My Goals for 2016

The past two years, one and a half of which I’ve spent at Duke, were crazy. Crazily good. Well, that is actually an understatement. They were absolutely amazing! Ever since I came to Duke, for the first time in my life, everything finally seems to make sense. As if I had woken from a 20-year long deep sleep. I am so fortunate to live the life that I’m living. This unique environment is constantly challenging and inspiring me to strive for greatness and has taught me that it is indeed possible to achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself if only you believe in yourself. And while 2015 has been a wild ride, I don’t expect 2016 to be any less wild. Here are my personal goals for this year:

Honors Thesis

As soon as I got accepted as a transfer student, there was absolutely no doubt that I would seize this once in a life time opportunity and try to excel at my academic studies to my best abilities. While at the end of the day it really only matters what you have actually learned in college, maintaining a good GPA does in fact provide you with more options to choose from later on when you’re eager to pursue a master’s degree, preferably on a scholarship. And if you are actively striving to be in very good academic standing, you might as well reward yourself by graduation with distinction. Therefore, settling on writing an honors thesis was an absolute no-brainer.

Even though I’m only a junior, I already started working on my research project. This past semester I took a grad level class called Political Economy of International Relations for which I had to conduct my own research and write a 25-page research paper. The title of my paper was Gender Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Here is an abstract:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an imperative for companies. Many studies show that socially responsible firms are more successful overall. We’re interested in how gender affects CSR efforts, in particular, this study aims to investigate whether or not there is an association between female representation on boards of directors of multinational enterprises and their corporate social responsibility. By carrying out an empirical study of a sample of companies from 15 different countries, we wanted to find out whether multinational enterprises with a higher percentage of female directors engage in more socially responsible behavior. Based on our results, we must reject our hypothesis. We were not able to detect any relationship between gender diversity and CSR.

Since this was only a term paper, the study obviously has its limitations, especially where my methodology is concerned. Nevertheless, my professor, Joseph Grieco, was impressed with my work and the plan is to build on this existing paper and expand it. There is still a lot of work to be done but since the thesis isn’t due until December (which is only the first out of two possible deadlines), I am confident I will accomplish this goal.

Plans for after Graduation

Kind of going off my previous goal, I’m currently considering to add another year of academic studies to my résumé to pursue a master’s degree. Even though I absolutely love the United States and the way how their curriculum is designed, I’m actually thinking about returning to Europe, more specifically to England, for various reasons. First of all, studying in England is significantly cheaper than in the States. There is a big difference between $60,000 and £15,000. So in case I don’t receive a scholarship, I would take out a loan and 15,000 is definitely less daunting than 60,000. Moreover, as a German citizen I pay EU fees which is comparable to in state tuition and sometimes up to 25% less than what a non-EU citizen would have to pay.

I also believe that living in yet another foreign country is a highly beneficial experience as it would allow me to further expand my horizon and gain more insights into a different culture and academic system.

Another positive aspect: Most programs I’m interested in don’t require a GRE/GMAT score (FYI: I suck at standardized tests) which would save me both time and money I otherwise would have spent on prep material and the test itself.

Apart from that, I wouldn’t have to go through the tedious visa process I would have to endure yet again if I applied to an American school. The struggle is real!

And lastly, there are simply amazing programs being offered at the top schools that I haven’t found at any U.S. institution, at least not in the Ivies & Co.. This may sound a little arrogant but for me there is absolutely no point in paying a fortune for a degree from a non-prestigious university if I could receive a really good degree from Germany’s best school – which happens to be in Munich – for free.

I’m currently looking at four English institutions: Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics and Political Science and Imperial College London. My number one choice is Oxford’s MSc in Social Science of the Internet (which also happens to be the most affordable program), closely followed by Cambridge’s MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation and LSE’s MSc in Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation. However, the MPhil in Strategy, Marketing and Operations at Cambridge and the MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management at the Imperial College in London are very appealing to me as well.

The first deadline is either in September or in January (depending on how early I want to apply) which is more than doable I think.

Obviously, a lot can happen over the course of the next couple of months and I might end up taking a job right out of college after all. I sort of already have one or two offers but as you know, that is also subjective to change. So we’ll see.

I am convinced that I will figure it out. It will work out somehow. It’s always been that way and given how far I have come already in living the dream, it shouldn’t be too difficult to stay on track if I maintain the same level of enthusiasm, ambition, and determination in tackling the challenges I have set for myself.

Memory Training

At the end of last semester, while I was suffering great pain as I was studying for my final Statistics exam, my roommate Eden visited me in the library and told me she was currently reading a phenomenal book about memory training. I was immediately intrigued so I put the book on my Christmas wish list. In Moonwalking with Einstein New York Times journalist Joshua Foer goes on a remarkable journey. After writing an article on the USA Memory Championships, Foer himself becomes a mental athlete and a year later he is contestant in the very tournament he had reported on only 12 months ago. The author offers fascinating insights into the history of the human memory, his writing is smart, funny and captivating. I’m only 52 pages in and I am already hooked. (Update: When I wrote this, I only was 52 pages in, now it’s 140 ;-) )

You have probably already guessed it but my goal for 2016 is to train my memory to find out where it’ll take me. Our brain is our most valuable possession and trying to maximize its potential only seems natural. Foer dedicated an hour a day, six days a week to his training. I’d prefer to be careful in making that kind of commitment because even though an hour a day doesn’t sound like much, the truth is it actually is a lot. Duke students are already constantly sleep-deprived because 24 hours a day is simply not enough to keep up with our busy schedules, so even a 25-minute nap is often considered to be a luxury and highly rewarding. Therefore, I believe 30 minutes a day is a much more reasonable and realistic goal.

Unfortunately, I cannot start right away because before I actually get to start my training, I have to read a couple of books first, most of them of ancient Latin and Greek authorship such as Rhetorica ad Herennium which many mental athletes refer to as their bible. Let’s see how long it’ll take me to get through those.

If anyone would like to join me, please let me know! I think it would be fun to get together as small group of people, exploring our brain’s vast capacities.

HeForShe

Over winter break I spent an entire day watching TED Talks. I’m not kidding. All of them were incredibly interesting and inspiring, however, one of them was particularly intriguing. In Why gender equality is good for everyone – men included, Michael Kimmel talks about how far we have yet to come in order to achieve gender equality. He claims that “privilege is invisible to those who have it” which is why it is crucial for men to be part of that conversation. In the time that I have spent doing research on this topic by watching documentaries, reading studies and articles which also resulted in writing a research paper on How stereotypes affect the perception of female leaders and prevent women from acquiring leadership positions, I have always arrived at the same conclusion. And for that exact reason I love the United Nation’s HeForShe Campaign so much as it emphasizes the importance of educating men about their privilege and tries to turn them into advocates for this important cause.


For the longest times, I have been thinking about how I myself can have an actual impact on nurturing those conversations and challenging the status quo. And while talking to my friends and family about these issues is great, it is simply not enough. Not anymore. It is time for action.

For all the reasons above, I would love to create a new student group on campus with the ultimate goal of implementing the HeForShe solidarity movement at Duke to get those conversations going. I’m envisioning a big event some time in the fall with a great guest speaker, recruiting male students for a photo or video campaign, students proudly wearing HeForShe merch on campus.

I recently created a Facebook group and invited all of my Duke friends who I thought might be interested in getting involved to fight for this important cause and a couple of them have already messaged me to express interest in becoming part of it.

If you would like to hear more about my plans and/or aren’t already in said Facebook group, please let me know! We need as much support as we can get. Everyone is welcome but obviously, I would personally love to get more men on board! So please please please don’t think about how busy you already are – as a matter of fact we all are – and join the movement!

Living in the moment

I started off by telling you about how I am already planning a year and half ahead, exploring different options for after graduation. You are absolutely right, setting a goal called living in the moment appears to be quite contradictory to my academic and professional ambitions. At Duke, people are used to planning months or even years ahead because this competitive and yet motivating environment forces you to do so. However, I sometimes fear that being completely caught up in our future results in forgetting about how important it is to live in the moment from time to time. College is supposed to be the greatest time of our life and if you constantly keep thinking in deadlines, you will miss out on the fun parts. And by fun I don’t necessarily mean getting wasted and hooking up with a different person every weekend. I mean going to sports games, exploring off-campus food (Durham is a great place for that! In fact, it was named The South’s Tastiest Town), going to the movies, having a board game evening with your friends, going on late-night fast food trips or tenting for five weeks in the cold just to watch a basketball game.

I have come to realize that I haven’t had enough of those valuable moments this past semester simply because I was so caught up in school and my jobs. At the end of the day, it is not the endless amount of hours we have spent in the library that will be remembered. It is the trips to Pitchforks at 2am, the snowball fights on the quad at midnight, the drive to Indianapolis for the Final Four tournament and those cold nights in the tent that will stick with us forever.

I don’t have to teach myself how to work hard and how to overcome academic obstacles anymore because that’s what I’m doing on a daily basis. If I didn’t love to be intellectually challenged, Duke wouldn’t be the right place for me. This upcoming semester I want to live in the moment more often. And out of the five goals I have set for myself, this might be the most challenging one of all.