By: Etan (Alex) Neiman and Raymond Cohen  | 

A Rare Discussion With The Syms Departmental Chairs

In the spirit of presidential debate season, The Commentator, for the first time ever, sat down with each of the five Syms departmental chairs for a group discussion. The Accounting, Finance, IDS (Information and Decision Sciences), Management, and Marketing department heads each offered their viewpoints on the highs and lows of the academics and job markets related to their programs. While we could not accumulate as many zingers and scandals as a traditional presidential debate, we did have a meaningful dialogue about the state of Syms’ five programs.

The Panel:
Dean Avi Giloni: Associate Dean, Sy Syms School of Business; Chair of The IDS department
Professor Tamar Avnet: Chair of the Marketing department
Professor Archishman Chakraborty: Chair of the Finance department
Professor Joel Hochman: Chair of the Accounting department
Professor Steven Nissenfeld: Chair of the Management department

Neiman: Thank you all for coming. Let’s start off with discussing what types of skills a student will acquire in your program.

Nissenfeld: Management provides a strong foundation in helping students identify their strengths as future leaders, opportunities for growth, and a framework to continuously develop these leadership skills.

Chakraborty: Everybody should come out of the Finance program with a strong math and quantitative competence; the goal is also for students to learn how to think like an economist.

Hochman: Accounting students will gain a tremendous understanding of how the business world operates. They will learn how businesses analyze transactions and what they do with that information.

Avnet: Upon their completion of Marketing, our students will be able to work effectively in the marketing industry. They will gain that understanding of what triggers people to buy products and why they are willing to pay the price that they pay for a given product or service.

Giloni: The IDS department, in conjunction with the Marketing department, developed a new major in Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics (B.I.M.A.). In B.I.M.A., students will learn the hot tools in data science and data analytics, as well as how to take those techniques and apply it to solve real business problems.

Cohen: Can you clarify the difference between B.I.M.A. and Marketing?

Avnet: When our students go out to the market with a B.I.M.A. degree, employers will be very impressed, as this type of combination is usually not offered on the undergraduate level. The B.I.M.A. major puts a focus on a statistical coding language called ‘R’; an applicant knowing what ‘R’ is, combined with the business and marketing knowledge they attain as part of the major, will stand out from the pack.

Giloni: That's exactly why we designed this major. We wanted to give every advantage that we could to that marketing major who wanted to work on the quantitative side of things.

Avnet: However, if you are not sure if you are interested in doing data analysis in the business environment, then a marketing major makes sense. You will gain the general marketing knowledge that will enable you to work in many areas like consumer behavior or brand management.

Neiman: Why do you think such a high percentage of Syms students choose the Accounting major?

Hochman: Accounting is one of the safer majors in terms of getting a job after college. It is a rough job market in today’s economy and accounting remains a relatively reliable job option.

Giloni: Students need to decide, however, what is important to them. As Professor Hochman discussed, we have amazing placement in the accounting firms, so I understand that many students want to do the accounting CPA track. However, you need to like what you do. If you don't like accounting and do the CPA track, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you want to use accounting in your general job as a skill-set, a great option is to do a minor in accounting or the non-CPA accounting major with a minor in one of the other functional areas.

Avnet: Especially if you want to be a lawyer later. That's a great combination.

Neiman: In selecting his or her major, is a student making a firm commitment to a career specializing in that area?

Avnet: The students need to understand that the difference between the majors is only the four to six required courses. So even if they choose marketing or finance as their major, they still can take electives in other areas

Giloni: Precisely. It's the business core that is really the essence of Syms. Any business school is only as strong as its core courses. The better business schools offer only a few courses in a major or concentration and then a broad range of core courses. If you want to have more technical skills, you can learn these on your own or go to a Master's degree in a particular area such as finance, accounting or marketing.

Cohen: Should a student do a double major in lieu of a Master's program?

Giloni: We do allow it, but it is tough. Many students cannot finish a double major in three years on campus.

Avnet: In the sense of finding employment, I do not think a double major gives a student much of an advantage. If as a result of doing a double major, one was to graduate in four or five years, then it is better to take those years and do an undergrad and a Master's instead.
Also, because we are a small school, our system is built well for one major, not for a double major, which can cause a conflict in scheduling classes.

Giloni: Right. However, it is very easy to take a major and a minor. It's only three additional courses to add a minor and one of them can be double counted as an elective.

Neiman: Can you talk about the increasing class sizes?

Avnet: When looking at the class sizes, yes, there was an increase from a few years ago; however, we are still considered small. In other undergraduate schools, you have 100 to 150 students in some of the core classes. From a professor’s perspective, up to fifty is still considered small. The professor can still know each and every student.

Giloni: The students who are really interested in having a connection with their professors will have it whether there are twelve students in the class or fifty. The only difference is that you are able to hide with fifty students in the class, while it is a bit harder to hide with twelve.

Hochman: Nobody goes into teaching unless they want to be helpful for the next generation. However, it is up to the student to form a relationship with a professor, if that’s what he is seeking. For students taking a course relevant to their career, I recommend making a point of talking with their professor outside of the classroom. You never know what type of recommendation or suggestion it could lead to.

Cohen: What are some examples of the types of jobs Syms students go on to?

Hochman: Obviously, most accounting students go on to firms and specialize in either the tax or audit side of accounting. For those students who are unsure or indifferent about which path to pursue, I recommend audit. There is no more detailed or sophisticated way to learn about business than to get into the heart of a company and how it operates by auditing it.

Nissenfeld: There are four typical career paths for a Management student: human resources, management consulting, a broad range of careers that demand management competencies, and entrepreneurial ventures.

Avnet: Some of the students choosing a marketing major become entrepreneurs. For example, I have a former student who created his own coat line and is doing very well. Others go on to more traditional marketing positions, such as branding, social media and promotion. Some of our students decide to apply their marketing knowledge in the finance industry; for example,one of my former students now markets venture capital to potential investors. The point is that a marketing major allows you to work in a variety of areas and industries.

Cohen: If you could dispel one misconception about your program to a prospective student, what would it be?

Avnet: That marketing is another word for sales. I always advise my students to avoid taking an internship in sales. Marketing is about business strategy and business thinking. Another misconception about marketing and also management is that they are soft majors, the easier alternative to the math-based accounting or finance. To succeed in many areas of marketing today, you need the quantitative skills.

Nissenfeld: People generally perceive management as something that comes naturally. The fact of the matter is that management competencies and expertise are a competitive advantage for those entering the workforce. No matter what industry you are in, the marketplace is increasingly calling for strong leadership and management skills that are acquired in the classroom in order to compete and succeed.

Giloni: People tend to assume that the technology sector is a ‘man’s game’.Truthfully, the market is very favorable right now towards women in technology- based degrees. I wish more of them would choose B.I.M.A.

Neiman: Professor Chakraborty, is the notion true that if you major in finance, you are signing up for excellent money but crazy sixteen, seventeen hour workdays?

Chakraborty: The work hours are typically hard, yes - but only if you work as an investment banker. You can major in finance and not necessarily work in finance. Even if you work in a hedge fund, they do not always work crazy hours. You can also get jobs in big corporations in business strategy. Majoring in finance tells the employer this is a smart person with a good business foundation.

Giloni: The company does want to see that you know what you've taken. Students who get high GPA's and can't show they know the material covered on their transcripts will have trouble in a job interview.