Adrian Papara is an MBA graduate from the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, with an interest in management consulting. Previously, he held various roles in the financial and marketing industries and earned a bachelor of arts, with a major in economics, from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. In his spare time, he volunteers with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, raises funds for various charities and has a keen interest in recreational flying and automotive restoration. This is his sixth blog in a series.
It has been a year since I have moved from Vancouver to pursue a one-year, intensive MBA program at the University of Ottawa. Given the length of the program and the amount of work compressed into such a short period of time, it has been overwhelming at times.
Last week, I attended an event for the incoming full-time MBA cohort at which I was invited to share my program experience. While I gave new students many insightful tips about the program itself, I wish I had also commented on the personal adjustments I had to make.
So I'll use this blog space instead.
The most important thing was managing my expectations and of those around me. I wanted my family and friends to understand that I would not be as readily available to see them, so getting a Skype account was a must.
I began the program as a single individual and I can imagine the situation is much more complex when you have a spouse and children. Speaking to some of my classmates with families, managing expectations also extends to those of their assigned teammates. Although dedicated to the program, many of these classmates had additional commitments at home. For some it became very important to seek the support of their immediate families to take over some of the responsibilities at home.
In terms of managing my own expectations, my biggest adjustment was internalizing the idea that the program would become my new 9-to-5 job. I saw it as a one-off opportunity to work hard and prove myself, and dedicated a lot of "overtime" to studying.
At home, a lot of my old ways had to change. I was now living with a roommate, sacrificing my privacy and alone time, but I was saving money in the process. Without an income, I quickly adjusted my spending, living on a set monthly budget.
At the beginning of the program, I also began eating at home but quickly gave that up. Because I am not much of a cook, actual preparation and cooking time greatly cut into my studying. To avoid wasting time, I resorted to a year-long diet of Lean Cuisine but managed to maintain my weight.
As a student, I also found it practical to give up my car and make use of a transit card. When not busy with school, I worked hard to strike a balance and blow off some steam. I continued my habit of running and weight training and grabbed a pint of beer with classmates after the end of a midterm or final exam.
Whenever I found myself overwhelmed I knew that I was not alone. There were numerous MBA alumni I was able to reach out to and learn tips or tricks for managing my workload and personal life. Talking to classmates was just as useful, as some were experiencing the same things as me. What kept me going was knowing that others before me were able to successfully complete the program with families at home, and some of those didn't even have English as their first language.
If I could leave the incoming full-time MBA cohorts with a few words of advice to cope with an intensive program, I would recommend the following:
1. Manage your expectations and of those that you interact with the most.
2. Take time to relax.
3. Reach out to your alumni network and classmates for support.