A day in the life of an MBA student/ wife/ mother

Before coming to UCD for my MBA, I did a few searches on the internet to find out what a day in the life of an MBA would be like. Having two children and seeking the ever so unreachable work-life balance, I wanted to get a feel of how much time I would have to spend on school work vs the time I could spend with my family and my other projects.

A search on the internet for the schools I was applying for wasn’t very promising. Only one ‘A day in the life of’ was found and it didn’t look too appealing. Despite that, I still decided to delve into an MBA hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad as the person wrote. So here’s sharing what a day in the life of an MBA student with family responsibilities looks like ;-) . By the way, I am a Muslim, and we have five prayers each day – at dawn, mid-day, afternoon, sunset and at night, so my typical day would revolve around these prayers as well as the other obligations.

The class times differ in different semesters, in the first semester most classes would start from 830 up to 2 pm, in the second semester we would start at 11am and end at 4 or 5 pm. In the summer semester, most classes are ‘block’ style, which means the classes run from 9 am to 5 pm for a specific number of days. We are also starting Capstone projects next week, so that will depend on whether the company requires your presence in their premise or for you to work on your own schedule and place.

I like to think of my day as starting at the end of the previous day, then add in my six or seven hours of sleep from there, if I can get that six/seven hours. The day usually ends at between 1145 pm to 130 am – after one to two hours of studying, cooking dinner for the family, cleaning up, reading and checking my six year old’s homework, getting my two kids ready for bed – which includes about 45 mins of chasing the two and six year olds to get them to brush their teeth, clean –up and reading a bedtime story. Once all the chores are done, I would perform the night prayer and then do my reading or assignments, so generally my bedtime would depend on when I think I’ve met my study goals for the day. Performing the final prayer before retiring helps me to refocus and reflect on what I’ve done throughout the day in preparation for tomorrow.

About an hour and a half before the actual sunrise, I would rise and perform my morning prayer. This would usually take five or ten minutes, but I would stay awake for another half hour to read and reflect the verses from the Quran and sometimes study for one hour.

In winter, the sun rises at around 8 am, so by the time I am done for my prayer, I rush off to class. But in spring and summer, I would have some time to sleep again and would wake up at 8 am to make breakfast, get my son ready for school, and depending on when I start class, send him to school. Once my son is in school, depending on the workload and class schedule  I usually spend the rest of the time between 9 am to 5 pm doing schoolwork – at times on campus, at times at home. If I am at home, I take a two hour break to prepare lunch and eat it with the family as well as perform my mid-day prayer. When I am on campus, I usually have a packed lunch while reading cases or finishing assignments and do my prayer in the multi-faith prayer room on campus.

The afternoons are then usually spent with the children or doing housework and squeezing in ten minutes for the afternoon prayer.  The time is spent sometimes studying, sometimes going out for groceries, sometimes doing NGO work. During the weekends, 50% of it is committed to do NGO work, so the rest of the 50% is divided between family, housework and studying. I don’t know how they have all managed to fit in, but God has been kind in helping us achieve our goals for the year despite the challenges along the way.

Having a family and young children who are growing up with lots of attention needs, I’ve had to be very selective on where I spend my time. This means that I haven’t attended 90% of the social, networking, club and other extra events that the school or my classmates have organized. But these are the conscious choices I made when I prioritized my goals for the year in Dublin. I have to say that despite the stretch on my time, brain, physical being and psychology, I am very happy that I’ve taken the year off to do this MBA.

Nur and Family

If you’re also a mother and you’re thinking of doing the MBA, it’s not going to be an easy journey, but it will be rewarding if it’s something that will add value to your long term goals. If you need specific feedback, I would be glad to communicate with you :-)


– Nur Zahirah M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13




Annual Smurfit MBA BBQ 22 June 2013

The annual Smurfit MBA BBQ took place last Saturday 22nd.

There were approximately 190 staff, students and their families in attendance. In the best Irish fashion it was partially indoors as we had to contend with the occasional short but sharp summer shower but what would an Irish BBQ be without a little rain?  The sun did occasionally show itself though and a good time was had by all.

This is especially true of the younger attendees who bounced on the bouncy castle, had their faces painted, ran races and watched a great floor show provided by Sillybilly the entertainment troupe who assisted with the day, some of the adults participated in all these activities too.  A rather spirited game of impromptu cricket also took place.


– Roisin O’Loughlin, MBA Programme Manager

At the end of the final class – was it worth it?

At the end of my final formal class for the MBA, I am reflecting back on my experience this year at Smurfit. Despite the humongous workload, frustrations and occasional tears, the experience at Smurfit has totally exceeded my expectations.

I am a big dreamer. In my MBA applications, I decided to only apply for the top schools. I applied for Said Business School and Harvard Business School. I got wonderful replies from them – you have a great application, but we’re not able to offer you a place at this time. Said Business school even sent me the same email twice, either because they like me so much or because they wanted to remind me that I should try for another business school :-) .

I am very happy, thanks and praises to God for putting the best plans in order, with the way that things have turned out by coming to UCD. I have benefitted greatly from the program (you can read some of this on my personal blog, my son went to a wonderful Muslim National School in Clonskeagh, and is now fluent in English while doing extremely well in Gaelic (better than English!) in his class. My husband and I learnt a lot about ourselves amidst the challenges of his NGO work, my MBA assignments and the kids running up and down between us. My little girl has had a lot of nurturing from being at home with dad and me (when I don’t have classes and meetings). And I have met so many wonderful people here – both from the school and through the volunteer work I am doing with the Malaysians studying and working in Ireland.

The first day of class, I remember trying really hard to understand some of my classmates who had really strong Irish accents (those from Cork, Limerick, you know you who are!). Today, I understand them perfectly well and the Irish-English accent just comes naturally to my ears. I’ve even caught myself inadvertently using the Irish ‘ya’. That’s lasting proof that I spent a year in the beautiful Irish land of Dublin :-D . And to answer the question in the subject line – was it worth it? Totally yes!

Nur Zahirah M Sukran


– Nur Zahirah M Sukran, FT MBA 2012-13

True support

In order to achieve, one must have support. These achievements vary greatly by individual, asdoes the form of support that they need to achieve. The effort required not only to attend the UCD Smurfit School Executive MBA, but also to actively participate and take full advantage of the learning opportunity is tremendous. This effort is simply unrealisable without support. There are many definitions of what support is, but in the context of my current studies I particularly like the definition that states support as; “to keep from weakening or failing”.

In my case I couldn’t even countenance attending the Executive MBA without the absolute support of my wife, children, family and friends. And recently at the Family Easter Egg hunt in Smurfit School, the strength of the family support for all students is particularly evident! We simply couldn’t achieve our ambitious goals without you all, and I wanted to take this chance to say thank you for your sacrifices and support in our endeavours.

Thinking further on the support that I have drawn on specifically for the Executive MBA, I was struck by the incredible support available and eagerly offered to all students by the UCD Smurfit School students themselves. And what I believe to be a unique strength of the school and programme, this support has been offered by the past students and alumni just as much as it has been by current students.

The strength of this support network is unrivalled, and even though I had read of it before attending the school and programme, I continue to be amazed by just how vital this network of support is. I myself spoke with past students prior to application and have continued to draw on the experience and perspective of these alumni throughout my time on the programme.

This support will only strengthen as we all continue to utilise it until and after graduate. I look forward to being in a position to extend these bonds of support to future students and for any prospective MBA students reading this blog, I would strongly recommend that you reach out and contact a current or former student for their perspective on UCD Smurfit School and the MBA.

You will be generously surprised by the response and support that you will find.

James O'Rourke



– James O’Rourke, EMBA Weekend 2012-14

Executive MBA Family Day

It’s easy to forget that your class mates are actually people with lives outside of the this world with husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and children – and not merely fellow captives trying to help you get through the many, various assignments! So with the goal of getting to know our class mates a little better and having some harmless fun we conceived of the idea of the eMBA Family Day.

We are a time poor group at the moment with little capacity for extravagant party planning so our core focus in getting the event organised was to pool everyone’s talents and resources to see what we could come up with. Before we knew it we found we had an ‘Egg Hunt Director’, Jenn Boyer (EMBA Weekend), who brought significant experience from her childhood in the US, a jewellery designer class mate with a flair for face painting (Claire McAllister, EMBA Weekend), and the offer of a 7 feet tall dragon costume from a class mate’s marketing department! With these various resources and the support of the MBA office the eMBA Family Day Egg Hunt and Picnic was launched!

The path of the MBA student is never smooth and despite the fact that almost every Saturday that the weekend group has spent in Blackrock has been bathed in glorious sunshine, the day of the egg hunt coincided with the torrential rain and floods in Dublin. Not a group to be easily defeated, we brainstormed, innovated, discussed and debated and quickly relocated the party indoors and crated an indoor Easter woodland.

More than 15 families with over 20 children and even a few grandparents attended the event, eating approximately 2 metric tonnes of chocolate! The children were very excited to meet the eMBA Easter Bunny (graciously played by James O’Rourke, EMBA Weekend) and were a little astounded to encounter the eMBA Friendly Dragon (a stunning performance by Steve Kelly, EMBA Weekend). Despite our various obstacles and limited time we were delighted with the success of the event and are already looking forward to a bigger and better event for Year 2.

In addition to the kid’s enjoyment it was great to see the partners of the eMBA class mates spend some time together in such a fun setting – to commiserate over their missing spouses in some cases, to regale everyone with tales of practice presentations in front of the fire in others! There is a life outside of the eMBA, even if it’s sometimes easy to forget, so it’s good to give ourselves a little reminder every once in a while so that we remember why we’re doing this.

– Ciara O’Brien, EMBA Weekend 2012-14

Welcome Second Leg of MBA

It’s a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining; the trees and grass are green with only a slight wind is blowing. It’s been more than two weeks since the start of a new semester for the full time MBA class. We’ve begun our option classes this semester, with only five core classes ongoing, including the overseas study trip due in March. The earliest class starts at 11 am this semester, good news for the owls among us.

We received our last semester’s results on Wednesday during the first week of class. I still feel a bit incredulous that I had actually completed studying seven subjects in three months. This semester, thus far, feels a lot less hectic compared to the last one.

A few of the class members mentioned that they felt like there was a lack in work/study-life balance last semester and wanted to re-prioritize their lives. Personally, I had occasional very high stress levels adjusting to the amount of work required last semester, along with my two young children and other domestic responsibilities. The ‘stress’ points were usually when the internet wasn’t working at home, had two or three assignments due and my beloved little ones were still running around the house when they should have had their morning bath.

I do feel that I was stretching myself a bit, and at some points wondered whether I would ever get to the end of the program! But I rationalized that it’s only for a short duration and I might as well juggle everything as best as I can. And it really depends on what we are looking for during this one year. Some of us may be using it as a stepping-stone, to network and get a better job while others may wish for academic excellence.

We all wrote down in our application essays what we wished to achieve during the MBA, though some people may have changed expectations and goals, but these objectives guide our decisions during the school term. For me, it has also meant forgoing taking any formal positions and attending most networking events because my aim is understanding with academic excellence while juggling a family, and bringing up and educating two future leaders (aka my children! ;)).

One of the great aspects of the MBA is that we get personal coaching which has helped us gain clarity into our own lives amidst the hectic MBA schedule. I’ve had two wonderful sessions with a first class Smurfit MBA alumnus. Coming out of the coaching session last Wednesday, I have asked myself a question that I felt I knew the answer, but perhaps I should ponder more on. I always have big dreams for my family and myself. But do I want to aim for eight things and only achieve 90%, or should I aim for only five things and achieve 100% on all of them? It’s a tough question. I would love to say I want to aim for eight things and achieve 100% but that would be stretching myself too thin and would definitely be bad for long-term health.

So to reach a middle ground, I will have to ask myself, out of those eight things that I want to achieve, which ones are the most important to me? What are my ‘key performance areas’ for this year? And for the long term? What are the strategic differentiators that I want to develop in myself? I know my priorities are my religion, my family and then only my career/ studies, but how much percentage do I devote to each of these, and how much do I have left for other things?

Deep breath.

Hard and tough questions to answer.


– Nur Zahirah M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13

Is anyone regretting taking the MBA yet?

While having lunch today with a few classmates, Michael (the MBA LDP Manager) joined our table and asked how we were doing. All three of us laughed.

Is it because we’re really happy that we’re doing the MBA?

Is it because we needed the adrenaline and positive hormones we got from the laugh to ease our stress?

Rani, who was sitting with us, remarked, “One of the biggest myths in doing the MBA is that you’re going to have free time.” And I agree with him 100%. I thought I would take some time off working on a full-time job and enrich myself intellectually at a ‘normal’ pace. I have been proven wrong in a few instances :-D . But I think most of us still think we made the right choice to do our MBA..

Here’s why I think I’ve (still) made the right choice by taking an MBA:

1.    Special campus for graduate students

a.     Dropped by the student union to get some used books for class a few weeks ago and walking through the throngs of young students, I felt very thankful that the MBA is housed in a campus for graduate students. It feels different culturally, intellectually and makes studying feel more serious in the more peaceful and quiet environment.

2.    Case studies, thinking

a.     I love the intellectual challenge posed in analyzing and breaking apart the cases for most of the classes. This is apart from the obvious lessons and motivational values that I get from reading about these great companies (just to name a few: Ideo, Honda, Cemex).

3.    Classmates and teamwork amongst the bigger group

a.     The experience and maturity of the classmates, with such diverse backgrounds. I have learned so much from them and find that I fit in well with the group, as well as finding so much benefit in the conversations and reflections between classmates that I believe I wouldn’t find in a cohort with too little or even no working experience.

b.    Sincere and kind classmates. I couldn’t say this more. This morning, I spilt some coffee on the carpet. I went to the restroom to get some tissue to wipe it up, but came back realizing that Lien had already wiped it. It’s small thoughtful things done by classmates to help each other that makes school much less stressful and makes it definitely bearable and something to look forward to.

c.     We have come together as a team in great ways. It started off from the mandatory team building, the compulsory groups set by MBA office, and now we are comfortable enough to band up for reading groups.

So if you’re thinking of doing an MBA, think about why you would want to do it. For me, it’s mainly the intellectual growth, but the two other points really add to the positive experience in the school.

– Nur Zahira M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13

Sunday Night TV Options










On Sunday evening after a long day studying, punctuated only by a break to watch the excellent Wales v Scotland match in the RBS 6 Nations, I flopped onto the couch to switch on the TV and switch off the brain for a while. The Biography Channel’s Storage Wars seemed the perfect opportunity for the latter. The premise is simple; it is a reality TV show that follows people that make their living bidding for the unclaimed contents of storage lockers. The only catch is that they can only peer into the locker from the outside before bidding.

“Interesting; they are bidding on the couch, the TV and the set of golf clubs they can see from the door, and the options on the contents of that trunk, those boxes and whatever is behind that old mattress. Of course with their limited funds the opportunity cost is quite high, the next (unopened) locker could be even better. That’s not even considering the working capital implications of whatever they find: how long is it going to take that guy to find a buyer for those antique chicken glasses? (I kid you not). And they have not thought about their reservation point for these nego………”

At this point my wife justifiably told me to shut up. Sometimes it is harder than you think to switch off from this course.

– Fergus O’Dea, FT MBA 2012

MBA Conferrings 2011

Wednesday 7th December saw the 2011 class being conferred in the O’Reilly Hall in Belfield.  It was a great occasion for all the graduates and their families some of whom had flown in for the day and a fitting event to mark all the hard work and effort put in by the MBA participants from the beginning of the applications process, in some cases year ago, to the handing in of the final assignment and putting the pen down in the final exam.  The conferral was a joint one between the MBA and the Masters in Accountancy programmes.  The ceremony itself was conducted by UCD President Hugh Brady and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh.  The address was given by Dr. Tony Brabazon, Director of UCD Smurfit Business School.

As usual the run up to the conferral was marked by lots of running around getting gowns and scanning of the hall to locate family, not an easy task in such a large hall.  After the official part of the day was successfully completed by graduates the 670 men, woman and children present adjourned to the O’Reilly Conservatory for the Conferring Reception.  There were lots of introductions of family to class mates, photographs taken with classmates and family with a rather splendid Christmas tree as a back drop and discussion of everyone’s plans for the evening.  A couple of the classes had arranged group meals or events for after family meals were over.   By all accounts some people didn’t finish celebrating until the early hours of the following morning.

Congratulations to the UCD Smurfit class of 2011 from all in the MBA Office.

– RoisinO’Loughlin | EMBA Programme Manager | MBA Office










A presentation, a partnership, an explosion and some future homeowners…

All of a sudden it’s Thursday and I’m driving down the quays heading to a 4pm work meeting before my groups’ 5.30pm EMBA presentation.  It’s going to be a photo finish reaching the Institute of Bankers on time. I have my earpiece in and am mid conference call with the team – Donal has made some last minute tweaks to our report that should give us that extra edge. Dermot and Simon have put the finishing touches to the presentation itself, and I’m taking the lead on its delivery tonight.  It’s our second of three essays due in this week. We knew it was going to be a tough time; burning the midnight oil and juggling work and family commitments. Work, college and study have merged into one and these last few days I’ve got about 5 hours sleep tops a night.

My work meeting finishes early, the foundation of a new partnership seems certain and it makes sense; non profits are all ultimately working towards the same goal and we shouldn’t be in competition with each other. We should try to come together as much as possible in areas where we overlap, to build capacity, reduce costs and improve impact.

Looking back on my last post and I’m delighted that Michael D made it to the Aras, I haven’t yet gotten my photo with him but we have put in a request for him to hand over the keys of two new homes to Habitat families who have been on the council waiting list for years. One of the future occupants, a family of four, has been living in a one bedroom flat in the city centre for the last 8 years. There’s black mould on the walls, it seems the boom that came and went didn’t even impact some people at all. This family will be contributing 500 hours of their time working onsite with volunteers, as well as paying off a small mortgage.  There’s a school across the road and a garden out the back. It’s exciting to think about the difference this opportunity is going to make.

Traffic goes my way and I reach my team early – 5.15pm and Dermot already has the screen ready, Simon has the printed version of our project in hand, Donal and I start anticipating questions. What a team! I know I’ll miss these guys when our groups change in the New Year.

I arrive home exhausted and put on a wash; the first normal thing I’ve done all week. 5 minutes later I come back into the kitchen, having heard a little ‘bang’ and smelt smoke. It seems the dial was on 95 degrees and the washing machine exploded…. It’s hard to know how to react when something like that happens – one’s first inclination is to look for someone to blame and then for a means to deny it actually happened. Having no capacity to think of either, I just open the window and go to bed. I’ll think about it the weekend….

– Karen Kennedy