Meet an FTMBA Class Rep: Kumuta Palan

Each term, the Full Time MBA Class elects two members to serve as the liaison between the students, faculty, and administration. Kumuta Palan was selected as one of the two FTMBA Class Reps for Spring Trimester 2024.

FTMBA Class Rep Kumuta Palan
on the Doing Business in International Markets study tour to Singapore

What inspired you to volunteer to serve as Class Rep?

Being a class rep is not just about leading people but more about channeling the collective voice of our cohort. I’ve always felt a strong desire to build equity and fairness, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard. What better way to do this than by serving as a class rep? 

If there’s one thing people will tell you about me, it’s that I genuinely care about people. I’ve always enjoyed taking on responsibilities, and being a highly organised person, stepping into the role of class rep wasn’t outside my comfort zone. It felt like a natural progression as even before being voted in to be a class rep, I was organising cultural events to celebrate our MBA cohort’s rich diversity. From Diwali and Chinese New Year to Eid, a Women in MBA Christmas lunch and New Year’s Afternoon Tea, these events were my way of bringing people together and fostering a sense of community.

As an international student representative, a Malaysian who relocated to Ireland during the pandemic in support of my husband’s career, I can relate to many of my peers who are international students navigating a new country. My extensive reading and travelling from a young age taught me the importance of cultural adaptation. It opened my mind, and inspired me to see the world differently in that I’ve learnt that every message must be tailored because they don’t land the same way in every culture. 

Creating an inclusive environment where people feel included and safe to express themselves was my main drive in being class rep. I always thought of it as bringing people to the party and encouraging them to dance. To me leadership is situational: rank doesn’t matter, but stepping up does, and I hope I stepped up enough on behalf of the cohort, where our voice was heard collectively. 

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your MBA?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to rewrite your networking narrative. Networking is like dating: you’ll hear that comparison so often, you might start to think you’re at a matchmaking event instead of a networking one. Networking often feels transactional and unnatural for most of us. It’s awkward, nerve-wracking, but potentially rewarding. Maybe your mind goes blank when you’re trying to make a good impression, or you feel the need to overcompensate your nerves with false enthusiasm. Whatever your thoughts on networking, the reality is much more forgiving. However, with the wrong mentality and approach, it can be quite dreadful–much like dating.

Don’t expect to find your dream job right away. Attend events to meet new people and expand your circle of friends. It’s more likely that you’ll meet someone you like enough to want to be friends with, and that’s great! You have just made a friend. Well done! You don’t attend events to find a job, though that can happen. It’s nice to know that the worst you can do when you attend and engage in events is to make a friend. That’s the whole point!

Your friends can introduce you to valuable opportunities. Meeting new people at events will help you grow your personal network. By maintaining these connections, you can further expand your network through the connections you already have. It’s through one of those connections that someone may learn about an opportunity with you in mind.

Don’t force it; be authentic. Engage in conversation, find someone you connect with, and keep the conversation going. Remember, the other person is also human, so navigate the realm of professional networking with a smile on your face and laughter in your heart. Now go forth: attend networking events, be yourself, and don’t force a laugh at someone’s lame joke. 

An interethnic group of smiling young people in Santa hats, in a colourful gastropub
The author and her Autumn Term study group celebrate Christmas

What skills have you learned in the programme so far that you’re most excited to take to work?

One important lesson is the value of cultivating a learning culture within oneself. This involves being curious and maintaining a mindset of continuous learning. The ability to learn lifelong is going to be the single biggest differentiating factor that sets successful professionals apart. The world is pivoting so fast that if you’re not willing to learn, unlearn, relearn, and reinvent yourself all the time, then you’re history. 

Another crucial skill I’ve developed is situational leadership. It’s about showing up, stepping up, and putting your hand up for the less glamorous assignments. These are the tasks that teach you the fundamentals of a business and give you the experience and grit that others can’t match. You have much more power and influence than you can imagine when you focus on what you can contribute rather than your job title. Even in the 21st century, there’s still the challenge of impostor syndrome, with women feeling like they don’t deserve to be at the table. If you ever think, “I’m only this or that, what can I do?”, remember that you have much more power and influence than you can imagine. Speak up, stand up, and demonstrate the situational leadership that you’re capable of.

My journey as an MBA student and class rep has been incredibly fulfilling. A piece of advice for those looking to embark on an MBA journey, my advice is to lean into discomfort, it’s your growth lab. Build resilience, and adaptability, and cultivate a mindset of continuous learning. Embrace the journey with courage and an open heart, and don’t forget to stay connected to yourself amidst the hustle.

Kumuta Palan, FTMBA Class of 2024

Doing Well by Doing Good: The MBA and Community Outreach

Even as a child – much to my mother’s dismay – I was always searching ways for “us” to make a difference. I would volunteer us for Tidy Towns litter clean-ups, rescue strays and bring them home, and offer homemade baked goods to the local school’s charity bake sales. My intentions were pure, though my mother was less than impressed with me incessantly offering her services. 

Nevertheless, these principles persisted throughout my life, and led to volunteer stints teaching underprivileged children, assisting disadvantaged communities, organising gigs for charity and numerous other fundraising events since. 

Coined by Benjamin Franklin, yet more relevant now than ever, “Do well by doing good” encapsulates the essence of today’s MBA teachings, from sustainability practices to social impact.

Five smiling young women hold up hot-pink t-shirts with the logo of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
Founder Emer Walshe with Community Outreach Society Committee members and volunteers 
at our Charity Cycle Challenge

During my first trimester as a student in the UCD Smurfit MBA, I gathered a group of remarkable women with a combined skill set that I knew could achieve anything, to join my committee for the Community Outreach Society. With each member leading a project, I knew that we could magnify our individual impact exponentially. The sky’s the limit in my eyes.

During the whirlwind that was the first term, engrossed by the humbling workload, with strong teamwork and dedication, we pulled off our first event.

I led the Christmas Shoebox Appeal, hosted by Team Hope. Working together, we assembled 21 shoeboxes filled with all sorts of magical toys, clothes, and art supplies. We sent the boxes to children all over Africa and Eastern Europe who otherwise wouldn’t have received anything for Christmas.

A group of casually-dressed MBA students smile for the camera behind a table piled with festively-wrapped presents
Community Outreach Society members gathering shoeboxes for The Christmas Shoebox Appeal

Committee Member Emily Merlino spearheaded our next initiative. A pub quiz in aid of Children’s Books Ireland, the national charity and arts organisation that champions every child’s right to develop a love of reading, raised a fantastic €277 to send books to children all over Ireland. Emily’s comments on planning the event:

“I feel very passionate about the importance of reading and literature. I was lucky to have parents and librarians that supported my love of reading early on, but not every child does. The work that Children’s Books Ireland does is so important because they encourage and facilitate this love of reading early on. 

I love a good quiz night, so planning one was good fun – though, the added pressure was a bit of adrenaline, I will say! I always want an event or project to go well, but when planning an event to raise money for a cause, I want it to go above-and-beyond.”

A collage of photos, clockwise from left: quiz sheets and a pencil on a dark wood pub table; a CBI-branded bookmark; club chair Emer Walshe speaking to the assembled quiz players; the Community Outreach Society logo of two cupped hands.
Images from the Pub Quiz in aid of Children’s Books Ireland

For our next big event, Flossie and the Beach Cleaners helped us plan a day by the sea, cleaning our shores and keeping our wildlife safe. The level of plastics and litter around our shoreline astonished us, raising an acute awareness within the class about the importance of effective waste management. 

I was stunned to find a full, undamaged shoe amongst the rocks. To see the enormity of plastic containers, nets, bottles and cans was a shock, especially in Dun Laoghaire, an area I would have previously considered unspoiled. In the end, we collected a colossal 65KG of waste from the shore line.  

A collage of images, clockwise from top: 15 MBA students celebrating behind bags full of collected litter; litter on the rocks near Dun Laoghaire pier; the same rocks after clearing; the bags of collected rubbish.
MBA volunteers at Dun Laoghaire West Pier picking up litter from the shoreline

We held our biggest event so far less than a week later. Club committee member Caitrín O’Leary and I had a lot of fun planning a Charity Cycle Challenge with a twist – lecturers and students competing head-to-head, driving donations for their teams to gain an advantage and ferociously cycling on the night to outshine the other teams’ kilometre numbers, all in aid of The Irish Hospice Foundation.

Whilst it took the womanpower of two to plan, along with a plethora of students and lecturers to jump on board our bikes for the cause, it was all worth it to see us raise a whopping €3,430. 

Charity Cycle Organisers Caitrín O’Leary and Emer Walshe celebrating a fantastic fundraising driver for The Irish Hospice Foundation

Caitrín O’Leary had these words to say about the event:

“I chose the Irish Hospice Foundation because of the difference they make to families and loved ones coping with end-of-life care. By ensuring that patients are comfortable and cared for they enable people to spend precious time with their loved ones as friends and family, rather than as carers.  It’s hard to overstate the importance of the work they do.

This was my first experience of organising an event like this, and it wasn’t without challenges -not least when two of the bikes broke down 10 minutes in! But I was blown away by the support for the event; from students, faculty and lecturers who gave their time and stamina to take part, to everyone who donated generously to the cause. The support was incredible and that’s what made the event a success.”

A collage of photos: 4 MBA faculty & staff members wearing athleisure, riding stationary bicycles
Faculty members Jim Power, Sinead Cunniam, Jack Massey and Edel O’Leary
 going head-to-head for The Irish Hospice Foundation

It’s certainly been an eventful year, and we’re not done yet! We have much more to come from our esteemed committee members. Next, our sights are set on planting a vegetable garden for a special needs school in Dublin, which currently lacks the necessary resources to do so.  

Whilst it’s true that studying an MBA demands considerable fractions of time, let’s not forget our power to “Do well by doing good”. The end goal is not simply to graduate with academic triumphs, but to relish in the experiences along the way. Remember how fortunate you are to be standing where you are at this very moment. 

As Pablo Picasso once said: 

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Emer Walshe, FTMBA Class of 2024

Can or Not? Lessons from an MBA Study Tour

A group of about 40 smiling people in Singapore's Chinatown, behind a banner that reads 'UCD Smurfit School MBA'
Day 1 in Singapore: UCD Smurfit MBAs explore Chinatown, jet-lagged but happy

Ireland’s Ambassador to Singapore, Sarah McGrath, shared this question which she hears every day: “can or not?”.  This incisive question sums up the Singapore our MBA class saw on the recent “Doing Business in International Markets” module, which brought us into contact with businesses across the country. It’s also a question that we’ve all asked ourselves–not least when considering taking the plunge back into full time education at UCD.  For some of us, “can or not?” has meant, “can I leave my home and immerse myself in a completely new culture?” For others it has meant, “can I abandon a career I’ve worked hard to build, and take a chance on something new?” 

Five young women in business casual dress in front of a black-and-white mural, in cartoon/comic book style, of people reading and playing musical instruments in a landscape built of books.
Author and friends search for a bookstore and find this mural

For Singapore, a milestone “can or not?” moment came in 1965 when it found itself an unexpectedly independent nation, following the dissolution of its union with Malaysia. Suddenly on its own, without sufficient space or resources to be self-sufficient, Singapore had to learn how to self-govern and grow. They did this with the efficiency of a well-run company. Throughout the trip we saw proof of Singapore’s unrivalled ability to “plan and deliver”. Through this business mentality, Singapore designed an enviably liveable city. 85% of Singaporeans live in public housing. They have a world class health system, and exceptionally low levels of crime. Instead of “can or not?”, the question that comes to mind is, “if Singapore can, why can’t we?”

Giant electric trees with plantlife growing up the trunks and glowing wire crowns.
View of Gardens by the Bay light show, in front of the iconic Marina Bay Sands

Every company we visited had stories of coming across a challenge and answering “can”. One example that stayed with me was 3M, a materials innovation hub.  Their business began with an adhesive gone wrong: the adhesive produced was not sticky enough to permanently glue anything, not even paper. They asked the question, “can this be used for anything else?”, and so the Post-It was born.  

A dozen young people in cocktail attire in front of colourful skyscrapers and a dark blue sky.
Author and friends at farewell dinner by Singapore River

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere for transferrable skills. Starting an MBA for many of us means stepping off the path we thought we were on, and discovering how to use the skills we’ve learned for a different purpose than they were intended. For me, stepping away from hospital medicine posed a similar dilemma. Like the dodgy post-it glue, I felt perhaps I wasn’t doing what I was made for. One of the greatest learnings of the MBA for me is that there’s always a way to use what you have, and add value. Medicine teaches empathy, curiosity, perseverance–all skills that can be applied to any area of life and work. 

I’ve seen the same in classmates who are coming from different professional backgrounds: some are natural people managers; others have great analytical insights. Some have a unique perspective on any topic, and others are exceptional project leaders. Some can build a connection with anyone in minutes, while others can break down any concept and teach it to the rest of us. The MBA has helped us all to recognise the skills we have, and to adapt them to different uses–just like 3M’s post-it. 

About 20 young women in cocktail attire smiling for the camera.
Women of the MBA with Singapore tour guide Vidhya at welcome dinner

GSIC, a not-for-profit open innovation hub that connects sports bodies with tech start-ups, has a similarly can-do approach. Sports organisations contribute problem statements, often focussing on fan engagement, sustainability, smart venue development, athlete performance and wellbeing. Tech start-ups provide solutions such as virtual reality training programmes, sustainable drink dispensers, and smart equipment to give instant feedback on strength and accuracy. They answer the question of “can or not?” daily, and their answer is that somebody, somewhere, can.  

A group of 40 in a corporate hallway, with the neon logo 'KERRY' in the background.
Smurfit MBA students get a flavour of Kerry Singapore

Kerry Group gave us another example of collaborating to find your “can”. The problem they needed to solve was “what flavours will be popular next year, or five years from now?”. They found a unique way to answer this, in collaboration with Microsoft. Their AI programme monitors micro-influencers across many regions, registering when and how different flavours are mentioned and drawing insights from this data. 

About 15 young people dressed casually, holding umbrellas, and smiling broadly. Behind them, a giant sculpture of a dragon spits water, and grey clouds lower over a low cityscape.
MBA Classmates enjoy a rainy morning in Singapore (pictured in front of Singapore Merlion)

This is another lesson learned from the MBA programme: there’s no need to go it alone.  I’ve seen from our group projects that when a group works really well together, the end result is better than what any of us could have achieved on our own. Outside of lectures, our class has worked together on successful events, community outreach projects, and more.  This week we’re hosting a fundraiser for the Irish Hospice Foundation, which has been a huge class effort and has raised >€2,000 already. This goes to show what can be accomplished if you have the right people around you.  

Speaking of which:

A poster for the Cycle Challenge being put on by the MBA Community Outreach group, to benefit Irish Hospice Foundation.

Another memorable visit was to MONA, a social enterprise focussed on reducing food waste in the region.  Also interested in renewable energy, MONA’s big “can or not?” is, “can we live more sustainably, and can a small group of people make a difference?” Forced to pivot from their original business plan, MONA adapted their skills to create an enterprise that provides low cost options to those in need, and reduces the burden of waste on their environment.  

This, too, relates back to our MBA experience. As well as recognising the skills we have, and learning to benefit from those of our classmates and our network, we’re also learning that everything is teachable. Whether it’s negotiating work conditions, presenting to potential investors, or, like MONA, leading a team to tackle an important issue: nobody is born with the ability to do these things, and anyone can learn to do them. 

An overhead shot of the MBA class surrounded by household goods and packed boxes in a warehouse-like space.
MBA students on a visit to MONA social enterprise

If I take one lesson from the MBA and our Singapore experience, it should be to always ask “can or not?”. And if the answer is not, then it’s only a matter of finding the right people and training to change that. Luckily for us, many of those people can be found in our diverse, quirky, and multi-talented MBA class.

Text: Caitrín O’Leary, Full Time MBA Class of 2024
Photos: Sagar Srichand Purswani, Full Time MBA Class of 2024

Meet an FTMBA Class Rep: Emily Merlino

Each term, the Full Time MBA Class elects two members to serve as the liaison between the students, faculty, and administration. Emily Merlino was selected as one of the two FTMBA Class Reps for Spring Trimester 2024.

The author in Singapore, on the Doing Business in International Markets study tour.

What ways do you hope your career will change when you’ve earned your MBA?

I was the Engagement Director for a global edtech company before joining the Smurfit MBA. In this position, I was lucky enough to travel to some unique spots worldwide and meet with fantastic people from across the globe. This experience, paired with learnings from the MBA about innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital strategies, led to me developing a goal of working in travel and aviation innovation. I hope to combine my experience in program management, global engagement, and leading a team with my MBA learnings around digital innovation and strategy to work in the travel and airport innovation sector. I’ve learned so much about critical thinking, ideation, and implementation during my time in the FTMBA, and I would love to implement those learnings in a field that really excites and inspires me.

How would you spend your ideal day off?

My ideal day off would start with getting a flat white from Bodega Coffee, followed by going on the Howth Cliff Walk with friends. After the walk, my partner and I would head into Dublin city centre and go to a couple of the bookstores I love. Then, we would head to one of our favourite restaurants, El Grito, for some great Mexican food. We’d end the night watching a movie at Stella Cinemas, a lovely, old-school cinema with beautiful decor and delicious snacks. Finally, we’d get home and snuggle our shih tzu, Yoshi. Coffee, hiking, books, Mexican food, movies, and dogs – what more could you want?

What skills have you learned in the programme so far that you’re most excited to take to work?

This year solidified and enhanced my time management and project management skills. Between classes, student organisations, class rep responsibilities, working part-time, travel, and trying to carve out time to decompress and rest, life as an FTMBA student necessitates strict organisation and planning. Skills like compartmentalisation, planning, delegation, and teamwork are vital to succeed in the FTMBA and the workplace. I suggest getting a great agenda or planner and using it!

Emily Merlino, Full Time MBA Class of 2024

Hiking in Dublin

As the first light of dawn stretches across the sky, painting it in a breathtaking palette of orange and pink, I find myself lacing up my boots along with my close friends for the Bray Head Cross Hike. This isn’t just any hike; it’s a journey that resonates deeply with the transformative path I’ve embarked on as an MBA candidate. There’s something about the anticipation of discovery that makes each step forward feel like a metaphor for the academic and personal growth journey I’m navigating.

The Author and Classmates at Bray Head Cross

The terrain of Bray Head Cross is a beautiful blend of rugged and serene. With every twist and turn, a new perspective unfolds, demanding resilience and offering insights. Yet, this experience transcends academic hurdles, focusing instead on personal growth and the exhilarating sense of adventure that comes with stepping into the unknown.

This academic endeavour, significant as it may be, is but a chapter in the grand adventure of life, a backdrop to the rich narrative of exploration and discovery that defines our existence.

On this hike, the vast canvas of nature’s artistry takes centre stage, offering real lessons from the elements themselves – the wind, the sea, the earth – teaching us resilience, adaptability, and the joy of overcoming challenges. Amidst this immersive learning, the support from faculty and peers enriched my journey with guidance and companionship. The fellowship found in group projects and classroom discussions is mirrored in the silent solidarity among fellow hikers, each on their own journey yet together in a shared experience.

Reaching the Bray Head Cross, the panorama that unfolds evokes a deep sense of connection to the world around us. This moment of achievement, much like the completion of a challenging trimester, marks a milestone in the larger story of personal growth and the relentless pursuit of knowledge and experience.

The Bray Head Cross Hike is more than just a path along the beautiful Dublin coast; it’s a metaphor for life’s journeys. The academic pursuit, though a significant part of this adventure, is just one of the many paths we traverse in our quest for learning and self-discovery. It’s the journey itself, with its natural beauty, challenges, and reflective moments, that embodies the true essence of growth and development.

As I stand at the summit with my friends Lijun Chen and Harsh Mangla, looking out over the vastness before me, I’m reminded that this hike is not just about reaching the end. It’s about the stories we gather, the wisdom we gain, and the joy of the journey itself. It’s a reminder that in the grand adventure of life, the most valuable lessons come not from the destination, but from the journey.

In the end, I heartily thank all my classmates for always being there for me.

Pratik Shivare, FTMBA Class of 2024

MBA After Hours

The inaugural MBA trimester leaves in its wake a wealth of knowledge, encompassing finance reporting, corporate finance, economics, strategy, and marketing management. Simultaneously, the period is punctuated with vibrant, exciting, and profoundly enriching extracurricular activities. 

The UCD campus offers a myriad of clubs and societies. Living by my life motto, ‘I will try anything once,’ I plunged into the world of tennis, evolving from a novice to an intermediate player in just four months. I’ve always been passionate about sports for their lessons in discipline and focus, and a regular runner and gym goer.

Tennis at UCD particularly appealed to me because it’s both physically and mentally challenging. It provides a fantastic platform for social interaction and networking. It’s not just about learning a new sport for me; it’s about embracing a challenge, expanding my network, and aligning with my energetic personality and continuous quest for self-improvement.

Author on the way to practice Tennis in UCD Main Campus

Beyond the sports realm, extracurricular pursuits extended to group hiking expeditions across Ireland, conquering trails such as Howth, Tiknock, and the Wicklow Mountains. The awe-inspiring landscapes of Ireland left an indelible mark on us.

The author and MBA classmates Emily, Emer  and Kumuta at Howth

In addition to the wide array of extracurricular activities offered at the university level, our MBA program at UCD uniquely empowers us to create and lead our own student-run and program-funded clubs and societies. This initiative begins with an idea for a new club, which we then develop into a formal proposal. Following this, we present our concept to the entire class to garner interest and involvement.

This academic year, our class has successfully launched 10 diverse clubs, each reflecting our varied interests and passions. These include the Music & Culture Club, Gastronomy Society, Strategy & Consulting Practice Club, Growth Mindset Club, Travel & Explorers’ Club, Community Outreach Society, and the Sport, Fitness, & Wellbeing Club, of which I am a proud co-founder.

Being at the helm of the Sport, Fitness, & Wellbeing Club, I anticipate honing my leadership and communication skills. It’s an exciting opportunity to apply what we learn in the MBA program in a practical, community-oriented setting.

Amidst the leisurely activities, the trimester was strategically balanced with career-focused initiatives. Notable among them was a visit to Workday, as well as numerous networking opportunities both online and offline. One standout event was a networking session at the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) organized by the Dean of UCD College of Business. The extensive discussions with UCD alumni spanned various graduation years, offering invaluable insights into the Irish business landscape.

The author and MBA cohort at Workday office
The Author and the MBA Cohort at UCD MBA Alumni event

Moreover, the trimester presented opportunities to expand networks outside of the university network. Facilitated by the UCD Smurfit Business School, I had the privilege of participating in the Ireland China Business Association Event. This event proved to be a remarkable platform for connecting with Chinese businesses and associations in Ireland.

The Author at Ireland China Business Association Event

During the first trimester all the full-time MBA students were offered to join  the GNAM Week.  It took me to ESMT in Berlin, Germany, where I chose the Sustainability Finance program. The decision was strategic, driven by the program’s relevance  rather than the city or country. Engaging with MBA students from various international business schools, hailing the Oxford Saïd Business School from the UK, IE Business School from Spain, Koc University from Turkey, Haas School of Business from the USA, and Fudan University from China, provided invaluable insights. The shared passion for ESG finance and collective experiences enriched our conversations and case studies, making it a truly transformative academic encounter. Looking ahead, 2024 holds promises of study tours to Singapore in March and Portugal in June.

Author and MBA classmates Kumuta and Emily in GNAM Week for sustainable finance program in Berlin ESMT Germany

The first trimester was an invigorating and fruitful experience, seamlessly blending academic rigor with diverse extracurricular and professional growth opportunities. As we turn the page on this enriching first trimester, I look forward with great anticipation to the new experiences, learning opportunities, and personal growth that the next phases of the MBA program at UCD will undoubtedly bring.

Lijun Chen, FTMBA Class of 2024

Women on the MBA: A World of Support

The importance of women supporting other women in both their personal and professional lives has been ingrained in me throughout my life. My mother spent her entire career breaking barriers and pulling other women up the ladder behind her – including, with her mentorship and support,  me. Because of her guidance and lifelong encouragement, I had the confidence to apply and enrol in the MBA programme. 

However, I recognise that not every woman has the advantage of such a supportive network, which underscores the need for us to foster environments where all women can access similar encouragement and mentorship. Luckily, the Smurfit School has been a wonderful place to find and foster this support. 

Five young women in smart-business dress stand in front of an Old Masters painting, smiling.
UCD Smurfit MBA Alumni Networking Event at Museum of Literature Ireland

The presence of women in MBA programs has seen significant progress in the last two decades, with the percentage in top programs increasing from less than 28% in 2002 to around 41.4% in 2022. For instance, at Smurfit, women constitute 59% of the recent EMBA and 42% of the full-time MBA cohorts. However, challenges persist as some top U.S. and European business schools report declines in women’s enrollment. An MBA greatly benefits women’s careers and salaries, with reports of substantial pay increases post-graduation. Furthermore, companies with female board directors often experience higher returns on equity, underlining the broader benefits of women in business.

Therefore, it is critical for both individuals and businesses alike that we continue to encourage women to enroll in MBA programs. However, enrolling (and graduating!) is only part of the equation. Providing women with support and encouragement once they are in business programs is equally as important as the enrollment period. 

Luckily, I have seen this happen organically in my current FTMBA cohort. While we make up less than half of the MBA class, we have an outsized impact on the cohort’s networking and extracurricular activities. One of my classmates, Kumuta Palan, organised an end-of-semester Women in the MBA luncheon for us in December, while another, Emer Walshe, arranged a Shoebox Appeal Drive for Team Hope that collected 21 boxes of gifts and essential items for children around the world. Our Class Reps in the Autumn 2023 semester were both women, as are many student organisation leaders. 

A diverse group of young women pose for a photo around a Christmas Tree
Women on the MBA End-of-Trimester Luncheon, December 2024

I noticed a distinctive throughline of support during the semester, in and out of the classroom. The cohort is tight-knit as a whole, but the women in the program have a special bond. Any hint of insecurity or a modicum of self-doubt was quickly drowned out by a vocal chorus of disagreement and support from the other women in the course. One classmate (the best in our class when it came to quantitative subjects, by the way) voiced that she was unsure if she was qualified for a career in finance and was met with a cacophony of incredulous women telling her that she was, undoubtedly, the most qualified in the class for such a career. With incredible classmates like these, it’s no surprise that I am constantly inspired by the women in our cohort every day. As Emer Walshe, our Autumn 2023 Class Representative, states: 

“Working with such inspiring and talented women really uplifts you. To know that you have a support system of people like you, who have persevered, just as you have, and understand the hard work and resilience to get to where you are, is so reassuring, and helps you to keep moving forward. I couldn’t do it without these ladies! “

This representation of women taking the lead in and out of the classroom is not only affirming for women in the current cohort but also vital for our future careers. The ability to practice consistent and successful leadership is crucial in building our confidence to take leadership roles as we move forward to our next professional endeavours. To that end, I encourage my classmates and women in future MBA cohorts to use the supportive environs of the Smurfit School as a “sandbox” to try new things, including taking on leadership positions, organising exciting events, and experimenting with new career and academic interests. As one of my classmates, Lijun Chen, put it: “I’ll try anything once!”

We must continue to encourage and support women in MBA programs and foster environments where all women can access mentorship and encouragement. Nor should we lose sight of the importance of supporting women in their post-MBA careers. Once we graduate, we must provide actionable support and mentorship to those coming after us – as we saw in the statistics above, the work is certainly not done yet. 

In conclusion, let’s raise a glass to all women who break barriers, pull others up the ladder behind them, and continue to make strides in their personal and professional lives. Cheers to the women who came before us, the women standing alongside us, and the women who will come after us. And remember, the future is female, and based on the amazing women around me, it’s also looking pretty bright!

Emily Merlino, FTMBA Class of 2024

Meet the Full Time MBA Class Reps

Each term, the Full Time MBA Class elect two members to serve as the liaison between the students, faculty, and administration. This autumn the roles are held by Vinamrata Pandey and Emer Walshe.

What ways do you hope your career will change when you’ve earned your MBA?

Emer: Initially, when I applied for the MBA, I was uncertain of my specific career aspirations, however, I knew a change was in sight. Having worked as a manager for over 10 years in two fast-paced, dynamic industries that required quick adaptation to change, I knew that a pivot into a new area would be an exciting endeavour. The MBA has broadened my outlook and crystallised my ambition to transition into a strategy-focused role. Strategy is the essence of business and I want to be a part of helping to shape its future. My MBA journey so far has been about discovering the means to forge this new path for myself.

FTMBA Class Rep Emer Walshe

Vinamrata: Swapping marketing magic for a leadership wand, my MBA adventure is about more than climbing the corporate ladder—it’s about building a whole new ladder for business. Think of it as trading in my organised creative hat for a strategist’s cap, all while keeping my moral compass firmly in hand.

I am thrilled about the possibility of exploring international opportunities that the MBA could reveal, enabling me to lead cross-border initiatives with a blend of innovative entrepreneurship, fresh leadership, communication skills and marketing expertise. Combining business knowledge with a global perspective, I am fully committed to creating value that extends beyond profit, aiming for a career that makes a positive impact on both the balance sheet and the world.

In a nutshell, I’m gearing up to be that leader who’s as comfortable in a boardroom as I am in a brainstorming session, driving change that’s smart, kind-hearted, and, fingers crossed, planet-friendly.

How would you spend your ideal day off?

Vinamrata: On my perfect day off, I’d strike a balance between invigorating my mind, rejuvenating my body, and nourishing my soul – basically, I’d be a triple threat to any form of stress. The morning would start with a peaceful meditation, followed by diving into a good book, letting my imagination roam free. For a body boost, I’d grab my racket for a lively game of badminton, letting the swift movements and competitive spirit energise my body. The second half of the day would be dedicated to a creative pursuit or hobby that feeds my soul, maybe painting or dancing. As the sun sets, I’d wrap up the day with a cosy gathering of friends and family, sharing food, laughter, and stories, feeling grateful for the simple joys of life.

FTMBA Class Rep Vinamrata Pandey

Emer: My ideal day off involves being at the top of a mountain, with my dog, taking in the breath-taking views of Ireland’s magnificent scenery. There is nothing more relaxing than a crisp, clear day with blue skies looking out over the Dublin mountains. After 7 years of exploring the volcanic terrain and hidden coves of the Canary Islands, I’m happy to be back in my luscious, green home country, where I can enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air and savouring the unique landscapes Ireland has to offer. Oh, and without technology. A true break can only be taken when you disconnect from the world and reconnect yourself with nature.

The Class Reps together, outside UCD Smurfit Main Hall

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your MBA?

Emer: To savour every moment. Time passes by so quickly that sometimes you don’t realise what’s just happened. You forget to enjoy the moments, really take in the experiences of connecting with new people, relish in the long evenings and weekends with your new “family”, your study cohort, and reflect on the transformation that’s happening within you. It goes by before you know it, and the process is shaping the very being you’ll become. Embrace the journey.

Vinamrata: Three months into my MBA, and if I could sit down with my pre-MBA self, I’d say, “Buckle up; it’s going to be a wild ride — think ‘roller coaster meets networking event.’ Real wisdom is found not just in lectures, but also in the late-night study sessions, the diverse perspectives shared by international classmates, and the real-world case studies where the most valuable lessons are learned.

I’d also underline the importance of agility — the ability to pivot not just in business decisions but in career plans as new opportunities and interests unveil themselves. And on the personal front, it turns out crafting my narrative is as critical as any case study analysis. It’s about weaving my unique set of skills into a story that resonates as loudly in interviews as it does in networking mixers. If only I’d known to sell my study-induced panda eyes as a mark of dedication from day one!

Emer Walshe and Vinamrata Pandey, FTMBA Class of 2024

Changing directions, new friends and aspirations

It’s been sixteen years since I stood beside the lake at Belfield and stared across the water shimmering in the autumn sun. Back then, O’Reilly Hall behind me played venue to my graduation day. We were a close group of BA graduand friends. Then, how we celebrated – hats thrown in the air, (too many) drinks taken and bright futures ahead of us all.

Regrettably a massive financial crash the following year, along with the general march of time, scattered us. 

Four young people smiling in front of an ornamental lake, with university buildings in the background
Author’s study team in from of the UCD lake
From left to right: Harsh, Vaishali, Luke and Kumuta

Today it’s just a few weeks into the first semester of my MBA at Smurfit Business School and the same hall is hosting a careers fair which I’m visiting with the three other members of my new study group. It didn’t take us long to become friends – luckily for us, we turned out to make a great team. But I can’t help but feel nostalgic about my first time here as we ask a passer-by to snap a picture of the four of us in front of the lake.

It was during the pandemic that I really started questioning whether I was happy with my career. I’m proud of the success I achieved in journalism after graduating UCD but the world, and the profession, has changed. 

Then earlier this year, a redundancy process. 

The last few months have seen some of the toughest decisions of my life, a lot of a risk and worry – but I already know I won’t regret coming back to university. I’ve learnt more here in the past five weeks than I did in the previous five years across a range of new subjects. How, for example, could I ever have known that I’d find financial reporting incredibly interesting? On top of that I’ve met fantastic new people with a diverse range of backgrounds and outlooks from around the world. 

A group of about 25 young people, many in grey MBA hoodies, all smiling in front of a large tree. The students in the front row hold a banner that reads UCD Smurfit School MBA.
MBA Class of 2024

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to California, something I’ve always dreamed of doing, to take a course and network in Berkeley during GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management)  week. This is not humble bragging – in fact I invite you to be jealous. You’ll be able to read a post about that adventure soon.

To be serious though, I am honestly and sincerely so very grateful for having been awarded the Aspire scholarship that allows me to start this new journey in my life. I’m not yet sure what the future holds for my career, but for the first time in a long time, I’m excited about it. 

Take the plunge. 

Luke Byrne, Full Time MBA Class of 2024

Navigating New Beginnings: My UCD Smurfit MBA Reflection

On the 24th of August 2022, as the morning sun cast golden hues across the campus, I stood  at the gateway of UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business, a  haven for new beginnings. I embarked on a journey of enrichment, where the old and  the new would weave together to create a tapestry of deeper understanding and personal  growth. 

The MBA programme at UCD Smurfit was a chapter of academic enlightenment. Every day unfolded like a page from a book  of wisdom, offering lessons that went beyond the confines of a classroom. I found myself constantly inspired, absorbing the wealth of  knowledge and diverse skills that my peers brought to the table. Amid this vibrant learning environment, friendships blossomed organically, in corners of  classrooms, during coffee breaks, and within the comforting walls of my home where we  gathered to create joyous memories. I was enriched, as I learned to meld the structured approach from my past as a marine engineer with a Japanese company with the vibrant,  dynamic, and collaborative learning environment at UCD Smurfit.  

The author and MBA classmates

As I reflect on this journey, a profound sense of gratitude envelops me. UCD Smurfit has  been more than an institution; it has been a fertile ground where dreams were nurtured,  aspirations fostered, and where individuals honed their abilities to leave a lasting imprint on  the world. Some of my favourite experiences follow:

  • During the summer trimester, I had the privilege of serving as the Class Representative, a role  that allowed me to foster unity and collaboration within our diverse group. My colleague Ananya Singh and I orchestrated class events that not only facilitated  learning but also nurtured bonds that I believe will stand the test of time.
  • The international trips to Prague and Italy expanded our horizons, teaching us to navigate the intricate nuances of  different cultures with grace and adaptability. This demonstrated the global  perspective that UCD Smurfit nurtured within us. 
The author and friend, about to jump into the sea
  • My dear friend Eddy O Byrne ushered me into the exhilarating world of sea  swimming, a practice that became a sanctuary of tranquility and reflection amidst the  bustling MBA life. The rhythmic waves of the Irish Sea seemed to mirror the heartbeat of the  Irish people, a community that embraced life with resilience and joy, whether under the gray clouds or the shining sun.
  • An exciting chapter of this journey led me to the lively sets of “Fair City“, a cherished TV  show that encapsulates the vibrant pulse of Ireland. Here, amidst the laughter and shared  stories while working as an extra, I glimpsed the true spirit of Ireland, a place where joy  permeated the simplest moments.
The author in a screenshot from the RTÉ programme ‘Fair City’

Now, as a proud member of the CoolPlanet team, I find myself utilizing the rich tapestry of  experiences and knowledge acquired during my MBA journey to help companies navigate  their path towards sustainability, aiding them in achieving their decarbonisation goals. It feels  like a natural progression, a step forward in a journey that seeks to harmonize business goals  with the pressing needs of our environment. 

As I pen down these cherished memories, I realize that this journey is a continuous path of  growth and learning. The friendships forged, the knowledge acquired, and the experiences  garnered are precious treasures that will accompany me as I step into a future brimming with  hope and promise. To my classmates, my professors, and the entire UCD Smurfit community, thank you for  being an integral part of this enriching journey. Here’s to UCD Smurfit, a place where dreams find wings, where individuals grow into  leaders, and where the journey is as enriching as the destination itself.

A young man in a white shirt stands in front of a multi-textured brick wall

Abhinav Agastya, Full Time MBA Class of 2023