On the Importance of Resilience for an MBA – Life, Matters…

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Maya Angelou

I would like to consider myself a reasonably resilient person. On the Resilience Assessment Questionnaire (RAQ), I scored a 147 (/175), which should be a significant number to those of you who like snooker. That doesn’t for a second mean that I haven’t at least considered throwing in the towel on a number of occasions. Sometimes, things seem insurmountable, and I’ve had to take a step back, gather my thoughts, remembered why I was trying to achieve something, and who I was doing it for. 

Here’s the thing. How do you speak about resilience without almost wishing that you had Baz Luhrmann’s “Wear Sunscreen” reassuringly playing in the background? Most of us think of it along the lines of the ability to bounce back, to bend but not break, and perhaps even to demonstrate personal growth in the presence of adversity. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress…” These reactive analogies are useful, but they don’t reflect our own unique, complex, innate biology, nor do they explain the social, culture, and psychological determinants which influence our responses. Truth be told, resilience is an incredibly personal experience, and dynamic, and something you can’t really contemplate until you face these challenges.

Business attempts to distil resilience into actionable points. Companies use these then to develop long-lasting systems using terms such as redundancy, diversity, modularity, adaptability, prudence and embeddedness. They talk about investing in procurement as a protective factor. The Global Workplace Study (2020) of resilience against COVID-19 illustrated a couple of unexpected, but important findings:

  1. Resilience is a reactive state of mind created by exposure to suffering
  2. The more tangible the threat, the more resilient we become

From an industry perspective it all boils down to three things: Routines, Simple Rules, and Improvisation. One cannot predict geosocial or economic, or even pandemic-related upheavals. However, through simulation, altering routines, using heuristics, and improvisation, leaders can build organisational resilience, much like hospitals simulating trauma/infectious disease outbreak protocols, or military personnel preparing for missions. 

I’m used to being told “no”. That’s generally what happens in the health service. I’m used to models of poor behaviour and leadership which set things up for failure, and I had always taken the approach to barriers as I would have on a rugby pitch: at top speed. However, the closest I had ever gotten to not being able to find a solution was in the first couple of weeks in Canada after bringing the entire family over for my fellowship. We were in a strange country famous for its bureaucracy, on our own and floundering, looking for some normality, and something to go right. It may seem strange, but a surgical fellowship is not arranged, it’s facilitated. You bear the full cost and hassle of moving, visas, accommodation, schooling, licensing, social security, insurance etc., of which only a tiny amount can actually be carried out before you emigrate. It was outside yet another unconstructive government office appointment, soaking in a thunderstorm with 3 crying kids, that I looked at my wife Sonia, and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’ The consequences were enormous, but she looked at me and smiled and said she’d support me no matter what. That we were a team. 

Long story short, we didn’t go home, and we made things work. Coming home to Ireland in 2020 from Toronto in the middle of COVID-19,  we faced 8 cancelled sets of flights, having nowhere to live (our house still had tenants in it), and not even being sure if I had a job as I hadn’t formally signed a contract, and yet we knew that together through perseverance, grit, or just blind faith, something would just work itself out. Routines (Continue with work, and homeschooling. Keep looking for flights and animal transport. Keep in touch with friends, family and hospital back home). Simple Rules (Keep talking and communicating. Accept frustration . Don’t over-finance for potential flights. Don’t worry the kids. Don’t give up). Improvisation  (Be willing to travel through any airport. Don’t need to necessarily travel with the dog. Might have to stay in Canada. Could potentially go to the US. Might need to split flights. May need to work in a random locum job as a non-consultant doctor if necessary).

I’d like to think that I’ve become more resilient as time has gone by, and I fervently believe resilience is something that you can learn. Only a couple of week ago, my middle son had to be rushed back to the operating room for a bleed 5 days following removal of his tonsils and adenoids. We were  in the middle of the end of year exams during this unpredictable situation, and yet my experience, and knowledge of similar situations, allowed me to acknowledge the crisis, and a plan of how to work around it.

I would study and write in the hospital room, and do shift changes with my better half. I understood that emotion and concentration would both compete for my time, and that each would have to be (metaphorically) fed in order to allow me to function. Furthermore, I knew that I could afford to work at 70-80% and still be reasonably productive. Routines (Continue with non-movable items like the school run, kids’ dinner, bedtimes, work commitments). Simple Rules (Allow for emotion, understand and accept that productivity will temporarily decline, eat, spend time with the kids, respect deadlines). Improvisation (Work in the hospital rather than at home, relay shifts between home and hospital, have friends and family on standby [COVID-permitting], move non-urgent work meetings and clinics).

A wide-angle view of a pediatric hospital room. Foreground: a small table with laptop, notebook, ID, and a teddy bear wearing red pyjamas. Background: a small boy in a hospital bed playing on a tablet on the left; nurses' station in the centre; brightly-coloured curtain with a jungle motif on the right.

There have been many other moments, but again, it’s personal. How can I compare my experiences to others? For some resilience is based on chronic low levels of adversity and stress, for others it may be based on single life-altering events. I think I’ve had it easy compared to some of my friends–or is that just the resilience speaking?

At an individual level, resilience has been shown to positively influence workplace satisfaction and engagement, improve overall well-being, and reduce levels of depression. Importantly however, it is also positively affected through strong relationships and networks within our own lives. These can modulate our perception of the demands placed on us, and help us see a path forward to persist: much like my wife did in that stormy day in Ottawa. 

Conflict, adversity, and failure are inevitable. They can appear to the unrehearsed mind like raging infernos. The crux is therefore how to manipulate those fires to ignite you, rather than consume you. You don’t need to carry that burden alone.

Fardod O’Kelly, MD, EMBA Class of 2022

UCD Smurfit School MBA Information Evening

Mark your diaries for 20 May, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. Irish Summer Time, for an MBA Information Evening. One of a series of events introducing various aspects of the UCD Smurfit MBA to prospective students, next Thursday’s event will focus on leadership and careers.

Dr Ailish Lynch will give an overview of UCD Smurfit School’s Leadership Development Programme, after which Training Consultant Fintan Ryan will deliver a ‘taster’ LDP session: ‘The relevance of teamwork to your individual MBA journey’.

Our MBA Careers Manager Mark Davies will be lead an Alumni Panel discussion of Career Services with Ger Perdisatt EMBA ’11, Director, Technology Strategy, Microsoft, John Keegan MBA ’18, Manager Business Consulting at EY, Marjorie Barrios Boland EMBA ’10, Head of Global Real Estate Transactions, Americas, EMEA & APAC, Indeed.com and Sree Koonath MBA ’20, Commercialisation Manager at CeADAR Ireland. 

Attendees will also learn about our MBA Programme options, including the new Modular Executive MBA. Representatives from our Admissions and MBA Programme teams will be on hand to provide an overview of the programme delivery options, talk you through the application process, and answer any questions you might have. If you are considering an MBA, then this is an opportunity not to be missed. You can learn more and register for the event here.


Anyone will tell you, I am a meticulous planner. When I left my undergrad in 2013, I outlined goals for the next 5 years and strove to achieve every one of them. In 2019 I decided I would do an MBA starting in 2021, which would leave enough time to save and buy a house (very ambitious). I had everything mapped out short of what I was going to eat for breakfast in the morning.

For almost everyone globally, our lives were turned upside down when governments announced lockdowns in March 2020. My future plans had a spanner thrown in the works. I was supposed to get married in September 2020, enjoy a year of marriage, and then start my MBA course in Smurfit in 2021 (pending successful application of course). After a couple of months of baking banana bread and being bored, I sat down in my garden and realized that this was not going to happen. All plans were being pushed out, including the big day.

A sliced loaf of banana bread on a wooden cutting board
I can’t claim credit for this – all my wife’s doing!

I made the decision then and there to fast forward my application and then work out how I would adapt to the situation if I got accepted. I had worked for the same organization since I left my undergrad degree, and was absolutely terrified of leaving the safety of a steady job to become a full time student again. However this was exactly why I chose to the MBA: to push myself out of my comfort zone, to challenge my pre-conceived notion of what my “place” in the world is, and to have those difficult & awkward conversations on what impact do I want to have on my environment.

A group of MBA students in the garden outside a pub
Semester 1 Study Group 5 enjoying Christmas pints outdoors between lockdowns

Doing the MBA was an opportunity to change career direction into Fintech, an area I am genuinely passionate about. Despite the remote-learning situation, I spearheaded the revival of the Fintech society and made a point to build an environment where students could share their perspectives on Fintech or similar. We arranged industry-leading speakers to talk about Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Ethical Banking, and Sustainable Finance; we have more speakers scheduled for the summer months. If I were to give any advice to people considering doing an MBA, it would be to get involved in societies: it’s an excellent way to broaden your network, both internally and externally.

In retrospect, changing my plans to fast-forward my MBA was the best thing I could have done. At the time of writing, my wife and I (we got married despite COVID, who needs a big wedding!) have just had our first trimester scan of our first child, who is due to arrive in early November – just in time to finish up the MBA!

Baby Mathews coming 7th November!

Although my classmates & I have missed out on international travel this year, I believe that we have developed the additional communication skills required to remotely influence that will be so prevalent in our future professions. In this sense, adaptability has been the soft skill that we as an MBA cohort will have in abundance and be able to apply to our chosen careers. I can truly say the MBA experience this year has been transformational and would recommend it to anyone that is seeking to develop both personally and professionally.

Kevin Mathews, FTMBA Class of 2021

Unlearn with Naman

‘Do we know each other?’ read the title of the survey that I rolled out to the Full-Time MBA Class of 2021 at UCD Smurfit Business School. Surprisingly, ~80% of those who responded agreed that they have never had a conversation (at least once) with each one of their classmates! Blame it on COVID, due to which the cohort faced radical changes to the new way of education. With this came layers of challenges, one of which was the reduced depth in conversations. 

In an effort to lower the ~80% gap and increase engagement among colleagues, I decided to start ‘Unlearn with Naman’ video podcasts. Unlearn with Naman is a series of candid conversations with people from various backgrounds. In each episode, I unravel stories and interests to learn from people’s diverse experiences. It is a small initiative to help people from my class to get to know each other better.

Why did I decide to call it ‘Unlearn with Naman’? We all know the importance of learning but I firmly believe that unlearning plays an even bigger role in the life of an individual. Unlearning requires one to first question everything that they have assumed was ‘true’, in order to learn a new way of thinking and behaving.

Coupled with the decision to pursue an MBA, COVID-19 brought one of the biggest changes for people enrolled in a B-School. To embrace the new ways of viewing the world and to re-shape life, most of us had to adapt to new beliefs and welcome the change. To understand my classmates’ motivations to take on this challenge, I felt that the podcast should centre around ‘unlearning’.

Since the launch of my initiative, I have interviewed five profiles within the class. Below are the video features to date:

Conor Hyland: Young man with dark hair & beard, wearing headphones, smiling

Conor Hyland has over 10 years of work experience, most of which has been spent working in the Middle East (Dubai). He has worked with companies such as LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Enterprise Ireland, amongst many others.

Jasmine Westbrooks: Young woman with glasses and collarbone-length curly dark hair, smiling into the camera

Jasmine Westbrooks hails from Chicago and is currently pursuing an MBA at UCD Smurfit. She has over 7 years of experience working in Finance and has been associated with Fortune 500 companies such as Abbott Laboratories and Constellation Brands–which, by the way, is the largest beer import company in the US.

Sashwat Acharya: Young man with short dark hair, glasses, and close-cropped full beard, smiling at camera

Shashwat Acharya has over 7 years of experience during which he has worn many hats. He has worked at Mindtree Ltd, India’s leading IT and outsourcing company, and at ABInbev, the multinational drink and brewing giant. Shashwat also gone on to start his own company, Sababa Miteri, which is an eCommerce platform for maternity wear in India.

Nathan Jones: Young man with fluffy short hair, a full beard, and headphones smiles widely into the camera

Nathan Jones has 6 years of experience working in the US during which he was associated with the American Psychological Association at Capitol Hill. He has also worked with two fast-paced startups including a project management education company and a benefits administration company which has been recently acquired by CVS Health, the largest pharmacy services provider in the US. In addition to this, Nate is a licensed cosmetologist. When he is not occupied with the burdensome MBA, he can be found writing songs on Budgets!

Noreen Mahmoud: a young woman wearing a headscarf and necklace smiles into the camera

Noreen Mahmoud has over 7 years of experience in Architecture and Interior design. In her last role, she worked as a Senior Interior Architect with ECG Consultants, a legacy engineering consultancy firm in Egypt. Noreen’s work has been featured in an exhibition in Venice, Italy and she has also volunteered to help build a primary school in Kampala, Uganda.

It has been just under a month since I started interviewing my classmates. I had my fair share of scepticisms before starting the series. Why wouldn’t I? I had never been remotely associated with video podcasting. Four weeks later, my channel has garnered 600+ impressions and a watch time of over 28 hours. Not only has the experience been rewarding, but also it has given me the chance to bridge cultural gaps by getting to understand people’s experiences better.

Perhaps the biggest learning is that you will always be unsure – today or tomorrow. The best time to take a leap is now! So… what’s stopping you?

Naman Kumar, FTMBA Class of 2021

UCD Aspire Scholarship: Deadline 7 May

Now more than ever, Ireland needs creative business leaders. If you’re considering an MBA (or a Business Masters) but feel held back by your financial circumstances, one of the Aspire scholarships–which cover up to 50% of the cost of a master’s degree at Smurfit–could be right for you.

A door with the sign 'Lecture Theatre' and an arrow pointing down a long, well-lit hallway
Right this way to the next step in your career!

Since 2010, the impact of the Aspire Programme has been tremendous. Thanks to the donor’s generosity, many students have benefitted from financial support towards the cost of their tuition fees. Our Aspire graduates have excelled in their fields, and many have gone on to establish their own business ventures or are employed in leading companies such as Google, McKinsey, Citi, KPMG, PwC, Accenture, AIB, Paddy Power Betfair, Avolon, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Facebook, among others.

You can find more information on the benefits of the scholarship in this video, and learn about application procedures here.

In Praise of Teamwork

I’ve had the pleasure of working with two fantastic teams over the course of two trimesters. These are not hierarchical teams but flat teams. I consider them co-operatives: no-one’s opinion is worth more than another, everyone’s voice is valued, and they are based on trust. 

A common view from a socially-distanced MBA

I’ve never worked on teams like these before. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut (or try to), and listen. I’ve learned to relinquish control. I’ve learned that leadership involves identifying where you can have the most impact, where you can help the team, and pursuing that. It’s not about ego and it’s not about control. It’s about what actions you can take that will have the best outcome for the group. Often that involves stepping back, recognising others’ talents and capabilities, knowing they are greater than your own. It involves stepping forward into the gaps as you see them appear. It’s about helping, and taking the initiative, and playing your part. It involves asking for help, identifying your own failings and being open about them. Having the strength to do that builds trust and camaraderie.

It’s not that I’ve done all of the above–but I’ve observed others doing it, and I’ve been impressed. I appreciate it, and I’m grateful. I feel a depth of gratitude and loyalty to all I’ve worked with so far. Without a doubt, the experience of working with these teams, these people, is what will last longest from this MBA. That’s the transformative experience. Thinking back on this year, that’s what I will remember most. So thank you Jess, Naman, Nate, Caitlin, Sumit and Andrew! We’ve been through the trenches together. 

It’s been a challenging year. As I’ve considered it, in some respects it’s been about resilience. The MBA has developed this resilience, and a confidence to step into the unknown, to know it’s possible to reach out to those in the know, ask for help, and to learn. These are skills on their own and need to be developed. As such, I’ll leave the MBA ready for what comes next.

My desire to learn has grown over the course of the year. I’ve learned a little bit about everything in the MBA, and seen how it all ties back together to one whole. As such it’s been a fascinating journey and has inspired further thought. Learning has developed into a habit, one I wish to continue. It’s now a key focus in my search for my next role. I want it to be a learning one.

So with that in mind, to close, I’ll take the opportunity to say thank you to all my classmates, lecturers and coaches for the education. 

John O’Sullivan, FTMBA Class of 2021

MBA Information Webinar for International Students

Interested in moving to Dublin to earn Ireland’s top-ranked MBA? Based abroad, and not sure how that process would work for your situation? Mark your diary for 29 April at 3:00 p.m. Irish Summer Time, and come join UCD Smurfit Admissions and Careers managers, as well as a panel of current international MBA students, for the MBA Information Webinar for International Students.

You can find more information, and register for the event, here.

Hope to see you there!

Modular EMBA in the Irish Times

If you’ve attended any of the UCD Smurfit MBA events for prospective students, you’ve heard a bit about the Modular EMBA launching in autumn 2021. Designed to offer a low-residency option to those with busy personal and professional schedules, the Modular EMBA presents all the material of our acclaimed Weekly EMBA, delivered through a combination of independent work and intensive, on-campus monthly class meetings.

An article in the Irish Times for 12 April offers a fuller description of the new delivery method:

Typically, students will be on campus once a month (Friday and Saturday) and will undertake a number of week-long modules over the course of the two year programme. This move to blended delivery will appeal to applicants juggling busy work and home lives.

“We are trying to facilitate people who may live outside Dublin or who are busy with their careers,” says Prof Cal Muckley, academic director of the MBA programmes at Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

“We bring people in for one weekend per month on a Friday and Saturday each semester. We deliver one module each month over the two years of the programme and students engage in online learning before each one. All the modules have been redesigned to fit in with the new delivery mode.”

Irish Times, ‘Smurfit MBA Programme shifting to a modular format,’ 12 April 2021

The UCD Smurfit Admissions Office has several events for prospective students coming up, and we invite you to attend to learn more about the MBA’s various delivery methods, application process, and available scholarships. You can learn more about each event, and register for any that appeal to you, at the links below:


The Author and her Hackathon Team,
who took home an Honourable Mention for their expert Q&A skills

During the Spring break, UCD Smurfit Business School organized an MBA Hackathon in partnership with the The Austral Education Group for all MBA students. The theme for the Hackathon was ‘Sustainability’, wherein we were asked to devise a strategy for a real-world issue faced by Chilean company Bonoboss Handmade Accessories. The 5-day event opened with a session on Sustainable Consumer Behavior by UCD Associate Professor Geertje Schuitema, followed by the Hackathon Challenge Presentation by the Founder of Bonoboss, Cristobal Silva

Bonoboss CEO Cristobal Silva

The entire MBA cohort is brimming with people from diverse professional backgrounds, wherein we have been solving various challenges at work in our own domains. Ever since our MBA journey began, we have been yearning to apply our newly acquired MBA skills to resolve work challenges that we may have missed or floundered earlier. This hackathon was the first taste of a real-life challenge since the start of our MBA journey. Concepts and frameworks such as Porter 5 forces, SWOT analysis, Marketing 4Ps, opportunity cost and asset allocation flashed right before us as soon as we heard the problem statement. Add to it the ring of sustainability and we had to get our most creative hats on. 

Bonoboss makes accessories out of recycled and reusable material, such as wooden sunglasses, optical frames, bags and watches. The brand also plants 1 tree per purchase. But when their customers’ preferences shifted from sustainability to style, Bonoboss found itself in rough waters. To understand more about the challenges, we were given 15 mins with the CEO. It was an informative session as we asked questions to better understand the core of the problem and where we could effectively contribute to a workable and measurable solution. 

Working in a group of 5 for a problem like this brought many interesting viewpoints to the fore. Someone in our group focused on the business side and drew analogy from a similar local player in his own country to get some ideas. Someone else talked about how other brands they had worked with promote their own sustainable products. 

Judge Kathy O’Reilly listens to the winning presentation

On the final day, it was fascinating to see how all the 4 teams had come up with myriad creative and thought-provoking solutions to Cristobal’s problem. One team went as far as creating a short video suggesting new ways of brand promotion. But the winning team stood out with their ingenious solution that centred around engaging with the customers on the issue of sustainability, employing the 80/20 rule, and cutting corners by focusing on domestic market before venturing into foreign waters – the three golden rules that we have learnt during our MBA sojourn till now.

By participating in the Hackathon, we learnt a great deal about running small businesses: how to make decisions when less market and research data is available, and how to think outside the box while keeping the frameworks that we have learnt in last 6 months as our guiding principles. Overall, it was a great experience and got us excited about the Capstone project that we will be doing in the next trimester, and we thank the MBA Programme Office for arranging this for us. 

Chhavi Negi, FTMBA Class of 2021

Panel Discussion: Women on the MBA

Please join us on 21 April from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. for a panel discussion specifically for women interested in undertaking an MBA. The conversation will address the topic ‘Utilising an MBA to Accelerate Your Career‘, and you can find more information and register to join it here.

The globally-ranked Smurfit MBA provides an unequalled opportunity to unlock and develop your leadership potential, accelerate your career and build your global network. On 21 April, Dr. Orla Byrne, Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurship on the Smurfit MBA, will chair a panel of current students and alumnae who will share their experiences and highlight the importance and impact of the MBA on their professional and personal progression.

The event will also feature an introduction from Professor Gerardine Doyle, Associate Dean UCD College of Business & Director UCD Smurfit School, and practical information about the MBA, admissions, and scholarships from MBA Admissions & MBA Programme team members.