Monday, December 8, 2014

Big Changes: Getting an MBA while Postdocing

It's been a long while since last posting here but there's a reason for it: I've been extremely preoccupied with what's become a huge change in my life: Pursuing an MBA while doing a postdoc.  I've already begun courses at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and have to say so far so good.

First of all, I'd like to say that most people have been extremely, unwaveringly, supportive in my decision to pursue this goal.  First and foremost there's obviously my spouse and family, but also my current PI, Lincoln Stein, as well as a number of individuals and colleagues at the OICR.  I don't think I'd have been able to consider making the time for it in most other academic research environments. 

It's difficult, but it's not madness, as suggested a few years ago at New Scientist in the context of a combined PhD/MBA.  Personally, I think it would have been easier to balance workloads in a combined PhD/MBA program, but then again, I don't think I would have had the appreciation for what business school offers without the work experience I gained as a postdoc.

As I go through this long experience (And it is long -- 32 months -- as I'm taking the Morning MBA program at Rotman), I'll probably write several posts that touch on some or all of the following key points.  If you're considering combining business school with research (at the post-PhD level), you might thinking about challenges that fall under any of the following points:

  1. Time management.  This, by far, is the biggest challenge for me.  After putting in on average 45-50 hours a week into postdoctoral research, allocating the ~10-20 extra hours (it varies) for MBA classes, assignments, reading, and team work is a challenge.  And on top of that there's family life to keep sane.  The first things that went were hobbies (reduced to watching videos on Fine Woodworking), recreation (reduced to reading), and hanging out with friends (sorry, guys).  All of those gave way to sleep, which is kind of important. 
  2. New, complementary, subjects to study.  From what I can see, the biggest benefit of an MBA for science types is that the topics are mostly new.  I'm not aware of any research programs that encourage students to take courses on accounting, economics, or negotiation, but these kinds of courses at Rotman were immensely interesting to me because they're complimentary to almost everything I had studied to date.  Studying something out of your element enhances the breadth of your skillset.
  3. The price.  Business school isn't cheap.  I don't think people go to business school unless they really want to build their career in that direction.  It's already expensive for most people, but it's especially pricey for people coming out of academic jobs, with MBA tuition running about 3-4 times the annual salary of a PhD student and about twice the salary of a postdoc.  
  4. Your classmates.  This is one of the most interesting points of my experience.  There are a handful of 'scientists' (with MScs and PhDs) at Rotman, but many of the people I study with are in financial services, engineering, marketing, and mining.  You learn a lot about how things are done outside of research from these people, and most of the time things are done differently.
Those are the four big areas that I've been thinking about, so if you're a science geek and are thinking of going the MBA route, by all means reach out to me and I'll try to put together a post to address your questions.