Rendezvous with a Duke Alumnus

posted at April 28, 2022, 3:30 p.m.

Armed with an admit to his dream college, Harshavardhan Reddy is fizzy with the excitement of exploring a new world of possibilities. For the first time in his life, the young engineer is stepping out of his home city of Hyderabad for his education. This August, he will be flying out to the US to join the 2023 cohort of Duke’s MEM students. While Harsha’s eagerness to learn from one of the best colleges in the world has been motivating him to prepare for the journey ahead, he also has many questions about it.
In a rendezvous with Ashish Bohra, a senior analyst at Goldman Sachs who graduated from Duke in 2018 with a MEM degree, Harsha gathers firsthand information to make the most of his time in Durham, North Carolina.

1. I am in a dilemma about the housing situation. Which housing option should I opt for? The East campus or the West? I’ve heard that one of them is too expensive and the other one has seen robberies take place. What is your suggestion for me to make an informed decision?

Ans: Most Master’s students, especially Duke MEM, live on the west side of campus. It is closer to the classrooms and the other activities we need to attend. West is also cheaper and has a great bus service. Some economical apartment communities include Campus Walk, Chapel Tower, and Poplar West. Avoid Holly Hills. For someone who wants to spend more, there's Belmont, and if you want luxury apartments, there's Heights, etc. With regards to safety, no place is safest. It is up to the students to take precautions. Do not go out alone after sunset, especially near the Shell gas station near the Heights Apartments on the west side. Carry very little cash, and always remember your life is more important than any possessions.

2. Considering the class size of Duke, what is the probability of me getting a TA/RA? Are there other part-time opportunities available at Duke? If you had a job on campus, could you tell me about your experience?

Ans: Some people do get to become TAs. Duke MEM does not have RAs but there are a lot of other on-campus opportunities, such as working in the library, in the Duke MEM office, etc. Most people who want them, get them within the first semester. It is advised to start searching around June-July for "non-work study" opportunities through the Dukelist website. You can look for non-work-study jobs on Dukelist. I worked at the Nasher museum of art as an event manager, and at the Link Tech support desk. I loved my museum job. Some jobs, like the ones I had, give you a lot of free time to complete your work, search for jobs, etc.

3. What do you do on weekends? Where do you suggest I start exploring the state of North Carolina?

Ans: Every Friday Duke MEM would serve us beers at Pratt Chat. After which, if you like partying, there is the Duke nightclub called Shooters which is insane. Other things include searching for jobs, cooking all sorts of things, and exploring campus. However, exploring the state itself gets expensive really fast. I'll start with Franklin Street on Chapel Hill, various parts of Durham and Raleigh downtown, and Lake Jordan and Lake Johnson.

4. How do you commute in and around the campus? What are the feasible options? Is it advisable to get a vehicle of my own or to use public transportation?

Ans: Duke buses are very effective to get to campus. Duke students also get a free bus pass to be used on GoDurham buses, although the routes are effectively useless. Google Maps is your best bet. There's also Uber and Lyft you can use, but they cost more. I wouldn't suggest you get a vehicle since it will quickly become very expensive when you add parking, insurance, and fuel prices.

5. How did you balance study, work, and travel? Any tips on how to budget time and money for travel?

Ans: Part-time will probably cover 30-40% of your living expenses and study doesn't take long since most of it is through team-based activities. Most of your time, especially in the 2nd and 3rd semesters, will be taken up by internship/job search. Travel is expensive, but you can take advantage of budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier which fly to many places from the RDU Airport. If you know how to drive, my advice is to quickly get a license so you can rent cars. Megabus is a cheap bus service connecting nearby cities but is often sketchy.

6. Duke has the best ball team. How do I get Basketball tickets? Do the students have any discounts or benefits? When is the best time to buy the tickets?

Ans: Basketball tickets are free for students! You just have to go to the box office, stand in line and get them! However, you can buy season passes if you successfully complete the Campout! It is an event I'd like you to learn about by yourself. DO NOT MISS IT!

7. What was your biggest culture/social shock at Duke?

Ans: I know this is controversial, but I saw quite some division between the "North Indians" and "South Indians" in my cohort initially. It is kinda sad since some people forget we are all Indians. Anyway, Americans are very polite and don't speak as loud. They respect being on time a lot and we are known to always be late. They also expect honesty. These are all things I expected. What I did not expect and saw, was how there is a really strong Indian community at Duke. You don't really miss home much. Shooters can get crazy and that was a shock to me as well. Finally, the holiday season (month of Dec) is very desolate and lonely, since everyone goes home, it's cold and the university is closed.

8. Cooking every day seems like a huge chore. Do you know places where we can find free or subsidized food?

Ans: A lot of Duke career events will have free pizza, etc. You can get food from Duke's dining hall and West Union, but it can get pricey. You can organize potlucks on weekends with a large group, or you can learn to cook and enjoy it! I'm glad I was able to do that. You can also meal prep during weekends so your week remains free. Googling meal prep will give you many ideas.

9. Considering the difference between Indian and American education systems, what are the challenges that I might face, and how do I be better prepared for the same?

Ans: Be prepared to focus and participate in class. There are marks for asking questions and initiating discussion. Do not attempt to copy/cheat in exams! I know it's common in India, but that can effectively end your career here. I know that sometimes, introverts can find it hard to talk to new people, but that is something we have to do. Here, they don't expect you to get all your knowledge from a textbook, but from more real-life experiences, and questioning.

10. What is your favorite spot on campus to study? And how is the Wi-fi on campus?

Ans: There are so many places! It depends on what you want to do. For peaceful study/work, the higher floors of the Bostock and Perkins libraries are ideal. For peace and quiet, there is Duke Chapel. For greenery, the Sara P Duke gardens are perfect. This list is endless. As far as wifi is concerned, you will NEVER have any problem of the sort at all. There's even WiFi in the Duke Gardens.

11. How helpful are career services at Duke?

Ans: It depends on how much you rely on them. They gave me good resume-building advice which I still follow. However, I personally did not utilize their services as much as some of my other peers.

12. What kinds of hands-on or practical experiences have you had in and outside of the classroom?

Ans: There are many clubs as part of the MEMPDC. You can join 1to 2 of them and work on some real-world projects with real startups. There's the product management club, consulting club, etc. There are also other organizations across the broader Duke Community. DISI is one I remember.

13. How is the struggle applying for jobs? I have heard that people have applied for around 150-200 jobs but got interview calls from just 10 of them. How was your experience navigating the job market, now that you have been on the field for a while?

Ans: The job search is a struggle no matter which college you go to. There is no concept of placements that we have in Indian colleges, and each student is left to find their own job. Getting 10 interview calls itself is an outlier. I applied for over 1500 jobs and probably interviewed with 5. Job search starts on Day -60. That means you need to start now. Refine your LinkedIn profile, add connections in companies and roles you want to work in and get a resume ready. Attend as many career events as you can and ask relevant questions. Build an elevator pitch. Once you get on campus, you can hit the ground running. Dress the part. More the effort, more the rewards. Attend the first few career services sessions where they talk about roles and fit. Apply strategically for those jobs which fit you and your experience. 90% of the time, referrals from employees work. Utilize your LinkedIn network to get you referred to jobs. Be proactive and learn to follow up when people don't respond. You'll learn the process as you and your peers go through it. Good luck!