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