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.

Why am I Taking this MBA?

Now I’m just over halfway through the course, I have asked myself these questions several times: why am I taking this MBA? Should I continue taking it? Although the reasons change and there are always twists and turns, the answer is always: YES.

Before the MBA

I was working as a trader in a mutual fund asset management company in Beijing before I moved to Dublin in 2018 July. After settling down in Dublin, I found out that I couldn’t work due to the government’s spouse working restriction. So I decided to do some traveling and learned to cook. A year later, when the policy changed, I got a job working as a video editor in a company offering Irish information and immigration services to Chinese people. Although the work went very well and I enjoyed my time with my colleagues, I was hoping to be able to return to my area of expertise. 

Then the problem came, and most of my resumes sank into the sea. A friend told me an MBA might be very helpful in finding a job.  I successfully applied for Ireland’s best MBA.

The first two months

Many peers view this MBA as a step to jump out of the comfort zone. There’s a joke: when you jump out the comfort zone, you’ll find nothing but discomfort. The first week I was really suffering: fast pace, endless case studies, quite stressful.

When I chatted with a friend in Ireland, she told me she dropped out of Trinity’s MBA last year after the first month because she couldn’t bear the burden. I couldn’t believe my ears: She is the one who has already graduated with a biology Ph.D. in China. If she couldn’t make it, how can I? I was very anxious and struggling with how I’m supposed to make it every day.

I changed my mind after a conversation with Mark, a Smurfit MBA career consultant and also my interviewer. He suggested that I should adjust my mind and change the way I look at it. If I could survive, I would have an amazing story to tell when  hunting a job. His words worked. I got to be less anxious and more open about these dilemmas.

Team-building screenshot

The second two months

Although I’d adjusted my mind, the challenges  remained. It was a relief when I found all my classmates felt the same. Fortunately, I was familiar with most subjects on the syllabus. I had already taken Accounting, Economics and Strategy courses at my undergraduate and graduate levels. But I still needed to adapt to a different teaching style and overcome my language barriers. 

My teammates kept encouraging me and always offered me some constructive advice to improve myself. Aga, the Full Time MBA Programme Manager, shared a lot of practical advice from her own experience and put me in touch with a Chinese alumnus to help solve my problems. Lecturers encouraged us to form our own ideas around different cases: not just  telling us right or wrong, instead, they led us to the final point by ourselves. I found that I acquired a new understanding of these familiar contents.

Zoom presentation

Then I got a different answer to my question: I do want to improve myself by this MBA, from both language and professional side. I really felt the charm of case studies, and I was able to analyse things from a more comprehensive perspective and had my own point of view. These ascensions were not in my plan, but I was more than happy to gain. I had more faith in myself.

The third two months

Due to covid-19, things were getting worse, so I went back to China. The plan doesn’t always keep up with the circumstances. The one-month vacation turned into a plan of probably never going back to Dublin. My family wanted me to look for a job in my hometown. Everyone started to ask me the same question: Are you going to continue your MBA? 

Soon I got the answer: yes, I need it. It’s not enough. I want to get more steps away from my comfort zone. There are still many topics I’d like to hear from the lecturers, many things I want to learn from my excellent new teammates, many peers that I want to have more connections with. So I convinced myself, again.

I’ve thought about giving up many times. But to this day I want to say, fortunately,  I didn’t. At first, all I wanted was a diploma. But I got more than that. Confidence, new vision, different modes of thinking and high-tolerance of stress. More importantly, I have friends that I would never know without taking the MBA. With half of the MBA journey left, I hope I can get more unexpected surprises. Perhaps many years from now, when I recall this journey, it will become a rare experience that I’ll pride myself on in my life. 

Ke Chen, FTMBA Class of 2021

MBA Student Leads Ambassador Communications Effort for Biggest Daffodil Day Ever

Congratulations! to current full-time MBA student Caitlin McBride, who led the ambassador communications strategy for the 2021 Daffodil Days fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society. 

Caitlin championed efforts including the 26 March Late Late Show special featuring pop duo Jedward, who lost their mother to cancer in 2019, shaving their quiffs as part of the fundraising effort. The show raised close to €3 million for the “community of patients, survivors, volunteers, supporters, health and social care professionals and researchers … transforming the experiences and outcomes of people affected by cancer through our advocacy, support services and research.”

Caitlin said: “This year’s Daffodil Day was the most important in the history of the Irish Cancer Society and in that sense, I’m honoured that I can now say I am part of history. We have all been touched by cancer. Harnessing my experience both professionally and personally to create a blueprint for such an exciting and educational campaign, which raised a record breaking €6m, is an experience I won’t soon forget. Double-jobbing a project of this magnitude with a full-time MBA has not only prepared me for the challenges and opportunities that await me after graduating from UCD Smurfit School, but copper fastened my commitment to community and giving back. And let’s be honest – watching Jedward shave their heads was fantastic television!”

This year’s Irish Daffodil Days fundraising efforts are set to become the biggest on record. 

‘The Invisible Job’: A Webinar

Mark your diaries for 14 April, from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.! You are invited to the UCD Smurfit Women, Inspiring More April Webinar, “The Invisible Job: Balancing Gender Roles at Work and Home”.

This month’s event will feature a discussion between Paula Fyans, author of The Invisible Job: How Sharing Home and Parental Responsibilities Leads to Happier Lives, and Dr Marie Murray, clinical psychologist, systemic psychotherapist and author. Fyans’ book features extensive scientific research and 1:1 interviews with women in Ireland and the UK to define and investigate the gender imbalances that exist in ‘The Invisible Job.’ The event will expand upon the contents of the book, to explore how this imbalance negatively impacts women’s career progression, financial security, physical and mental health and self-identity.

You can register for the event here.

UCD Smurfit Women, Inspiring More is an initiative conceived by students and alumni of the UCD Smurfit School. With backgrounds that are diverse in thought, culture and experiences, we have come together around a common passion. That passion is to promote the interests of women in education and the professional world. We aim to raise awareness of the challenges that women face in these environments, and form a network where such topics can be discussed openly. While there exist a number of corporate or industry oriented groups, we seek to bring the forum to a University level where students, both female and male, can be prepared before entering the workforce. In this way, we can also encourage a greater participation of female students in UCD Smurfit School Masters programmes on their pathway to success. We aim to “inspire more,” encouraging women to think beyond any preconceived notions of glass ceilings or barriers in anything they pursue.

MBA Profile: Meet a full-time MBA Class Rep!

As detailed in a previous post, Conor Hyland returned to Ireland to start the UCD Smurfit MBA in summer of 2020. We’re delighted he’s agreed to answer three questions to kick off our occasional Student Profiles series! -Editor

What was your job/career prior to applying for the MBA?

The last company I worked for was LinkedIn MENA, based in Dubai. My role was to help organisations design, build and execute a strategy to attract top candidates to their organisation by elevating their employer brand and empowering their team to find the right talent, for the right role, at the right time. My clients had operations that span the globe and range from start-ups in hypergrowth to large enterprises that want to keep flourishing. I worked with an amazing cross-functional team of analysts, media consultants and customer success managers, to help tackle our clients’ biggest business challenges through insights that drive impact and results. I was also proudly a board member of the Irish Business Network in Dubai who helped Irish or people with an affiliation with Ireland to facilitate connections between individuals and companies and improve individual and collective capabilities and grow Irish led and supported businesses.

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

As Nassim Taleb says; “You will never truly convince someone they are wrong, only reality will.” What I have enjoyed the most about the MBA is that a lot of the real lessons are in the doing, not the theory. Throughout the programme I have had many learnings and I’m only half way through the programme, so I will surely have many more to add by the end of the year. Some of the learnings i have recently reflected on are the below:

  • You generally don’t need more time; you need more focus.
  • Knowledge without application is simply knowledge.
  • Rather than evaluate people’s ideas, be curious about people’s thought processes.
  • Not everything fits into a framework, you require integrated thinking to see the bigger picture.
  • If you cannot write it down, you probably haven’t thought it through enough.
  • The devil’s in the detail and sometimes in lack thereof.
Getting some fresh air

How would you spend your ideal day off?

I was recently listening to a podcast with Matthew McConaughey where he discussed the importance of choosing the right mindset. He said as a child, whenever he would enter into the kitchen in a negative mindset, his mother would say: “Don’t come back until you can see the Rose in the vase rather than the dust on the table.” That message really resonated with me. It’s been a tough time for everyone this year and sometimes all we can see is the dust on the table. Yet we always have a choice, a choice to see the positives. That’s not to say we should be Pollyanna-ish but understanding where our focus goes our energy will flow is important when deciding.   

So with that in mind my ideal day has changed to focus much more on the little details and to focus on the positives, smells, feelings, visuals and expanding those moments. Covid-19 has compelled me to be grateful for the little things that one can experience. A perfect day off for me is waking up early and having a hot coffee which I have prepared the night before, so I wake up to smell of coffee brewing. Then head out for a walk along Dun Laoghaire pier, taking in the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks and the smell of the fresh morning air before dipping in for a refreshing swim. There’s something quite magical about the Irish sea that you can’t quite explain but only experience. On the walk back home the Italian bakery buzzing with people queuing outside like bees shut out from their nest, always tempts me in for a coffee and freshly cooked bomboloni. In the evening-time, it’s time to unwind, meditate and read a book. 

If you asked me to describe my perfect day a year ago it probably wouldn’t have looked or sounded anything like that. But the times that we live in require us to see things differently, to change our perspective and to experience and enjoy the little things that are within our control. I hope I don’t forget these lessons when this all comes to an end. 

Conor Hyland, FTMBA Class Rep, Class of 2021


The author, turned 3/4 away from the camera, wearing a white button-down shirt and smiling.
Hamzah Hassan

If someone had told me in 2018 (when I sat for the GMAT) that I would attend business school in a t-shirt and pyjamas, I would have dismissed them as some sort of nutter. Cue 2020 and the joke was on me. Or should I say, all of the full-time class! It has its advantages, being at the comfort of my sofa and dining table and snacking away on nachos while scribbling pages and pages of notes. 

Coming back to university after a nearly twelve-year gap seemed a little intimidating at first. Will I be able to make sense of everything? What about the workload? Am I going to sit through class like a confused dinosaur? I suppose many people face these thoughts on the first day. The simple answer to all of this I would say is “You’ll be fine”. We have all made it through the gruelling years of undergraduate study and working life and committed ourselves to achieving a goal, all that is left is to just “get on with it”. The first few weeks feel like a very steep climb, with new material to learn, assignments and presentations and so on, but quite soon, one just gets into a certain rhythm, and the weeks start flying by. 

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

The most rewarding part of study is that “Aha!” moment, which typically happens when you realise that you start looking at the world through the frameworks taught in class. You might look at the workings of a hospital and start thinking about how its management could do better to foster more teamwork or a better work environment for its personnel. You might look at a company and start evaluating its competitive advantage or the potential pitfalls of its business strategy, as if by reflex. You might even pull out an annual financial report and zoom right into the details to prove a particular point. The application of classroom study is much quicker. 

Every term has a course or two that are the most memorable for a student. Competitive Strategy, taught by Dr. Brian McGrath, is my pick for the first term, with its engaging and unique business cases. The class itself was never short of banter despite being taught remotely, and full of many eureka moments as the weeks went on. When we venture back into working life, we’ll all definitely be thinking about the ways and means to “capture and sustain a competitive advantage” every single day. 

The second-term course on Negotiation is probably one of the most challenging ones I have faced personally, as it takes me far out of my comfort zone, but I’m all the more thankful for it. With its multitude of handy frameworks and challenging simulations and role-plays, I think it is a great experience to practise and learn how to be a better negotiator… to “capture and sustain a competitive advantage”. 

Flashback to more-open times
When we could meet for a ‘Sláinte!’ moment to help us find more ‘Eureka!’ moments

Business school is a bit like a series of many lab experiments, each one building into the next. At the start, there is what feels like “the great unknown” looming ahead. Then, as one goes along, every couple of steps bring with them moments of unique insight, the ones where you think “Aha! I get this!” or “Aha! I can do this better!” Along with you are many fascinating and talented individuals, adding to those eureka moments. While the first few steps look daunting, just have a plan, stick to it and keep going. Those moments will happen!

Hamzah Hassan, FTMBA Class of 2021

International Women’s Day on the MBA

On Monday 8 March, UCD Smurfit will celebrate International Women’s Day with a variety of events–and you’re invited!

Poster advertising the MBA Entrepreneurship Club's Women's Day Speaker Session, on the topic 'Evolve to Revolve, Women in Industry', 8 March at 11 a.m.

At 11 a.m., you can join the UCD Smurfit MBA Entrepreneurship Club for a panel discussion on the topic ‘Evolve to Revolve, Women in Industry.’ You can register for the event via this link.

A poster advertising Dress for Success Dublin's International Women's Day webinar on Monday, 8 March at 3:00 p.m.

The next event will take place at 3 p.m., thanks to a partnership between Business & Finance and Dress for Success Dublin in honour of the day.

Sonya Lennon, Founder of Dress for Success Dublin will host a Pecha Kucha style presentation discussing the theme “Choose to Challenge”. Our panelists will discuss how things are progressing and changing for gender equality from a personal, professional and societal context with actionable tips, and a positive outlook. You can register here to attend.

Following the panel discussion, David McRedmond, CEO of An Post will join our host to consider the business benefits, and share practical company experiences of making change in An Post.

Plus we will hear from special guests including Margot Slattery, Global Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Sodexo, Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland, Mairín NiBheachain, Stylist and Enterpreneur at MoStyle & Mise Collars, and Dress for Success Dublin Mentor Vanessa O’Mahony.

Donate Your Commute

Dress for Success Dublin is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the economic independence of women in Ireland by providing job search supports and career development services to women seeking to (re)enter the workforce. This International Women’s Day we ask that you #Donateyourcommute to support the invaluable services Dress for Success provide.

Poster advertising the 'International Women's Day Panel Discussion: Throwing out the rulebook: Leadership in Times of Crisis' presented by Gender Equity on the MBA and UCD Smurfit Women, Inspiring More.

At 6:30 Monday evening, you are invited to the UCD Smurfit Women, Inspiring More/GEMBA’s International Women’s Day Event: “Throwing out the rulebook: Leadership in times of crisis.” You can register for the event here.

Following on from our January launch, we hope to continue to form a network to discuss obstacles faced by women in the professional world to prepare both women and men for the transition to the workforce. 

This month’s event will feature a panel discussion with Mark Ryan, former Country Managing Director of Accenture and a Non-Executive Director of Wells Fargo Bank International, Publicis, PwC and DCC. A long time advocate of gender balance in business, during his time in Accenture, Mark created the successful Accent on Women (AoW) programme designed to develop a clear career path for women in business. We will also be joined by Sharon Cunningham, a UCD Smurfit MBA alumna and CEO & Co-Founder at Shorla Pharma, a female-led healthcare company focusing on the development of innovative drugs for women’s and paediatric cancer. Sharon was named Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2019 and recognised as one of the 100 most influential CEOs in Ireland by Business & Finance Media Group 2020.

The discussion will be moderated by Caitlin McBride, current MBA student and author of “The Day That Changed My Life: Inspirational Stories from Ireland’s Women.” 
Date:              Monday, 8th March, 2021
Time:              6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Location:        Virtual event | Dublin, Ireland
Registration Link:

Last but not least: If you’re interested in pursuing an MBA and weren’t able to make the Women on the MBA panel discussion on 24 February, you can watch a recoding of the event here.

How do I know if an MBA is the right choice for me?

Hands on a laptop next to an open book with the header 'Business'
UCD Quinn School of Business. Picture by Shane O’Neill, SON Photographic

Many prospective students who might consider an MBA are toying with a lot of questions right now. How do I know… if an MBA is the right choice for me? If it’s the right time? If I’m capable of doing an MBA?  

So here’s a few thoughts I’d like to share, based on my experience of meeting & accepting students onto our own UCD Smurfit MBA programme.

First, a bit of background info.

What is an MBA? The MBA is a Master of Business Administration. Ultimately, this is a general management degree aimed at people who have several years’ professional work experience. All MBAs will cover topics such as Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Strategy, Leadership & Organisational Behaviour – important core management subjects.  You will get the opportunity to choose options where you can specialise in other areas and explore other topics–from Data Analytics, to Digital Transformation–and you will have opportunities to develop your consultancy skills and work with client companies on projects, including a final Capstone project. In UCD Smurfit, we also have an extensive Leadership Development Programme to develop your capabilities in this field. You can study an MBA full-time for one year or part-time over two years (weekly or monthly options).

I’m worried that I have no business experience. So What? Everyone comes to an MBA with certain knowledge: so perhaps you’re an engineer, or a marketing specialist, or a pharmacist.  You may know nothing about financial reporting, but you will learn from your classmates, some of whom will know a bit about this, and you will have opportunities to use your experience to add value for your classmates at different points throughout the programme. So, it’s checks and balances. You don’t need a business background–in fact, everyone brings something different to the table. There is not one profile we look for.

We always consider what you as a prospective candidate can bring to the classroom experience. And that’s what’s so great about an MBA: everyone is so different, from different industries, different professional experience, different nationalities. This is what will challenge you and challenge your way of thinking: not everyone thinks the same way or approaches a problem in the same way that you do!

The first and most important question I always ask someone is, WHY? For you personally, why do you want to do an MBA? What is your motivation? It’s so important that you clearly understand your own motivation – when things get tough this will get you through! Look, let’s be honest here… an MBA is a BIG time and financial commitment. Don’t rush to a decision, take your time, think it through before you commit to this. Involve your partner and family in the decision process as this will impact on them too – make sure they are supportive and understand the extra time commitment which means time spent away from them.  And don’t forget that an understanding and flexible employer makes this a lot easier for you too.  Consider how to show your employer that your MBA will benefit them too! 

Some people who join us spend a few years planning to do an MBA – others not so much! However one thing is clear: this is an investment in your future.

The most common reasons to do an MBA are as follows:

  • to pivot to a new role or industry, 
  • to develop management skills and gain a broader knowledge of management topics 
  • for career advancement reasons.
Students sitting at outdoor tables in the courtyard next to Smurfit's coffee dock

Perhaps you have a manager you admire and she has an MBA and is encouraging you to apply. This has got you thinking about your own career advancement, with your current employer or potentially elsewhere. Or perhaps you are a specialist who wants to move in a general management direction, but you don’t believe you have the skillset or perhaps the confidence to progress. An MBA can help!  

We have loads of evidence from our own MBA alumni to prove that they have achieved all of these objectives. Word of warning, however… an MBA is not a magic wand. It’s important to know why you want to do an MBA, and make sure when you get here to make the most of the experience and the opportunities here for you. That means making an effort to meet new people, e.g. your classmates and MBA alumni, to improve your networking skills.  Engage actively with the extra -curricular activities such as Clubs and other events… and be proactive! Don’t sit back and expect things to just happen. Use your initiative, make suggestions, be positive, take the opportunities that come your way.

This is a unique experience. At the end of your programme you will look back fondly at the time spent doing your MBA, the friends you made and the community you joined. In a very short space of time, you will become part of our cherished MBA alumni community, where we will continue to engage with you–and hopefully see you return to meet the next batch!

Sophie Carey, Senior Manager, MBA Programmes