The end of my first year, of a two-year, Executive MBA at Cass Business School is a time of reflection to understand what I have learned and more importantly would I do it again.
What I have learned about an MBA
An MBA is much, much more work than you expect, after the first month I thought it was going to be easy but then suddenly it all ramped up and there were more and more coursework due at the same time. Mentally it is also quite draining to work all day and then have to be in class in the evenings or be constantly reading academic and business papers. Once the MBA is over I am going to enjoy reading the pile of fiction books that have been piling up on my bookshelf!
Managing group work is essential, our working groups are assigned to us and we have no control over the selection. What this means is that ever few months you have to work with a new group of people and hit the ground running. Changing groups has the advantage of allowing you to meet new people but it means that you have to create a team spirit quickly and learn the strengths and weaknesses of the group members very quickly. As it is outside of a professional work environment there is no hierarchy and those people used to managing a lot of people and being the boss may need to adapt a more democratic style.
It is obvious but time management is essential, you need to make sure that you have all of your readings done before and after lectures, your coursework in on time and any preparations for exams done in good time.
Most people learn pretty quickly that it is impossible to read everything so being selective in your reading and/ or skim reading is essential. My strategy is to read all the required papers and books and then skim read the additional reading as and when it supports my learning or coursework. You really need to learn to read faster or skim read as there is simply not the time to read slowly and take everything in.
I am very pleased that the first year’s mandatory courses are over, in the second year you get a lot more choice in your electives to follow the subjects that you want to.
What I liked
First and foremost I have met some incredible people who have taught me a lot and inspired me to think differently. I think the people who are in your cohort define your MBA experience so it is essential that you find a good fit for your personality.
An MBA is a generalist degree, you do not get in-depth knowledge of any one subject but you do get sufficient knowledge in all major management disciplines. This is the most exciting part for me as it allowed me to find out which subjects I really enjoyed the most and where I needed to focus my learning and career path. I have finished my first year with the clear path that strategy, change management and technology are my key areas.
I like the structured learning, you could do a distance MBA and learn just from books but having to be in class at a certain time and having the coursework deadlines give you added incentive to learn and be accountable for your time.
The leadership weekend at the start of the course was a high point as was the consultancy trip to Brazil (which I just returned from and will blog about soon).
What I didn’t like
I would have liked more control over the selection of the working groups and perhaps every other group change should have been self-selecting so we could work with the people we had more rapport with.
Even though there were not that many, the weekend lectures and weekend professional courses were a really chore and had an impact on family life.
Last minute changes in schedule although inevitable, really mess up your timetable and put added stress on your life.
Would I do it again if I had the choice
Absolutely! I have had so much fun challenging myself, pushing my brain to the limit and I have met some incredible people. What I underestimated was the network of great people I would meet and after the knowledge has passed hopefully the relationships I have built over the last year will still be there.
The second year which starts in September is for electives and for your thesis so it is a very different year ahead!