Back to Reality

Beautiful Amsterdam
Beautiful Amsterdam

Most people would agree that taking a break is nice. Taking a break from whatever your regular routine is; taking a break from work, family, school etc. As a full-time student, taking a break means total mental and physical peace. The build up to the break gives you an almost super-human ability to switch off completely. Think of it like an over-heating car. You work tirelessly through the first semester to achieve your goals and meet every deadline. At the end you begin to burn out and all you need to do it switch off, cool down and refill.

There is something about the holiday season that makes the break that much better. Once you switch off, you can wake up at odd hours of the day without feeling any guilt. Eat way more than is necessary or socially acceptable. You start to procrastinate even the less important things in life: should I wash the dishes now or later? And you experience freedom and tranquility in large doses. Taking a break is nice.

However, taking a break means that you will eventually have to get back to work, or family, or school. People will generally fall into one of two distinct categories. The closer the return date comes, the more some people find themselves pondering time travel and the speed of time. Where did the time go? How can I go back to the beginning? On the other hand, the closer the return date comes, the more restless some people become. It’s been way too long! Can we get started already? Whichever group you belong to, you realize that life simply must move on and you simply must get back. And then your mindset changes.

Back to reality. Time to set new goals and deadlines. Time to meet new people and experience new and different things. Time to get back into a routine, feeling rejuvenated and ready. You begin to look forward to the challenges and work that will surely come. You recognise that although last semester was hard, it was fun and it was worth it. You look at the person you were at the beginning of the MBA programme, and the person you are now, and this makes you look forward to working toward the person you will be at the end of the course.

That is when you appreciate that breaks are never meant to last forever. I have every confidence that the rest of this school year will be exciting, rewarding and fulfilling.

4 months down, 8 more to go.

Joanne Muchai ~ Full-Time MBA

Teams – A Hybrid Approach


Undertaking an MBA was something I had considered for a long time. However, with my career progressing and being in my mid 30’s I has thought that the time to take on this challenge had passed me by. Realising that I wanted to change my career path, I spoke with friends & colleagues, and made enquiries into what options and programmes were available to me. I quickly realised the Full-Time MBA in Smurfit Business School matched exactly what I was looking for.

After 10 years in the banking industry, giving up my job (and salary!!) for a year was a scary prospect. However, unlike many of my classmates, being from Dublin was advantageous in terms of not having to move, which made things easier for me. Returning to full time education after a gap of 10 years certainly took some getting used to, but after 2 to 3 weeks of a settling in period I was back in the student mind-set.

There is a wide diversity in the class in terms of experience, industry, and nationality. Adapting to different people’s way of doing things takes time and includes some trial and error – but I am always learning. An engineer and a banker certainly have different ways to tackle the same problem! However, what I have learned is that there are many ways to successfully complete a task. Quite often a hybrid approach between team members proves to be the most efficient way of achieving success.

The past 4 months have flown by. It has been tough at times and the hours have been long, however I have learned a huge amount both academically and personally and I have met some great people along the way. Semester 1 is complete, however there is still a long road ahead and I am looking forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.

I have really enjoyed the MBA experience to date, but having said that I am certainly enjoying the Christmas break! Lots done – even more to do!

Mark Kavanagh ~ Full-Time MBA

The Difference Between Learning & Understanding



After a hectic term of lectures and projects in the six modules of the Full Time Smurfit MBA Programme, my first feeling about end of terms exams was abject fear. With my background in Psychology, English and Foreign Language, I’ve made it through an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree without ever having to take an exam with right or wrong answers. The prospect of finding success in MBA exams, with their numbers and complex theoretical models, hid behind an impenetrable wall. I didn’t know what to do.

In the past, any time I have tried to cram objective information, I have had a lot of trouble. I’ve found that it doesn’t suit the way my mind works. In order to learn even basic concepts, I have to indulge my curiosity and find understanding. I realised quickly that I would have to adjust my studying technique to something that would work for me.

My resolution through the process was to learn as much as I could during my weeks of study and exam review. The MBA is a choice I made for myself and my career and I realised early on that focusing on rote memorisation would do little to serve me in the future.  To get the most out of my exam preparation, I decided to learn through applications of concepts, thinking through ways that they could be applied in the real world. For some courses, I went through case study notes. For others, I was able to find more information through research on how MBA concepts work in the real world.

When I shifted my exam study goal from learning to understanding, I got a lot more out of my hours of preparation. It remains to be seen whether this paid off with my grades (they aren’t posted yet!), but I definitely felt confident and calm walking into each exam. More importantly, I know that I learned a lot more than I would have if I had crammed information in my brain that didn’t mean anything to me.

I couldn’t go as far as to say that I enjoyed studying for exams, but I did get a lot out of the process and I now have a solid understanding of my first six modules in the Smurfit MBA programme. Although I would be delighted to get good grades, the real hope is that I will be able to use this information and understanding later in my career. In the meantime, I am really enjoying a few weeks off.

Elsa Heffernan ~ Full-Time MBA

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“In many ways, the MBA is the codification of common sense…”


After buckling in for a manic ride in August, the Christmas break has given me time to take stock of all that I have learned and experienced in the recent months.

During the break, my daughter got an ‘old school’ snow globe as a present and one evening I gave it a shake, and as I watched the flakes circulate and begin to land, so I started to think, which is never a good idea!

As I watched I recalled a moment I had when preparing for the exams.  I was thinking about a concept and a case, but I could not remember what subject it related to.  Was it Ops?  Marketing?  Competitive Strategy?  I then realised that it did not matter what subject it was.  I am not studying Ops, or Marketing or Competitive Strategy; I am studying Business.

In the whirl of the first semester it is easy to see all the new things we learn like the snowflakes in the globe.  They are thrown around, seem disparate and random and not at all connected.  But then they settle and become part of the overall picture.

That is how I rationalise my first semester.  There is a lot thrown at us.  There are new concepts, new subjects, new cultures and significant time management challenges.  The flakes swirl in a haphazard fashion, going up, going down and presenting a confusing and incongruent picture.  But then the pace slows, absorption happens and suddenly the picture becomes apparent – the flakes settle and the scene is clear.

For me, the realisation struck that the marks I receive for my work in Semester 1, whilst important, are not actually the point.  The point is the journey, learning how to learn, how to get the best from yourself and from your team and learning the difference between time management and energy management.  It is a rare opportunity, an intellectual indulgence that we should not waste by obsessing about grades; they are merely the output for how you travel the learning journey.

In many ways a lot of what we ‘learn’ is not new as such, just that we have not looked at it in the ordered way it is presented.  Through our business experience, we have known a lot of what we learn, but we now understand it, not as random thoughts, but as a coherent strategy.  In many ways, the MBA is the codification of common sense.

Who knew a snow globe could be so thought provoking!

Paul Kelly ~ Full-Time MBA

Click here to find out more about The Smurfit MBA

Has It Only Been 17 Weeks?


Yesterday marked the official end to the first semester of the Full-Time MBA Programme. Unfortunately, as is often the case with college courses, this meant a series of written exams testing us on the various modules we have completed over the previous 12 weeks of lectures. It has been ten years since my undergraduate exams, and what made it all worse was the eerily familiar halls of the RDS.

At this point, it feels appropriate to reflect on the first semester and my experience so far in the Smurfit FT MBA. Firstly from an academic standpoint, the subjects are so broad in nature. Having completed an undergraduate Engineering Degree, many subjects were math based, and those that weren’t linked in with those that were math based. Here, I have been exposed to Financial Reporting, Strategies for Human Resources, Performance Driven Marketing, Operations & Supply Chain Management, Competitive Strategy and Business Economics (Game Theory). In this time, I (as well as my fellow classmates) have had to digest in the region of 90 case studies and articles. I can honestly say that I have never been this stretched before.

Another benefit I’ve experienced here is in relation to the people; my classmates. We are a diverse group, with students coming from Canada, China, Ireland, India, Mexico, Vietnam and the USA. Each person brings with them a unique perspective built upon their culture and their previous working and educational experience.

During the first semester, I had the opportunity to study for a week in a partner University. My choice was “Behavioral Economics, Marketing and Finance” in Yale’s School of Management. This was a great experience, and made all the better by the pre and post trip to New York City.

The daunting thing is that yesterday marks the end to our introductory phase to the MBA. Next semester brings with it, new modules and electives, two international study tours, and the chance to partake in a case study competition to be held in Yale. I had been considering an MBA for a long time, so much so that the original GMATs I completed were no longer valid when I finally did apply for admission to Smurfit. Despite the pressures and stresses associated with going back to college (and foregoing a salary), I am immensely happy I chose to do it.

Peter Hynes ~ Full-Time MBA