Tips for how to juggle being a parent with studying an MBA
Being a parent isn’t easy. Neither is studying an MBA. Here’s how our students make it work.
Studying an MBA is a huge commitment for anyone, regardless of age or career. But for parents with little ones to attend to, it can be particularly daunting.
That’s why at the first-ever Parents’ Day Morning Tea organised by Melbourne Business School’s Student Representative Council, we asked mums and dads about their experience studying an MBA while juggling parenthood responsibilities.
May Wong: Communicate with your partner
Management consultant May Wong commenced her studies when her eldest child Ethan, now 3, was just a year old.
Describing her experience juggling parenthood, work and studies, she says: “When you're on maternity leave, all you hang around with is your baby and you sort of get detached from the world. I feel like studying the MBA helped me feel reconnected. I felt intelligent and simulated.”
For May, who also served as President of the School’s Student Representative Council while studying, communication and planning are key.
“The most important thing I think is to communicate with your partner. Let them know what’s ahead. Tell them why you’re doing it, what’s the purpose and why it’s meaningful. Also, let your partner go out with your cohort once in a while and let them understand what’s happening.”
She also found it helpful to inform the School about changes in personal circumstances.
“Communicate with Program Services. They’re there to help you. If you plan ahead and talk to them, they actually accommodate.”
Fiona Sherwin: Understand the requirements
“I spoke to the faculty before I went on leave about my options. They helped me create an individualised plan, but also left the door open in case it needed to change closer to the time I was to return to my studies. They made the process so easy.”
The Senior Transformation Partner at Monash Health says balancing her various responsibilities requires stringent time management, including studying after her son has gone to bed and using a shared diary with her husband.
“We send each other calendar events when one of us has a work or study commitment. My husband is a shift worker, so usually when he is working I’ll participate in class online from home. Or alternatively, I’ll find a babysitter.”
Fiona suggests familiarising yourself with the assignments, readings and other commitments ahead of time.
“Make sure you understand the requirements of the subject. Have a good sense of the readings and commitment that you’re going to have over the course of the term. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to manage time effectively.”
Mark Perrott: Find balance through compromise
Mark, a Solutions Architect at software giant Autodesk, is father to six-month-old Oliver. For him, the key to succeeding as a first-time parent and a Part-time MBA student is compromise.
“No matter how you cut and divide, you have to make some kind of compromise,” he says.
“It means you may have got a couple more points for this subject. Or you may have been able to make that better connection with someone that might be helpful to you in the future. Or you could have been there for that moment with your baby.
“If I’m letting everyone a little bit down, that means I’m probably balancing it.”
Even though the Part-time MBA offers a lot of flexibility, Mark says it still involves saying no to a lot of things.
“You’re probably not going to get to watch that Netflix series until later. You might not get to go out to those drinks that your friends had a lot of fun at. But ultimately, you’ll make it work.”
Andrew Tomlins: Maximise your spare time
Andrew Tomlins is a national operations manager for the laboratory industry and father to fourteen-year-old Marcus. Being parent to a teenager gives Andrew more flexibility, but he says this also comes with its own set of challenges.
“I think teenagers are finding out a lot about themselves and they've also got a lot of questions about the world. So, if there's questions you don't want to go: ‘Oh, sorry. I'm too busy.’ I want to be someone who he can come to and ask questions of.”
Andrew says what’s helped him as a student is being disciplined with the use of his spare time.
“Just keep plugging away,” he says.
“And if you feel like you've got a two or three-hour block, open the laptop and get on it, or communicate to your team, or read another case, prepare for that next class and just try and fit things in.
“You need to put in the time to learn. It can be hard but it's rewarding as well.”
Chantal Smith: Take the path less travelled
Chantal Smith started her MBA with the goal of finishing as quickly as possible. But the combined demands of work, study and taking care of her two boys taught her the importance of staying flexible and taking breaks.
For Chantal, this meant taking fewer subjects each term, enrolling into some of the “easier” subjects or occasionally taking a whole term off.
“I like the flexibility. The fact that I can drop in and out. That I can do one subject, I could do two, I could do three,” she says.
While this has extended the duration of her MBA, it also gives her breathing room to expand in other areas of her life – for example, recently starting a new job, her first full-time role in 10 years.
“I wouldn't have been able to transition into this role without doing the MBA,” says Chantal, a community pharmacist who is now in a strategy role for a health insurance company.
“I’m not going to have the same path as everybody else and that's okay.”
Online MBA: A new option for flexible learning
While most of the students attending the Parents’ Day Morning Tea event were studying a Part-time MBA, Melbourne Business School also recently launched a new Online MBA to provide even more options for those balancing multiple life commitments.
"We want to give more people the chance to experience Melbourne Business School in a way that works for them," says Chief Learning Innovation Officer Dr Nora Koslowski.
"The Online MBA has been designed to cater for students who may not previously have been able to study at Melbourne Business School because of their location or other life circumstances.
"It's much more interactive than just watching recorded lectures on a screen. We took the MBS MBA experience and redesigned the modules, assessments and student interactions from scratch for a flexible online experience.
"It’s a great choice for busy, ambitious professionals who want to learn on their own terms.”
The first Parents’ Day Morning Tea was attended by MBA students, their partners and children and featured face-painting and balloon-twisting for kids.
May Wong organised the event after she realised that many student gatherings like dining out or parties might be challenging for parents to attend. So, she worked with fellow students to start organising family-friendly social activities.
“I feel happy knowing that a lot of parents message me personally saying that they feel included. It's kind of a win-win as well.”