Published Apr 7, 2005

The way you get into electives here at Marshall is to bid on the courses you want. We get 1000 points, a list of the classes that will be offered in the fall, a prospective list of spring classes, and a list of the last 3-4 years of waitlists for classes, then we get to bid our points on the classes we want. The theory is, this procedure makes sure that people get into the classes they value the most; but that ignores all the things besides desire that go into a bid. Which made me ask: what, exactly, is it that bidding on classes measures?

Let me start by saying that I’m not particularly bitter about my outcome. I only got waitlisted for one class, and I think I stand a good chance of getting into that in the fall (that class is capped at the size of a small classroom, and there are enough students on the waitlist that we can fit into a large caseroom about exactly, so I bet they move us). Nor am I bitter about the fact that the online bidding system seems to go down all the time (last night it went down and lost all of the previous day’s data), or that it can take 20 minutes of trying over and over again to get onto the system. What makes me really think are all of the other inputs into the bidding process.

What Inputs?

These inputs include, of course, things like the old professors vs. classes question: do you take the best professors regardless of what they’re teaching, or do you take the classes you really want regardless of the professor? As an NFL junkie, this makes me think of some teams’ preference to draft the best available player vs. other teams’ practice to draft for need (it always seems that winning teams do the former but the winningest teams make the two come into sync). Some courses also have prerequisites, so you have to keep that in mind and overbid on unwanted prereq classes to get into the wanted later classes in the series, or sadly watch your educational objectives slip out of your reach because you never figured out that “EKG” option on the intranet actually was the “Elective Kourse Guide”, an apparently-misspelled tome detailing all of the classes and, even, some of the prerequisites for those classes (say after me “prerequisite: GSBA 586… what’s GSBA 586? Why isn’t it in the EKG?”)

But there are other foils too. There’s time — one very popular professor is offering two consecutive instances of her very popular Valuations class, and the one at 10am is full but the one at 8:30am is, naturally, only half full (or half empty, for my pessimistic readers out there). And there are other scheduling aspects too. It’s good to have classes on just 3 days a week, and, if you’re forced to have classes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then try to have just one class on MW or TTh and have the other four on the other pair of days. So that, you know, you can “have informationals” and “network” on those days. Especially with Ernie, the guy who sits down at the end stool at the Lost and Found every day at 11:30pm and drinks Irish Coffees for about 9 hours, until he’s good and surly.

There’s also popularity — you can look at past wait lists and see how popular a class used to be, but you also need to ask your friends to see if lots of people are planning on taking a class this year (that’s what’s happened to me — a class that hasn’t been too popular in the past suddenly exploded). A corollary to this is bidding behavior — it’s just like in The Price Is Right, if that other guy thinks the bedroom set was worth $3000 but you said $3001 you get it and he’s out. If you can predict your classmates’ bidding behavior, and bid just a point or two over, you can get the class at a low, low, one-time cost, with no money down.

So, to recap, in order to get the classes you want, you need to:

  1. Choose profs vs. classes
  2. Make sure you take prerequisites
  3. Worry about the time your class is at
  4. And the day your class is on
  5. And how many people will be bidding on that class
  6. And how many points they will be bidding

Only steps 1 and 2 are really about planning your education; the other steps are either about sloth (not going into school at 8:30 am? slacker!) or about outsmarting your fellow Trojan. This system rewards lazy people who are prepared to be up front about their desire to sleep in, and put lots of points on the board for it, and people who are clever enough to ask their friends “what classes are you thinking about taking?” and then use that information against them! There’s probably some additional benefit that goes to people who can express their schedule as a linear equation and solve it optimally. Yes, MRS bidding is all about creating a lazy, intelligence-gathering, Solver -using superclass of prepared MBAs to lord over us open, trusting, morning-people MBAs. Well, ok, not “us”, I’m all about sleeping in.

Obligatory Alternative

As an MBA Candidate, I’m no longer allowed to just complain; I have to offer solutions, too. Therefore, as an NFL junkie, I suggest the Marshall Draft.

It would go like this: we’d have 8 rounds. In these rounds, you’d get to pick:

  • 5 classes
  • 1 position on the priority list for ELCs (study rooms with projectors, whiteboards, and wireless internet that teams can book for meetings, which are always in high demand)
  • 1 position on the priority list for computers in the lab
  • An extra allotment of space on the e-mail system

The deal is, while everyone needs 5 classes, everyone wants at least one of the other three things as well, so you can trade around draft positions for those. For instance, I may not care about classes but I really want to be #1 on the ELC priority list; I might trade my first-round draft pick to someone who really wants a popular course, for a second- and eighth-rounder; then I’d use one of my seconds to get a class and the other to get #1 or #2 on the ELC priority list. People who are always running out of space on their e-mail might trade away a third-rounder for two fifths (that’s fifth-round picks, not fifths of bourbon), and spend each on an extra 20MB of e-mail space. And so on.

Your position in the draft could be determined randomly, or, better, it could be determined by how much value you add to the school. So, then, we could move people up in the draft for:

  • VP & President positions held
  • High grades
  • High class participation points
  • Tutoring, bringing in speakers, and other out-of-class activities
  • Volunteering hours for C4C
  • Getting ROI points

We could also have a compensatory system, moving people up in the next draft for:

  • Getting stuck on a waitlist
  • Having a class with a prof who is rated poorly

The Marshall Draft will reward:

  • Providing value to the community
  • Working hard
  • Prioritizing
  • Negotiations

Isn’t that a better alternative? Isn’t it?

1 Comment

That’s a neat idea. I would suggest that high grades be weighted less, because I could see a self-perpetuating cycle:

1. Get high grades
2. Get into easy classes.
3. Repeat as necessary.

Great job today Wade. I clicked an ad for you. :)