Friday, November 26, 2010

Q&A with Brian Galvin - Part 2

Director of Academic Programs. Word has it that you are head honcho over at Veritas Prep. Mind running us through  what your responsibilities include?
It’s a fun job.  My biggest responsibilities are to work with all of our instructors around the world – I recruit, hire, and train everyone, and then make staffing decisions about who teaches what and when; I’m also the main point of contact for all of our instructors, so I get to talk to them pretty frequently about their students, their teaching strategies, and inevitably their thoughts on the world in general.  We have an incredible faculty of smart, engaging people so I relish the opportunity to work with everyone and to learn from what they have to say about really any topic.  I’m also the first and last line of defense on our curriculum, so I get to sift through all of our instructors’ recommendations, listen to student feedback, and propose ways to continually improve and evolve our lessons, course offerings, practice problems and tests, etc.

My biggest challenge has always been trying to manage a team of people who are all in the 99th percentile of intelligence, or at least GMAT intelligence.  I was pretty intimidated when I first started and an instructor would call with a question or because she needed something and I’d look at the file: “PhD from an Ivy League school; MBA from a top 10 school; etc.”   But as I’ve grown into it it’s been a blast and really educational for me – I get to learn how amazingly smart people think, and that’s something that we’ve tried to add to our lesson materials as often as possible.  I’m always looking for reasons that concepts come easy to our instructors (and our students) so that I can build a lesson around it.  Actually, working with everyone on our team has been really instructional for me on how to teach because I was so initially intimidated by intelligence that I needed to do a lot of – it’s education-speak, but “scaffolding”, or building intermediate steps of knowledge – to make sure that I was on their level.  It was all that “asking why” that helped me to really solidify what I knew to feel comfortable talking with people to whom it probably came a lot faster, and that helped mold the way that I teach and that we’ve evolved our curriculum.

Nowadays, I absolutely love and look forward to all of our curriculum discussions and instructor development sessions because I get to see how often we all agree.  As we were developing the Essentials Course, for example, I enlisted the advice and feedback of a handful of our best and most experienced instructors in the world – David Newland in Boston, Chris Kane in New York, Cliff Smith in San Francisco, Frankie Beecroft in Chicago, Mia McIver here in Los Angeles, among others – and we pretty much all agreed in different words on everything.  The discussions were all to the extent of “I love teaching it that way – but I like your phrasing a little better” or “you know, you could combine these steps into a 3-point list that covers everything”.  That agreement demonstrates to me that we’re on to something as our lessons evolve – if I’ve found that students click with a particular explanation and 2-3 of our other top instructors have either independently made the same conclusion or just come to recognize after hearing it that it works pretty well, I think we’ve made a huge stride in our effort to give students the absolute best GMAT education.  It’s rewarding on a personal level – if “brilliant minds think alike” and I’m thinking the same way as Chris, Frankie, Cliff, et al, then I must be doing okay – and collectively we all thrive on finding better ways to teach and stay ahead of the evolution of the GMAT.

A day in the life of Brian Galvin
…begins with breakfast!  I can’t believe how many people I know don’t eat breakfast in the morning.  I typically sit down with breakfast and a cup of coffee and run through a few online news sites and blogs online to  get my mind set for the day.  Ever since I was about 3 I’ve read the newspaper with breakfast in the morning, but I’ve finally migrated online.  I need to be up on the news because the first 20-30 minutes of my day at the office is a blast – we have a terrific team at Veritas Prep headquarters and we always start the day with some discussion over our first cup of coffee.  I love working with smart, worldly people…there’s so much to learn (or just so many opportunities to make sarcastic comments).

Once work has started, I typically spend the first hour reviewing emails from our instructors and my students, conscious of the fact that 9am in California is already the afternoon in New York and the early evening in London, so our instructors may have been waiting a while to hear back.  From there, the day can fork in different directions – I’ll interview instructor applicants, I often lead instructor development workshops in which we’ll meet online to share strategies, tips, favorite study problems, etc.  I think you may have seen, Tray, that I’m a frequent contributor on websites like GMATClub and Beat The GMAT, so I try to chime in with a few forum posts each day and work on blog posts (I love writing for our own blog,, because I get to inject a little more personality there – I’ve negotiated that my first paragraph can be about whatever I want – hip-hop, sports, politics, TV – as long as I link it back to the GMAT in paragraph two), and I find that to be really helpful for managing the way that we teach, as often I’ll find that there are topics out there that the masses just aren’t getting, or that no one is really explaining as well as we could.

By the end of the day I’m usually scrambling to get things done that I want to – we’re pretty ambitious so there’s never a shortage of projects in queue and I’ve been around the company long enough – since 2003 as an instructor and 2006 full-time – that I usually have something to contribute regardless of the project, so I’ll get sidetracked and then need to get back on top of things.  After work, I’ll often have a class to teach, one of our free seminars to host, or some tutoring to conduct, and I try to hold at least a couple nights a week free for running or biking so that I can stay active in endurance sports.  And often some of my best brainstorms come when I’m out running and just have time to think.

Part 3 of our Q&A with Brian Galvin coming up tomorrow. Stay tuned!


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