Recognizing that knowledge about the business world is not just for MBAs anymore, Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) has just completed its second year of offering a free course for GSAS students that is designed to teach master's and doctoral students the basics of the business environment.
"Today, there is much more of an effort to place master's and doctoral students in non-traditional jobs," said GSAS Dean Henry C. Pinkham, describing the need for a class that prepares students for the changing job market and the ways of the global economy. "It used to be that the primary career path for a Ph.D. was to become a university professor; now there are many other things you can do. There are employers who are looking specifically for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, and our job is to provide them with the tools to handle a variety of careers."
Roger Mesznik, who has taught the course for the past two years, agrees. But he adds that the curriculum's benefits go beyond the job market.
"I think that much of what we teach has relevance way beyond a career in business," said Mesznik, a Columbia Business School professor of finance who has taught at the University for the past 20 years. "Valuing investments, assessing risk in any security, the role of financial market oversight and regulation, which is especially relevant this year, and how to deal with budgets and accounting statements in any organization has value outside any career endeavor."
The New York Observer reported on the course in June 2001 in an article titled "How to Find the Profit in Your M.A. or Ph.D."
The course, Business Basics: Opportunities, Requirements and Complexities, offers participants the tools and analytic methods to identify business opportunities correctly, to deal with venture capitalists, to reject undeserving or unsound propositions and to know what to look for in assessing a venture. It also teaches students what to expect of an advisor or consultant, how to gain familiarity with the institutional and legal surrounding and how to develop the basic tools necessary for such analyses.
The class has drawn praise from GSAS students.
"The notion of a business basics course for Ph.D. students is an excellent idea, particularly considering the market for intellectual property and the value of 'synthetic thinkers' -- individuals who can combine specialized knowledge and expertise with a broad vision," said David Abramson, a doctoral student in the sociomedical sciences, who is currently writing his dissertation.
"I thought it was a very useful class, both to my future career and personally," added Kristine McKinney, a graduate student in the biological sciences. "As a biologist I may want to work at a biotech one day, which can be a risky proposition. I now feel like I could assess the risk involved and make an educated decision given the option."
Abramson and McKinney took the course in June.
The classes are a combination of lectures, discussions of cases, discussions of ongoing events in the business world and preparation of business and marketing plans.
GSAS plans to continue offering the course in 2003.