While a lot has been written about the Hyderabad campus, ISB Mohali is still shrouded in mystery for many. Newly admitted ISB students as well as aspirants and applicants have a lot of questions buzzing in their minds.
What happens after getting into ISB? How is the ISB Mohali campus different from Hyderabad? What happens in the first few days of orientation? What kind of students will I be studying with? Who manages the clubs and councils? How tough is it to manage studies and academic life?
In a 2-post series for MBA Crystal Ball, Goutam Gurha (class of 2016) shares his experiences.
My association with ISB began a long time ago when a young couple moved into my parent’s flat in Gurgaon. The husband was from ISB and was working at a good position in a good company. I was in undergrad that time and to be completely honest only found out about ISB’s ability, vision and potential back then.
I noticed they had a Young Leaders Program which allowed student’s in their pre-final year of undergrad to apply and I told myself what the heck and applied.
I got to the final interview round and was justly rejected because I hadn’t done anything spectacular that I could showcase to prove my talent and worth. And that’s an absolute requirement, because everyone you will meet at ISB has done something spectacular in their lives.
A few years later after completing my Electrical Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra and having gathered 2 years of work experience with Tata Motors in their Service Business, I applied again.
This time I retook the GMAT and got a 740; I spent almost 2 months and rewrote my essays at least a dozen times while getting them reviewed from multiple sources; I prepared well for my interview and had an element of luck with me because this time I got in.
I had attended a few of ISB’s pre admission seminars and through my connect with a few other Alums of ISB I knew that they placed considerable emphasis on keeping both their campuses Mohali as well as Hyderabad at par in all respects, a philosophy which they have branded ‘One School Two Campus’.
I was sure that ISB would ensure almost similar if not the same experience across both campuses and hence opted to be indifferent when it came to selecting a campus preference. I was allotted the Mohali campus which I was more than ok with.
Just to point out, ISB does consider requests from students who have a genuine reason to ask for a change in campus. I had already seen all the photos and videos available on the internet for the Mohali campus before reaching and I knew it was an architectural masterpiece with a focus on environmental sustainability.
But seeing the campus for the first time is indeed an experience on par with witnessing a creation of nature’s beauty. I had seen the Hyderabad campus a couple of times before during interviews and that of course is one of a kind and probably one of the best campuses in the country. The Mohali campus however is different.
The moment you enter, you can see almost the entire length of the main building in the distance as it stretches out into the horizon, lying behind a vast expanse of plain green grass and gorgeous flora.
Even beyond the main building, the student villages and recreation center buildings, meld into one another as if one begins immediately after another ends. However the architecture is such that everything is in the open and a gives you a feeling of openness and freedom.
Entering the living quarters be it a quad or a studio, you can feel assured that ISB provides the best in class living facilities for the students. And over the course of the year these facilities form a basis for the student’s to take up a huge amount of workload and responsibility because they can always come back to a clean and comfortable home environment.
Among the hundreds of brilliant minds at ISB, if there is unanimity in one thing, it is in the utter and complete awesomeness of the support staff at ISB. From the housekeeping folks to the people at Sarovar (canteen/mess) and to the people who handle maintenance.
Each and every person is a gem and they play a huge role in the one year at ISB that makes you keep coming back year after year to relive the best time of your life.
The first week at ISB is called the O week or the Orientation week. It is a fitting term for a week that takes you through a miniature version of the roller coaster that the entire year would be.
It includes team building activities, a wine and cheese night, presentations by the various clubs and councils, parties that end with breakfast, section sports, a treasure hunt and general all round badassery.
The intention is to familiarize the new batch with the campus, the people, the way of life and the fact that there is no such thing as free time at ISB, until you have a job in your hand at least.
One important thing to note at ISB is that almost everything is student run. There are formal administrative bodies present that help and guide the students; however every activity or event that takes place on the campus is student run.
From picking up guest speakers from the airport to designing posters to finding vendors to going and buying alcohol for the bender that night, everything is done by us or rather was till this past April.
It’s important to note here that even though this is a major contributing factor to the ISB students having sleepless nights, it encourages everyone on campus to get to know each other, work as a team and ensures that we look back fondly on the year that was.
This leads to me something very important that differentiates the experience at the Mohali campus from that at Hyderabad. Mohali has approximately 250 students compared to Hyderabad’s 550 odd. As a result, the 250 at Mohali become very well known to each other over the course of the year.
You make 249 friends who can be totally and unequivocally relied upon throughout the year and for the rest of your life as well I’m sure. There’s a sense of unity and communal harmony at Mohali where we consider each other family that I would think might be slightly muted at the Hyderabad campus due to their larger number.
I’ll come back to the differences between both the campuses in a bit. So after the O week at ISB begins term 1 of 8.
The biggest takeaway after the first term is the humbling experience that most students feel after having interacted with their peers. You come into ISB with an air of confidence feeling you have accomplished a decent bit in your life, but you meet so many others who have done so much in their respective fields and even outside of them.
ISB does a great job collecting a unique group of individuals from various walks of life and ensuring that maximum peer to peer learning takes place among students. ISB consists of dentists, surgeons, movie directors, journalists, lawyers, chartered accountants, marketers and of course engineers.
You name a field and there’s someone at ISB who has experience in it. There’s a great mix of people who have different levels of experience as well. Though the majority will be people who have between 3 and 5 years of experience, there’s a fair share of people with less than 3 years as well as people with more than 5 years of experience.
For me, being someone who has less than 3 years of experience, never once was I made to feel the gap during my interactions with peers who would have been my boss’s boss if I was in the same organization as them.
The first term is an eye opener, one that demands you readjust the expectations you had entered ISB with.
In addition to your peers, another aspect of the life at ISB that will very pleasantly surprise the students is the quality of the professors. Being taught by literal gods of their respective subjects is a very different experience for most of us who have completed their undergrads in India.
The way of teaching is simplistic and their depth of knowledge is beyond compare. Being taught by Robert Stine, the Wharton professor who literally wrote the Statistics bible that’s used across the world or being taught optimization by the Dean of Yale are just a few examples of the wealth of knowledge and resources that ISB leaves at your disposal.
Where else will you be taught about monopolistic markets through Seinfeld clips (remember the soup nazi episode anyone?).
As term 1 becomes term 2, the elections take place for the GSB (Graduate Student Board) and the professional and social clubs at ISB. The campaigning for these begins to take place midway into term 1 itself and is fun for all involved.
Another point of difference here between the Mohali and Hyderabad campuses is that campaigning to become known to 550 people in Hyderabad is a much bigger project as compared to the same activity at Mohali.
Rest assured, the students understand the importance of choosing the right people for these posts and both campuses have a rich history of hard working and pro-active leaders.
Each and every position in the Mohali campus has a similar elected representative in the Hyderabad campus as well who work together over the course of the year and collaborate over cross campus events and ensure that students at both campuses have the same resources available to them.
This brings me to the clubs and councils at ISB. The various councils such as the Operations council, the Marketing council, the Careers council etc work under the aegis of the Graduate Student Board (GSB), each having a Director that heads the council.
This director is an elected representative however he or she is free to choose the council members for various positions based on interviews and Expressions of interest from among the remaining batch.
A similar pattern follows for the professional and social clubs as well which have Presidents and Vice Presidents instead of Directors who are once again given the responsibility of forming a functional council.
These student bodies then pretty much run the entire campus and govern much of the remaining year with the guidance and support of the ISB administration.
The professional clubs are responsible for bringing in relevant speakers, conducting workshops, organizing business competitions and providing industry expertise to help with placements among other things whereas the social clubs are the ones that help the student community take a step outside academics and placement worries and follow their interests, whether they lie in sports, theatre, music or dance and of course partying.
Academics are an important part of the year at ISB, especially the first 4 to 5 terms. This is because the CGPA for the first 4 or 5 terms will be the deciding factor during placements since the placement process starts around the 5th term and onwards.
Subjects are intensive, detailed and taught well with class participation integrated into the marking scheme in a way that encourages discussion and productive debate. The first 4 terms are known as the core terms where subjects are mandatory.
Post this, the students are free to choose subjects that they wish however they are constrained by a limited number of points that are allotted to each student. They can use these points to bid on the subjects that they wish to study but since only a restricted number of seats are available, such a system is necessary yet a little painful.
Completing 6 credits of a particular specialization by the end of the year allows you to major in that field. There is also the option to specialize in two fields by completing 6 credits of each. I, for example majored in both Operations and Strategy.
It’s important note here that none of the subjects are easy and require effort and diligence to get through and absorb. That said, people with different undergraduate and work backgrounds react differently to various subjects.
The CA’s for example find the accounting subjects easier than cake and the journalists of course find these tough. However they seem to have an affinity for strategy subjects since they are used to approaching facts from various angles and considering different scenarios.
Similarly the engineers and those from analytics backgrounds may find the quant subjects easier than the others who aren’t as used to math heavy subjects. This is why the forming of study groups throughout ISB is an important activity.
These study groups will keep on changing through the year and serve the dual purpose of helping you getting to know each other better as well as bringing people from different backgrounds together to help solve problems.
These will often also form the basis of friendships that you would take away and often find are the most prized possession post ISB.
It’s important to mention here that there are both mid-term and end-term exams in a 5 week term which are intensively application based. There is no place for rote learning at ISB and that’s what sets it apart.
The method and pattern of testing ensures that you absorb concepts and not mug up facts. The classrooms are of course state of the art with various subjects being taught at only Mohali and being taken up at Hyderabad or vice versa, through sophisticated video interfacing.
ISB will provide you with a host of resources and facilities; you will find that it is up to you to make the most of them.
In the next (and concluding) article, I’ll share more about how placements work at ISB Mohali.