Trust the Path

When I decided to come to Ireland for an MBA, I knew that I was in store for change. What I underestimated was how quickly I would adapt to a new country, university, and peers. The weeks have been busy, but each time I have made an effort to find time to explore something new in and around Dublin on a regular basis. Often-times these adventures include others from the cohort.

My first experience meeting my peers was grabbing coffee with fellow students that, like myself, had arrived early to give enough time to complete quarantine. I have to admit that heading to the coffee shop I was a bit intimidated. After all, I was still nervous that my background in urban planning would be a disadvantage–I felt sure the three students I would meet were more ‘natural’ fits for an MBA. To my surprise within half an hour we were sharing stories about odd work experiences, passions and hobbies, and making plans for the semester. I was relieved to find that everyone else had their own doubts about the process. 

Since then I have not only realised that the cohort is made of people with similar goals, but that everyone here has a wide range of unique experiences. In the past month I’ve shared new experiences, wine (even via Zoom), and a fair share of phone calls for advice and discussing future plans.

By far, the most important thing for me has been taking advantage of all that Dublin (and Ireland) has to offer. Whether meeting classmates for a well-spaced walk in the city, a quick run for food in Blackrock, or a solo bike ride to a new spot, the moments between classes are easily filled. 

The high point of my first 60 days in Ireland is the day-trip to Glendalough just before the semester started. Growing up in the infamously flat Midwestern US I don’t think I was exposed to a proper hike until I first visited New York State. Embracing the opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone I agreed to accompany my roommate to meet some friends for a hike.

I would have been content with the view at the base of the trail that took a short thirty minutes to reach. That was barely even the beginning. I am sure others that had done the walk before were not as impressed with how high we were – or that they could see the car park.

View of the lower lake
View of the lower lake

Pushing ahead – with intermittent pauses to attempt to locate ‘the spinc’. I started to draw analogies to the move to Ireland, the MBA, and what lies ahead over the next year and beyond. Even though I was unclear about the full extent of the walk, I trusted the process, and my hiking-partners for the day. The end result was the chance to see what I might achieve if I set out with an open mind, no particular expectations, and some encouragement and guidance along the way. In the end, I got to see the type of views I had only seen in photographs – with a few ruins sprinkled in to illustrate the importance and history of Glendalough.

Ruins at Glendalough
Ruins at Glendalough

 

View of the Upper and Lower Lakes
View of the Upper and Lower Lakes

Just one month into the MBA I am still figuring out what comes next. Over the next 11 months I have no doubt that my limits will be tested, and I’ll see what I can achieve under the right circumstances. I am also certain that my newfound peers will have the same experience, and that we’ll share a lot of moments now and after the MBA. For those who are sure this is the right step but who are worried they are a ‘good fit’, all I would say is to take the chance and keep an open mind and the result may surprise you. 

–Alexander McGrath, FTMBA Class of 2021

Eventually, everything will fall into place

Nearly this same day, same month, last year, I started my preparations for my first attempt at GMAT. I lived alone in a city miles away from family, which just added on to the overall pressure. On top of all of that, doing an MBA this year was extremely crucial: girls my age from India are supposed to be married by now, and I just could not back off from that fact. 

After slogging through office work for 9 hours a day, it was difficult to get in the habit of preparing for GMAT. I had just 2 months to attempt my exam. I finally gave my exam in October, just a week after my IELTS test, and had a decent score. The application process and submissions began soon. 

It was the 17th Feb. I kept on checking my phone all day, unsure whether I would receive  the acceptance offer from the university I was looking forward to. Felt like a bit of a waiting game. At around 1 PM IST an impossible prayer was answered, and an improbable dream had just come true. I jumped off my seat and danced a bit – I had received my first offer. So excited that I still don’t remember what the admission manager conveyed in that call after congratulating me! 

Later – given the upsetting situations due to strict lockdown in India – existing plans for celebrations, meetups, and farewell were rescinded. Amid the countrywide lockdown and travel bans, I could not meet my family before heading to Dublin. It had been more than a year since I met them last. COVID-19 had indeed rained over my parade! All this while visiting my parents was the only thing I was longing for. Although I held onto a ‘this too shall pass’ state of mind, it took me quite some time to come in terms with this unpleasantness. 

I spent the next few months vacillating over job resignation in such unprecedented times, applying for the visa, and finally packing my bags for my first ever international trip! There is always some thrill and terror about your first trip overseas, no matter how much you have traveled in your native country. After 22 hours of tiresome journey from India, 4 hours of wait at the airport, and multiple round trips of carrying my jumbo-sized luggage bags – with no helping hand amidst the pandemic- I somehow managed to land at the Smurfit Campus on 1st of September, panting and fighting for breath! I was eventually allotted a room at the residence on-campus. Now, with an intensive MBA foundation week kicking off the very next week and hardly a few days in hand to settle and accommodate, I had a hard time adjusting outside my comfort zones and maintaining a balance of emotions. New location, cultures, situations, cuisines, lifestyle and the most strenuous of all – coming back to that study-mode after a long gap!  

I finally decided to venture out with my brand-new flatmates and friends, to explore the beautiful campus of Smurfit, after completing our quarantine period. Getting to know each other to buy groceries, cooking together, picnicking in the Smurfit garden – all helped me pass this awkward phase smoothly. We had short trips to the breath-taking hills in Killiney, the vibrant Dublin City Center, and the picturesque BlackRock Sea viewpoint. The freedom felt so good!! 

With the current lockdown restrictions, studying virtually inside four walls is challenging. Coping up with the virtual ways of learning, grasping novel concepts, comprehending abundant case studies, balancing the sheets, assignments, attending virtual team meetings, recording presentations, Zoom-ing all day, networking, and what not – feeling a little overwhelmed and intimidated is also very natural. I am sure we all have had that feeling at some point in this journey so far. The pandemic has taken its toll on us. With no end in sight, the only thing to do is to adapt, continue to work and stay positive. Despite all this, life goes on and that also applies to my learning journey at the FTMBA program at UCD. 

Conveying my best wishes to all my talented cohort members and a million thanks to all faculty members who are effortlessly working to ensure that our learning never stops…
Conveying my best wishes to all my talented cohort members and a million thanks to all faculty members who are effortlessly working to ensure that our learning never stops…

‘Periods of adversity yield new habits of mind.’ COVID-19 has forced us to slow down and spend more time in personal reflection and coupled with a transformative MBA experience, it is highly possible to emerge stronger, wiser, and more resilient.

Advitiya Gupta, FTMBA class of 2021

Diving into the Full-time MBA

I arrived on campus on Monday 7th September, geared up with my notebooks, multi coloured highlighters and of course facemask, for the start of what I can only hope is a life changing year. Nothing can quite prepare you for what to expect, especially during a global pandemic!

Immediately I was put at ease. The warm welcome from all of the staff, personally escorting you to your classroom, put my first fear to bed – getting lost! On arrival to my designated socially distanced seat I was welcomed with an MBA goodie pack. While I really appreciated the branded jumper, laptop bag and mug, the 300+ page accounting book put the fear of god in me. As a marketing specialist, I was certainly intimidated at the thoughts of a financial accounting module (ps. – It’s actually not that scary).

For future students, let me give you some insider advice. Foundation week is like a bootcamp class in a gym but for 7-8 hours a day. Mentally you will be feeling a mix of emotions. To briefly summarise I would say, excitement, enthusiasm, and exhaustion! Be prepared for a trip to the deep end of the pool. The MBA’s programme managers and lecturers use Foundation Week to gear you up for the year ahead through lectures and team bonding activities. We had an array of really useful talks to help us be better prepared, from working in intercultural teams, programme logistics, persuasive writing, and how to better present yourself, to name a few. We also had the opportunity to sample some of the option module courses. To top this off we had our first 3-hour crash course in accounting.

screenshot-2020-09-10-at-15-58-40The blended learning aspect of the course has been brilliant in my eyes. Generally, we are on campus and together with our classmates for most of the day. When we transfer to virtual learning the technology platforms used have been really efficient and it’s nice to be able to see your fellow students minus a facemask! It’s common to be broken up into smaller virtual teams to work on challenges and tasks, which has been a really great way to get to know one another.

The highlight of the week for me was the virtual day on “Accelerating Team Performance”. Think escape rooms but virtual! The facilitators of this day succeeded in tackling the importance of team work and how best to navigate the ups and downs which will come our way. However, there was also plenty of tomfoolery going on throughout the day – videos of MBA class of 2021 singing and dancing available for a small fee!!!screenshot-2020-09-10-at-15-58-46

To conclude, foundation week is a rollercoaster of emotions. However, most importantly you meet your classmates and soon discover that along with your lecturers, family and friends, your classmates will be your number one support system. We have an incredibly diverse class, with students coming from Ireland, Egypt, China, Pakistan, America, Canada and India. One week in and the support everyone has shown each other in this small time has been overwhelming. There is a common understanding that we are all in this together and the willingness to help one another has significantly relaxed many of our needless worries and endless questions.

I come into this MBA programme not quite exactly sure where my final destination will be. I have no doubt that with the broad range of modules and mixing with my classmates with such diverse experiences and the expertise of Mark in the careers department – that I will end up in the right place. With the Smurfit MBA you’re putting your trust in the right hands.

Jessica Hughes, Full-time MBA Class of 2021

One Last Time

For the last installment of the Leadership Development Programme, UCD provided the full-time MBAs with a two-day session at the Talbot hotel. Hosted by the class favourites, Professors Karan Sonpar and Patrick Gibbons, and MBA Programme Manager Agnieszka Wisniewska, this session instigated a reflection on our personal development and provided  one last dip into self-awareness. It was also our first gathering as a class after almost 5 months, and all of us were geared up and enthusiastic about getting back into a classroom setting.

20200730_102731The first day started with an introduction to the Myers-Briggs type indicator and a review of our results. I was familiar with this test but had never officially done one before. Discussing with colleagues I notice how far our self-perception can be from our real image. For example, I was surprised to discover that introversion is one of my dominant features.

The highlight of the second day was the case study analysis of the Nucor case, where we used many of the skills acquired during the last 12 months–financial statement analysis, organizational behaviour, marketing and corporate finance–to discuss the growth of the different departments of a steel manufacturing company. With no pressure for grades and the relaxed atmosphere provided by the event, this exercise felt more like a game. It was also a great opportunity to see real-life incorporation of one year’s worth of theory and practical lessons. 

Of course, I must not forget that, with a small dose of grief,  this was our last opportunity to say “Together” together with the great Paul Slattery, whose presenting techniques spared us from many embarrassing moments during presentations. The session dealt with Executive presence and how to make the most impact on our body language while remaining relaxed. This was our third session with Paul and it was truly a great experience to see the difference in all of us from our first session back in September 2019.

However,  the real highlight of the event was the chance to see my classmates again. It’s been a weird and unpredictable year and it felt great to have one last MBA classroom experience before we all went our separate ways.

Ricardo O’Connor, FTMBA Class of 2020

Know Thyself

Back together again--at a distance.
Back together again–at a distance.

Towards the end of our MBA program, at the request of the entire batch, the school was kind enough to organize an Executive Development Programme with Professor Karan Sonpar and Professor Patrick Gibbons. 

The session was informative as well as self-reflective and it was a feeling of nostalgic happiness  with which I met my colleagues after five months.

The main objective of the seminar was to enhance self-awareness which in turn leads to personality development. Given our previous encounters with such assessments (I refer to the Strengths Development Inventory assessment taken in autumn),  I was keenly looking forward to this session, and it exceeded expectations. 

What I found most intriguing were the personality assessment tests, particularly the MBTI. The tests are designed to help us better understand where our personality types fit and how best we can use what we know about ourselves to benefit us both socially and professionally. This understanding  aids in nurturing team spirit and diversity and highlights the importance of appreciating and accepting the differences we have as individuals. 

Self-awareness is often sidelined as an essential factor in establishing work culture balance. Still, in reality, such knowledge is vital as it can help us align better with our colleagues and be more efficient at team selection. What’s important to remember is, these tests tell us about our preferences and are not reflective of our skills and abilities.

The test itself had four focus areas, namely; a) Gain and Direct Energy, b) Gather information, c) Make decisions, d) Live your life. The results were rather interesting and revealing. There was a range of sixteen personalities, and we all fit into one of those categories.  For instance, an INTJ personality type meant I- Introversion, N – Intuition, T- Thinking, J – Judging.  According to the test-makers, an individual with this personality type has a natural preference (not one’s ability or skill) to be an introvert. 

The test results gave me mixed feelings. While there were several exciting revelations which were a first for me, there were others which I knew well about myself. Such was the case with all my classmates . 

All in all, it was a fun exercise and most importantly, it was one last chance to have a good time with my peers from the Smurfit MBA class of 2020.

Karna Hallur, FTMBA Class of 2020

Back to Where it All Began

After 12 transformative months and a year like no other, I found myself walking through the tranquil gardens of Blackrock’s Michael Smurfit Business School with the MBA cohort of 2020. We had just returned back at the gates of Smurfit from our end of year MBA trip in Galway City and the nostalgia levels were running high.

Falconry activity on the end of year trip to Galway
Falconry activity on the end of year trip to Galway

On the back of strong advice from past MBAs, we decided to end the year with a trip away together. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, international travels were all off the cards. Fortunately, restrictions set by the newly formed Irish government did permit us to safely take a two-day trip to Galway. The activities had something for everyone, whether you were interested in go-karting or falconry, or simply taking advantage of the excellent food and sites the city has to offer. However, heed my advice: take caution when introducing any activity that has a winner when you’re working with an MBA class, as we do love our share of healthy competition! 

We were lucky enough to have had weather that allowed us to take a long walk to the famed diving board in Salthill. Many braved the cold Atlantic waters on the sunny August afternoon. I opted for a more frivolous approach. I enjoyed ice-cream as I engaged in commentary with fellow ‘remainers,’ judging those who took the immediate plunge… and those who took a little longer. 

Renewable energy project in a disadvantaged region of Argentina
Renewable energy project in a disadvantaged region of Argentina

I had found myself back in Galway City, where I finished my undergrad 6 years prior. I never imagined that one day I’d be returning with an MBA class made up of over 7 different nationalities and numerous professional backgrounds – engineers, lawyers, doctors, bankers, pharmacists, and the list goes on. A group of motivated, intriguing individuals, many like myself, who have found themselves at a crossroads in their careers. Equally, there are those whose next step is a foregone conclusion. 

UCD Smurfit GNAM Students at Yale School of Management
UCD Smurfit GNAM Students at Yale School of Management

The title of the New Radicals 1998 hit, “you get what you give” often comes to mind as I reflect on the past year. As much as I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the phrase, it’s quite appropriate when approaching an MBA in Smurfit Business School. The ingredients for success, growth and development are laid out for you. However, it is up to you to engage and utilise them. The facilities and staff at Smurfit are world class from start to finish, but to have a truly brilliant MBA you need one final ingredient: great students. The college also does a great job in recruiting candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds which truly makes the experience so remarkable. 

Trips to the U.S., Argentina, and Lisbon, early Monday morning classes with Professor Niamh Brennan, late Friday afternoon classes with Prof Eamonn Walsh, and everything in-between will ensure there is never a dull moment. 

March trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina
March trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you are someone joining or thinking of joining this program, here is my advice: engage with the course, connect with the people around you, and always strive to control the controllable in the sometimes turbulent but highly enjoyable experience that is an MBA at Smurfit Business School.

To borrow a line from a recent mentor of mine, “it’s not a meal ticket but a licence to fish.”

Daniel Duignan, FTMBA Class of 2020

The MBA Survival Guide

 

prashant-sharma-headshotThe following pages are a modest and unstructured attempt at the supplement to an MBA survival guide. The pieces of wisdom and quotes that appear hereon have been collected over the past year.

“With two weeks left in the term, students are just sauntering around enjoying themselves as though this first year at business school was no big deal. It was a big deal, and now that it’s almost over I want to see some recognition. I want the school to hire a brass band and stage a parade across the campus. I want the Dean to hold a press conference. I want the class president to release a thousand pink and azure doves from the courtyard. We’ve made it.”

Peter Robinson makes the MBA sound pretty grim in the above lines. I seemed to find that different people process it differently, with the exception of the first semester. The year starts with induction: you’re meeting your classmates and understanding how to access the learning resources and BAM, it’s Christmas. No one knew what hit them. 

It is easy to get lost in the busyness of business as the year goes by. However, it is imperative to remember the reasons that brought you to the MBA. Take this time to reflect about your values and goals because life only gets busier. If you’re in the full time MBA, you’re also unemployed, which is both scary and liberating. Use this time to chart a path for yourself, while being mindful of not copying someone else’s path; this is not the time to copy off someone else’s worksheet (the author does not encourage copying at other times either btw).

“Business school did prepare me for the real world — though not in the ways I expected.” – Erica Zendell.

Time management- the one thing you will surely learn in the MBA, willingly or otherwise.

Here is a simple and popular illustration which deserves a separate article of its own. If you are a non-Jedi human being, you can only pick two out of the three, not necessarily the same two every time. The fun lies in juggling, when two are in your hands and the other one is in the air.

If you are an international student, you are in for the double whammy of the MBA and the “culture shock” – the “anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse’’ (Oberg K., 1960). But it all works out in the end, take it from me. 

I went from scouring the supermarkets for palatable food, to becoming a quasi-MasterChef. (The earlier you learn to cook, the better). 

From living in Mumbai, where it’s never really winter, to moving to Dublin, where it’s never really summer. There is a silver lining though –

“If you don’t like the weather in Ireland, wait five minutes.” – an auld Irishman who prefers not to be named.

Moving abroad also gives you an opportunity to question your own values and priorities. When you’re exposed to new cultural values and norms, it challenges your own personal values and compels you to rethink if your values are really your own, or a result of the culture back home. Be prepared to have your sense of self unraveled and put back together.

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am…Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines…you are forced into direct experience [which] inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.” ― Michael Crichton, Travels.

“You get what you put in the MBA” – Prof. Karan Sonpar. This goes for EVERYTHING you do in this year. I have also seen people who stayed cocooned in their own universe and could not reap the benefits mentioned above. Immerse: in the classroom (or zoom) and everywhere else too.

My classmates demonstrating how you’re supposed to react when you see pints (from right to left)
My classmates demonstrating how you’re supposed to react when you see pints (from right to left)

If you feel lost in the hullabaloo of the assignments, deadlines, and papers, worry not my dear fellow, for there shall be pints. “You will also find that help pints will always be given at Hogwarts UCD to those who ask for it” – A.P.W.B. Dumbledore.

Prashant Sharma, FTMBA Class of 2020

Capstone Support: the Market Research Master Class

soumyajit-chakraborty-blog-pictureThe Capstone Project, a core element of the MBA experience at UCD Smurfit, was complemented by the Leadership Development Programme through a master class on Market Research, facilitated by Martha Fanning of Martha Fanning Research. The session provided insights and practical advice on market research aimed at adding an additional layer of richness and quality to the final set of recommendations for the clients. 

One big takeaway from the session: market research should never be underestimated. Many successful new businesses enjoy longevity because they conduct regular market research to understand their target market, identify consumer problems and pinpoint realistic competitors. A well-designed market research can identify how customers and potential customers might view products, solutions, and offerings in a very competitive landscape, and can identify gaps in customer expectations. Having good market intelligence helps minimize risks when making key business decisions. Most of our Capstone Projects had some, if not all, of these goals associated with them. 

The aim of market research is to gather information about a business’s buyer to determine the viability and success of the product or service. In the context of our Capstone project on talent management, scoped within employee recruitment, retention, and reskilling, the buyers are the employees themselves and the product and services are company offerings in learning, work opportunity, compensation, reward and appraisal systems etc. which build up the various levels of needs influencing employees to intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation and align with the company goals.

There were several factors that were considered while designing the research questionnaire and identifying the right surveying technique. Our approach was top down, starting with understanding what the company wanted and what they were willing to offer in exchange. Our approach was in alignment with understanding human nature and the innate hierarchical human needs responsible for motivation, how they could be transformed, and the social-political implications. The results from the research were structured into broad categories that looked into employees’ and potential employees’ opinion on a wide range of factors, which could be considered as building blocks or resources for success; for example, the unique work culture of an organization. 

The reason why some companies outperform others is a result of an organization’s competitive advantage, emerging from a refined understanding of the factors that determine market attractiveness. Our research highlighted the importance of leveraging the knowledge and views of employees to both engage the workforce and to create a unique organizational strategy.

Soumyajit Chakraborty, FTMBA Class of 2020

Learning the Agile Way!

sahil-singla-headshotOut of many wonderful learning experiences in the Smurfit MBA, Masterclass sessions were very insightful. Masterclasses were not a part of the pre-defined course curriculum but were arranged on-demand as extra learning opportunities for MBA students. These were optional classes, providing flexibility to students to choose sessions of their interests. In order to boost the spirits of all of us during the COVID environment, the classes were designed with a practical approach towards the usage of those tools and concepts which would help us in our future assignments.

One such masterclass was organized on “Agile” philosophy. The class was in high demand and the facilitator had to take two sessions to accommodate all interested students. 

Even though my area of expertise is operations and supply chain, with very little prior exposure to Agile concepts, my learnings were immense because of the interactive sessions chaired by a highly experienced professional, and thanks to the contribution of my many classmates who have in-depth knowledge on the subject.

We learnt the key differences between Agile and Waterfall methodology, and that both have their own use cases. It was interesting to find out that while in Waterfall methodology, resource planning is done based on deliverables and timelines, the whole focus of Agile is on available resources and timeline, and the deliverables are prioritized accordingly.

These initiatives like Masterclass and Leadership Development in the post-COVID environment are a reflection of the school’s commitment toward the overall development of MBA students and are amongst the key contributors to our experiential learning process at Smurfit.

Sahil Singla, Full-time MBA Class of 2020

Take the Plunge!

peter-walsh-headshotEarly last spring, I came to the decision to apply for the UCD Smurfit MBA. I had reached a crossroads in my career where I wanted to expand my skillset and potentially look at moving into a different industry. I did plenty of deliberating on whether an MBA was the stepping stone I needed: I found myself spending hours reading online forums, reviewing the application process and GMAT requirements. Eventually, I took the plunge and applied.

As I approach the end of the programme, eighteen months after deciding to apply, I can safely say that I made the right choice. The Smurfit MBA affords you opportunities you wouldn’t get over the course of an entire career. In addition to expanding your expertise and knowledge through interactive lectures and the experiences of your classmates, the programme creates many opportunities for students. A dedicated careers service helps you explore career paths you may have not considered in the past and leverages the Smurfit alumni network to help you follow up on potential career paths: each student is assigned an MBA alumnus mentor who will give you practical advice regarding your career aspirations and goals. 

If you’re not comfortable networking, fear not: the careers team also organise a course at the start of the year to equip you with all the tools you’ll require to become an effective networker. The programme then gives you countless opportunities to test out your new skills, with guest speakers, company visits, and networking events scheduled throughout the year.

The Smurfit MBA also emphasises experiential learning to prepare you for a global career, incorporating three international trips over the year. In October I was lucky enough to take a course in the behavioural science of management at Yale School Of Management as part of an exchange week organised by the Global Network for Advanced Management. At the beginning of March, we travelled to Argentina for our class study trip, where we visited a number of local businesses. While travel restrictions meant we were unable to travel to Portugal for the International Consulting Trip module planned for late May, we were able to work remotely to complete projects for small and medium enterprises based in and around Lisbon.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with options and hesitating with the MBA application process, take my advice and just take the plunge. Below are a few points on the application process which would have helped me along the way: 

  • While preparing your essays, make the content as personal as possible. The admissions team want to get to know you, your career aspirations and what you will be able to contribute to the overall class experience. 
  • While compiling your application, don’t go down a rabbit hole in pursuit of perfection. Write and write, then trim. Let the ideas flow, rephrase where needed and then edit to highlight your strengths. Reflect on your past experiences and tie them in with the MBA to create a story for the future.

Peter Walsh, Full-time MBA Class of 2020