Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How do you decide upon a research topic for your summer training?

Summer Training & Research

The answer would really depend on few of the following considerations:

·         Is it a summer training “program”, summer training “project” or simply. . . . . “Summer Training”? If it is a program then there will be components other than the one project you may be allotted by your organization and it depends on the current research orientation of your B school weather a research project will be a component or not. Some B schools have a focus on research either as a matter of policy or by default as they may have a concentration of research oriented faculty.

If it is a summer training project, the project may be a research based, task based or a hybrid. It is a popular misconception that projects awarded by the industry are usually task based and the ones decided by the faculty are research based. While the latter may hold some merit but it has been observed that even the industry does allocate extensive research projects too.

If you are unlucky enough to be a student at one of those “me too business schools” which seem to be mushrooming all over the place, then you may end up as “free labour for the local businesses” in the name of summer training. In this case no one will really bother about what you may learn, the focus will be on how much volume you and the other “trainees” drive in the 6-8 weeks time.


Social research tools can be used to generate results that are actually “actionable’ by the industry and allows the student to bridge the gap between “theory” she has studied (hopefully!!) in the sterile environs of the class and its manifestation on the ground in the industry.


If You are Supposed to Then How Do You Decide on a Research Project?


The Idea!

So doing a research project as a part of your summer training is compulsory!! And the faculty in charge has asked to decide upon few “Topics” or “Titles”. How do we proceed????

Assuming that you are actually doing your training, you will have to ask yourself the following questions:

1.    Is there something the company is trying to do but don’t have too much of an idea of it?

2.    Is there any problem cropping up regularly?

3.    Are the customers of this product seeking something else?

4.    Are the customers satisfied with the services provided by this company?

5.    What are the competitors of this company doing?

6.    Do they need any information about anything in the market?

7.    Can I see the marketing HR or Finanace I have studied in action?

This list can go on and on. . . . . . but I am sure by now you will have an idea of what kind of questions I am trying to tell you to ask yourself. . . . . .


In my language, as a summer trainee at an organization, you should map the value chain and look for managerial issues that might need resolution or can de with more clarification. As a student you should be able to see concepts that were till today merely part of the syllabus come alive in front of you. The moment you are able to visualize the whole “process”, ideas for research will start popping up in your head!


But is it Feasible?

I use the following criteria as a very rough tool to asses the feasibility of the research idea.

1.    How much time do we have? Can this project be done in time?

2.    How much and what kind of data will we need? Will we be able to get the data easily and in time?

3.    What kind of technical know how is needed to pull this off? Does the students and the faculty concerned have such knowledge or not?


It is quite simple: “Don’t Bite off More than You Can Chew”. Studying “strategy” may not be feasible for a very simple reason that the information needed will need access to the top management of organizations who unfortunately are very busy people and we may not be able to meet them. It is difficult to study the “effect or impact of advertisements” as students and faculty may not have exposure to tools needed to measure impact of an ad! A longitudinal study can be done on any subject but not within the 6-8 week limit imposed on summer trainings!


OK It’s Feasible! Now how do you Make a “Title” out of it?

Right! Now you have an idea and it can be done in time! Great! The first step in writing a title would be to remember that it should be focused enough to clearly spell out what is the study about and at the same time it should be as short and crisp as possible. . . . . . . . . I know, I know, you already know that. My approach is to write a title to the best of my efforts and then rewrite it again and again till I have hit upon one which “seems perfect”. For example:

I am really curious about why many of my students opted for an MBA. . . . . . . . Then naturally I am curious how they decided where to their MBA from. . . . . . .  Now, if I were to make a research title out of this curiosity, My first step would be:

1.    Look for studies on the same or related topics. I would suggest use of Google Scholar for the purpose.

Once I have studied a few articles from magazines, sites and journals, I will have an idea as to what kind of titles to they have and what are the various issues studied. . . . . My next step would be:

2.    Talk to a couple of students and have a talk with them as to how they decided on an MBA and the college. This can be called a very rough “pilot study”

Now I will have a great deal of idea as to the issues involved, the research that has been done on the subject and the way students seem to decide in India.


Now you write the title:

·         A study of why students do MBA and how they choose the college to do it from.

OK. . . . . . something seems off, doesn’t it???? Let’s write it down once again, but this time we will try to add more technical terms and less “layman” language!!

·         A Study of Consumer Decision Making While Selecting MBA and the School to do it from.

Oooohh!! Too heavy but the end is still “layman” and for some reason it is not clicking. Calling the student a consumer does not seem like a very good idea and decision making is too broad and vague a variable to be studied . . . . . . lets try once again!

·         The Choice of MBA and the School to do it From: A study of student decision making.

You know hat, the problem seems to be that we are trying to “study’ too many variables in one go. What if we study only “How students decide upon a college” after they have already chosen MBA.

·         School Choice Behaviour of Prospective MBA Students: A Study of Factors Considered and the Moderating Influences.

Wow!! I think this is it!! We have our title!! The title very clearly indicates that the research is about how prospective students decide upon where they do their MBA from, the factors they considered and the factors that “moderate” the end decision of the student!!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why Did The Fiscal Deficit Rise?

A scan of reactions to the budget on the net reveals a picture of what can be best described as a “cautiously optimistic yet defensive” budget. With the global markets experiencing such turmoil, maybe the  Finance minister would have been forced to defend his turf first and ensure that we maintain a GDP growth rate of at least 7% and inch closer to the targeted 9%. The increased government spending and increased stress due to sops like loan waivers the fiscal deficit figure has inflated to 6.8%.

There are enough articles on the net that would tell you that this figure of 6.8% is probably the highest in the world and is almost dangerous and we will cut ratings etc.

Then one might question that why did the government need to increase spending and how is government spending related to GDP and GDP growth rate?

A very brief session with the Boss yesterday gave me an idea that as I was unclear so might many of you be. So here is the explanation.


GDP can be explained in the following three ways. All three essentially amount to the same meaning in the end!!

1.       GDP is equal to the total expenditures for all final goods and services produced within the country in a stipulated period of time, usually one calendar or financial year.

2.       GDP is equal to the sum of the value added at every stage of production by all the industries within a country, plus taxes less subsidies on products, in a year.

3.       GDP is equal to the sum of the income generated by production in the country in the period—that is, compensation of employees, taxes on production and imports less subsidies, and gross operating surplus (or profits).

If you consider any of the three or all of them, you will appreciate the GDP figure for a country would indicate the economic health and vibrancy of the economy of that country. That would also mean that the GDP growth rate is an equally wonderful indicator of a countries “progress” on the economy front. The GDP growth rate would thus indicate the rate at which “wealth generation” is increasing in a country.

Let us consider the formula for GDP

GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

Where                    C = Consumption (that would indirectly mean demand, will it not?)

                                I = Gross investment

                                G = Government spending

                                X = Exports

                                M = Imports

In this equation it is amply clear that the variables I, G, X and M are dependent on the overall demand in the market. In an increasingly free economy and in a world where economies are interlinked, depression of demand in one part of the world will definitely lead to a slowdown elsewhere. Have we not seen this happen recently?

So in the equation the only variable we can control is “G” or government spending. As the GDP growth rate of India is decreasing on account of the global meltdown, your government was left with no choice but to increase the “G” hoping that the GDP growth rate fall would be slowed, then arrested and ultimately return to a growth scenario.

But increased “G” means increased fiscal deficit as revenue are not increasing proportionally. So we can conclude that even though the jump from a figure of less than 3% to a figure of 6.8% is worrisome but was inevitable as the government has to spend more to weather the current storm.


Food for Thought: In case you get time, do visit the following link and you will see that we are 17th on a list of GDP growth rate of countries. Leave China, look at the other 15 with GDP growth rate better than India and try to find why countries like them have a GDP growth rate even up to 15% where we are struggling to meet 7%!! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How I Used to Prepare for GDs

A million years ago when I was where you guys are, I too was faced with the challenge of preparing myself for GDs and interviews. Getting “placed” through the campus placement was doubly important due to the prestige attached to being “campus placed” and an absolute dearth of opportunities available in the market at that time. Imagine only five companies visited us for recruitment the year we passed out.

Preparing for GDs

As GDs demanded an insight into most current social and business issues, my habit of reading newspapers and magazines regularly helped a lot. Many of my friends and classmates tell me that I used to find GDs simple to crack due to my ability to speak (By the way, I have won the largest number of individual awards in debate in the history of my university J Boasting!!! Heh! Heh! Heh!!). I however have another opinion. Many of my classmates were great speakers even if they were not debaters. I attribute my success at GDs (and believe me, I used to succeed) to “having a lot to speak on any subject” and my “ability to listen” (I consider listening an ability).

So my suggestion to you guys would be to make a list of the important international, national, regional and business issues and read up on them. Make it a point to maintain a small file on “issues’ for quick reference before a GD or Interview.

My Biggest Make

Somewhere someone had planted a stupid idea in our head that a GD is supposed be a fish market and whoever can yell and rant for longer will be selected. Believe me, if you think so too, you could not be more wrong. A GD is a group discussion, not a group argument!! In my very brief corporate experience, I have had the opportunity to attend a fair number of meetings at all levels and believe me; it is always very civilized and decent. Quite removed from what we used to think is an ideal GD.

If the GD happens to be a case, it will demand you having a firm grasp on fundamentals in your subjects as well. I will not write about that as I feel that if you are appearing for a placement process, you will be nearing completion of MBA and you will have your fundas clear. If not, then believe me, you will not survive out there even if you do get selected anywhere by mistake.

My Advice

Read, Read, Read and then Read more. ET, Financial Express, Mint, Businessworld, Business India, Visit the the site for “The Economist”, the site for “McKinsey Quarterly”, Frontline, India Today, HBR, if you aim big!!


In my next piece I will share my story on mow we handled interviews. Till then, READ.