Transformational Learning: An MDA Journey

Written by: Class of 2022 Master in Decision Analysis (MDA) graduate Alina Ryabova | Jun 28, 2022

After receiving my bachelor’s diploma in journalism back in 2012, I firmly decided to pursue my next degree when, and only when, I had a crystal clear understanding of my needs, motivation, and goals. Not that I didn’t like my time at university, retrospectively it felt like an immense investment of time and resources for a line in my resume just a few of my employers and clients bothered checking.

Almost a decade of extensive professional growth in the event business later, I still had no clue what type of program would make me want to change my lifestyle, put my career on a long pause, and dedicate a decent amount of time to learning.

Being in a familiar industry for so long can quickly comfort one with confidence in their professional judgment and decision making strategies. In fact, after leading similar project management cycles over and over again, all of us develop their own sets of mental short-cuts or heuristics supported by the extensive practical experience of their successful application across different contexts. Although this knowledge can look like a good deal of expertise and serve as a solid foundation for further achievements, mine had a lot of blind spots and assumptions based on gut feeling.

At some point, I found myself intellectually bored and in need to refresh my thinking habits, expand my perspectives, and destroy the shortcuts I no longer needed.

Minerva’s Master in Decision Analysis (MDA) program is structured in a way that activates your brain to the maximum — all traditional learning techniques such as listening and note-taking, memorizing, or briefly skimming prep materials before class do not work for Minerva seminars which are built as interactive discussions with professors only facilitating, not lecturing. By introducing the fundamentals of the science of learning early on, the program encouraged us to explore and develop new efficient techniques of knowledge acquisition, which, in my view, is a “must” for those ready to take responsibility for their educational outcomes and in life-long learning. This toolkit gets employed far beyond learning whenever I need to carefully process information and properly understand it.

Every new module focuses on a complex real-world issue, be it the complications of solving the California water crisis or bias mitigation in forensic science, that students try to wrap their heads around before class and come ready to immediately engage in a rapidly developing conversation. Therefore, each class takes a good couple of hours of thoughtful prep work to be well informed, so the level of intensity is high. Over the course of two semesters, I read more scholarly papers than I ever did during my undergraduate years. Moreover, I learned to distinguish good ones from those demonstrating bad science or inaccurate data analysis methods, a skill that serves me every single day as I read new papers for my research or just out of curiosity.

The thing I appreciate the most about the experience is how we always embraced the complexity of topics and phenomenons we were studying. There is a lot of intellectual and emotional discomfort and struggle when the lines are blurred and differences are nuanced. After 15 months of intentional training to think about multifaceted issues from dramatically different perspectives, applying distinct methodologies, ethical and cultural frameworks, and carefully weighing assumptions, the way I see the world moved as far from black-and-white as possible.

Last but not the least, I must mention the power of community. Our cohort was recruited and started the program amidst the pandemic with many of us working from home, parenting, and taking classes on top. While sometimes it could be overwhelming, most of the time I was grateful to have my classes as a primary place for socialization (with an intellectual twist, haha). We were great though partners, assignment colleagues, and feedback providers for each other. I had never experienced such a helpful, understanding, respectful peer environment before, which I believe has a lot to do with what values we share and what we want to bring into the world.

All of that was happening online for almost two years. The engagement and real-life feel of the program is incredible. From high-intensity learning to building bonds with faculty and classmates from around the world, none of it took a single minute of in-person interaction, the entire surgery was done masterfully and remotely.

I happened to quit my job a week before graduation and am about to start a new chapter by running a venture of my own. I tried it a couple of times in the past but quickly returned to a more familiar corporate environment. Although, never before did I feel the confidence that the MDA experience has given me. Not a blind “I can do it”, but an inner certainty backed by intuition and knowledge, that tells me if things go wrong or unexpected, I’ll be capable of handling them and figuring out the best possible decision given the context.

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