How to juggle further education with everyday life

Flexible learning was the perfect solution for MBA student Harriet Jeckells.

by Management Today staff
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2019

Studying for an MBA is never an easy option, but Harriet Jeckells completed hers while working full time and becoming a new mum. Twice.   

Jeckells, brand management director within the Higher Education division of John Wiley and Sons, applied to do an Online MBA with the University of Birmingham; by the time the programme started she was six months pregnant with her first child. Then, in the following year, she gave birth to her second.

"It would have been completely impossible to have two young babies, a full-time job and then go off to a campus to do an MBA. But this course is literally 100 per cent online, which is absolutely essential for me or anyone like me," says Jeckells.

"It has taken real grit and determination to juggle everything. My husband has been really supportive throughout. But I totally think it is worthwhile and I would do it again," she says.

The fact that the programme is so flexible is a huge advantage for busy students like Jeckells. There is a synchronous interactive session every fortnight, but otherwise students can manage their time as they like. There are lots of peer-to-peer discussion activities, moderated by tutors, along with group work which helps to foster a sense of inclusivity and comradery on the programme, despite never having to step foot into a lecture theatre.

Jeckells also opted to make it even more challenging for herself by choosing electives that were outside of her comfort zone, such as economics and corporate finance. "Corporate finance is a different world, a world I didn’t know, so that’s the whole reason for learning about it." She also adds that if there was ever something specific that she was struggling with, the programme tutors were always available to answer queries by email.

She did most of her MBA work in the evenings: "Many a night it kept me company when I was up with both my children doing night feeds. I would switch on the laptop, put my headset on and get to work," she laughs.

Clearly dividing up her time between the MBA and home life was a key factor in Jeckells' study strategy: "Our weekends are entirely dedicated to our girls, and so it would only be in extreme circumstances that my husband might take them to the park for an afternoon without me so I could study."

Global reach

Jeckells says she chose the programme because of its reputation – it was the first online MBA to be accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – and she also wanted to study at a respected Russell Group university.

It was also important to her that the programme covered a wide range of relevant business topics, as well as offering opportunities to specialise in her particular interests through the elective modules available in the second year of the programme.

"I really wanted a global perspective, as my job is to do with international marketing. I knew the cohort at Birmingham was really international. In group work, you will normally have students from every continent. You are learning about business challenges that aren’t necessarily in your normal frame of reference.

"My phone is now full of contacts from the MBA. It gives you the opportunity to work with people you would never cross paths with in a million years."

Career progression

Jeckells has already noticed the difference the MBA has made to her career. "I have more gravitas in the room generally, because I understand the theories and principles that back up strategic decisions. I feel more confident in my abilities; not that I was ever particularly lacking in confidence, but it is now more well-founded and solid. My career is the strongest it has been so far. 

"I think by doing the MBA, it sent out the message that my career is still a priority within my life, even though I now have lots of other priorities." 

Jeckells was able to tailor the topics of her final assignments and dissertation to her own specific role and business area, and it gave her the opportunity to apply her learnings in real time within her own career. "It is really helpful to have that time to dedicate, in an academic sense, to digging into a challenge you are facing," she says. 

"In terms of scope for further promotion, it all links into that confidence, and having an MBA from a great university. It is a competitive advantage; I have come out with the feeling that I am as capable as other people going for similar roles."

The Online MBA from the University of Birmingham is run by the globally recognised Birmingham Business School. It combines quality with flexibility, to enhance your ability to perform at the highest level in global business management.

Image credit: Choreograph/ Getty Images 


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