideas to professionals.

3. Aston’s connections with industry

Aston has a great network of professionals.  There are countless recruiting events and workshops with world-class firms for students to attend.  These events and workshops are a perfect time to network with leaders in your field of interest.

With these three things at Aston University, I have been able to mold my experience into something that fits with my interests and desires.  There seems to be something for everyone, no matter what your interest is.  However, it takes more than just going to lecture, doing your assignments, and taking your exams to appreciate Aston, because you can do that anywhere.  If you want to take full advantage of Aston, you have to go out of your way and do a little extra.  That is when you will see the true benefit of Aston University.

Term 2

We are now three weeks into term two and I am starting to get bogged down in my assignments and extracurricular activities.  It seems like the term just started, but there are multiple assignments due in the next couple weeks.  The cold, rainy, and snowy weather helps convince me to stay inside and get working on my assignments.  I have to get used to doing all my readings again after the month long break from the Christmas Holiday.

This term I am taking four main modules, which include Topics in Advanced Strategy, International Business Strategy, Management Consulting, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Emerging Economies.  I think I will really enjoy my modules this term, maybe even more than the first term.  Work on my dissertation is also starting to pick up.  I am starting to do more research for it and really honing in on my topic.

In addition to my studies, I am also working on the Hult Prize, which was mentioned in an earlier post.  My team and I will be going to Dubai in March.  We just got our flight and hotel confirmation from Aston, so I am getting excited for our trip.  It should be a great experience being able to pitch to leaders in the social innovation space and network with like-mined individuals.

If anyone out there is thinking about business school, I’m sure you have started your application process.  Feel free to contact me through this blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin if you have any questions about Aston or the process in general.  I am pretty easy to find on these social networks, as there aren’t many others with my last name!

Happy New Year

This Christmas, my wife and I decided to not spend as much on presents so we could do some traveling.  We decided to go to Paris and Barcelona.  We left on December 31st and flew to Paris for the New Year celebrations.  To save on money, we used Airbnb, which worked out perfectly.  It was cool to feel like we lived in the cities for a few days instead of staying in a hotel.  In Paris, we were also able to go out to dinner with a friend I met at Aston.  Aston is truly an international university, which has enabled me to to make friends from all over the world.  You never know when you’ll run into a classmate, no matter where in the world you are living or visiting.  Now, check out some of the pictures from our trip.

Our first day we went to the Eiffel Tower and celebrated the New Year there watching the light show

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We visited the Louvre

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Notre Dame

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Pont des Arts

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After three days in Paris, we then took a train to Barcelona and escaped the cold weather for a few days.  The beach was fantastic, although we still needed to wear our jackets.

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Casa Batlló

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La Pedrera

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Sagrada Familia

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You can see all of Barcelona from Montjuic

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We ended our last night with the Three Kings Christmas parade

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After three days in Barcelona, we flew back to Birmingham.  We really enjoyed visiting the different sites, learning about different cultures, and making new friends.  We hope to travel more in 2015!

Christmas in Birmingham

This was the first Christmas my wife and I have had with just the two of us.  It was a good chance for us to start some of our own family traditions during the holiday season.  We decided not to go home because we want to save some money to travel around Europe a bit.

Christmas morning came and we opened our presents before cooking a nice breakfast.  We made some crepes, bacon, eggs, and toast.  After breakfast, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and playing games.  We then made a big Christmas dinner with ham, mashed potatoes, squash, rolls, and salad.  We topped it off with pumpkin pie and ice cream.

For Boxing Day, we decided to go and see a movie.  See saw Annie, which was pretty good.  After the movie, we spent the rest of the day playing more games.  Our last couple days have been filled with playing games since Callie got me a couple games for Christmas.

The morning of New Year’s Eve, Callie and I will be flying to Paris and staying there for a few days.  We are then going to Barcelona for a few days before flying back to Birmingham.  It will be fun to end 2014 and start the new year off with a bang in France and Spain. This year has brought a lot of great learning experiences and adventures into my life.  You can read more about it on my wife’s blog.  I look forward to what 2015 brings!