What was the best thing the MBA had to offer you?

Former MBA students discuss their experiences in business school

What was the best thing the MBA had to offer you?

Catherine O'Brien, University College Dublin, 2017, Accenture: The best thing about it, from my perspective, was the international element. For instance, I took part in a global strategy competition for business schools and that was a hugely enriching experience. Another opportunity was the trip to Yale. I did an executive education week in behavioural, science and management at Yale University with colleagues from the MBA.

That allowed us to network with peer MBA students from all over the world and exposed us to some of the leading thinking in Yale University as well. We also embarked on a module in business and international markets, and we travelled to Japan and South Korea with our class as part of that.

The trips were eye-opening in terms of being exposed to international perspectives and international business agendas but the development of your own personal network with your class contacts was a huge opportunity gained through the international trips.


Also gaining an international network with MBA experience, and to still have the benefits of those networks and being able to tap into colleagues in different parts of the world; we’ve kept in touch in the intervening years, and that’s been an outstanding benefit of the international experience.

How did you balance the MBA with your personal life?

Graziano D'Innocenzo, Trinity College Dublin, 2020, National Transport Authority: For people who are in employment, the only option really is the part-time MBA which lasts two years. I have two children and it has been a struggle to balance the MBA with being able to spend some time with the family. I struggled in the beginning. I didn't expect the course to be as demanding as it proved to be. What helped me to get through was because it was an experience.

It was extremely tough, but I think there are two bright sides to it. First is that part of the MBA is being able to communicate to an official employer that you are the kind of person who has dedication to be able to work over and beyond your normal work routine and second is the fact that after the MBA, I found myself with so much free time; we rediscovered the value of free time and leisure time.

The classes are organised in teams and so we are in teams of five or six people. Balancing was something that most of my colleagues struggled with, especially people with families and very demanding jobs. Since we had to work together for projects and experiences, we tend to spend lots of time together and bond so we could support each other. Both from a practical and material point of view, as well as an emotional point of view.

How has doing an MBA changed your career?

Katarina Antill, Dublin City University, 2018, Bonafi: One of the modules in the course was innovation and entrepreneurship so everyone had to come up with a business idea. We had to do a feasibility study as part of the course and I actually had a business idea that I had been thinking about. I used that and started to investigate that idea and after the feasibility study I reached out to colleagues and I realised, this is actually a really great business idea. I just decided that I'm not going back to work, I'm going to this and set up my business.

It was totally unexpected. I didn’t actually anticipate starting my own business. I really genuinely went there because I wanted to get a degree and I wanted to learn more, but it had a huge impact on my career. If I hadn’t done the MBA I may not have set up my business. It’s the best thing. I should have done it earlier. In hindsight, I should have done it years ago. It’s not a walk in the park, it’s definitely a commitment and something that you want to do, and it’s something that you have to consider all of the aspects because it’s a challenge to fit everything in.

What was the biggest takeaway learning for you?

Emma Corcoran, NUI Galway 2020, TE Connectivity: My biggest learning was that it really is the power of diversity. Why are you doing an MBA? You're doing an MBA to progress to the next level, and either be director or CEO etc. I think it's really important that when you're selecting teams, when you're looking for people to work with, go for that diversity, go for different views, go for people who have the absolute opposite views to you, where they're really going to challenge what you have so you end up getting the best out of it.

You’re given a theory, and the rest is learning from people in your class. I’ve always worked in the private sector, so to me, sitting in and listening to people working in the public sector, or who have their own businesses, who came from completely different industries, it was just fantastic. It really teaches you then that you really learn to take the theory, hold it out in front of yourself objectively and then you seek different ways to look at that theory. It’s nearly like looking at fake news; you go every direction you can to find other sources of it. You tend to really seek out who’s going to disagree with this or who’s going to have a different view. Then you can merge the best thing together.

Did the course have an impact on you personally?

Sarah Jane McGuigan, TU Dublin, 2020: I was the youngest person in the MBA so I almost went into it feeling like I had imposter syndrome. Usually, people in an MBA are doing it in their late 30s, all the way up, so I realised quite early on that even though I felt like a bit of an imposter, I still had a lot to add. Different viewpoints on things and different experiences.

For me, it was really about gaining a lot of confidence in myself and in my decisions that I would have felt comfortable making in my own company and being able to share that with people and direct people. I definitely think there were elements within the course that fostered the confidence. I’m hypercompetitive. I think I’m introverted but when I feel confident and comfortable about things, I’m okay speaking my mind.

It took me a while but probably within the first four or five months, I started to feel like I had a voice and I think that was because our course really focused on encouraging practical application. We were able to challenge each other without making anyone feel bad; there was a lot of healthy conversation without it being argumentative. I think that allowed me to feel more confident in having a voice.

Why did you decide to undertake an MBA?

Aideen O'Driscoll, University College Cork, 2020, Ardmore Shipping: Career wise, my background is as a lawyer. I trained as a solicitor, and it's a very specific type of training which I feel has given me a fantastic foundation, but as my career started to go in different directions, I wanted to kind of supplement the training and the education that I had. I wanted to broaden my skillset and I really felt there were some areas that needed to be strengthened in terms of general management skills, finance, accounting, economics and I really felt that an MBA programme would give me the rounded education programme that would help me progress my career.

I think it gives you that broad and general business training and builds your strategic skill set in a way that’s really useful. Separately, the 30 per cent club are looking to promote women taking on more senior roles in the workplace. They offer a full scholarship, so I had an interview and had to write a piece on why I felt my career would benefit from participating in the MBA programme and they then covered the cost of the MBA. It made the decision for me when I was successful in the application. It made it a much simpler process. I couldn’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the programme, but I was very grateful to get it.

What are the benefits of doing an MBA?

Suzanne Dunne, University of Limerick, 2020, UL Hospitals Group: The academic learning and understanding all around strategy was the most beneficial. But what was great was the social component, the relationships that I built with the class; we're still in touch. We have a WhatsApp group still going, only for Covid we would have met a lot more, but we would meet very regularly. We're in touch every day on the app.

We’re going to do our international trip now every year, we had to pause it this year, but hopefully next year. We have had many social gatherings together. We have just all kept in touch, all 30 of us in the class, and we’re just very good friends. It’s not that we came out with a best friend, it’s just that you came out with 30 very collegial people which is really nice. Everyone has their own lives. We all came from different industries – private and public sector – but we had to come together for a lot for projects, so we got to learn so much from each other’s organisations. That was a key benefit to have. I found working with the lecturers really good. That was another benefit. We’ve kept up really good relations.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times