The Expectations vs Reality of studying an Executive MBA

28 October 2021

Executive MBA participant Rachael Newbold reflects on her experience, looking back at her favourite aspects of the programme

When I sat in the MBA lecture theatre on day one of our induction in September 2020, I was feeling more than a little daunted with what lay ahead for me. I was working full time in an international leadership role, taking on the Warwick Executive MBA, supporting my husband with his own start-up venture, and I’d recently found out that I was pregnant with my second child – in other words, life was pretty full-on.  

However, in one of the first sessions of the day, Sarah Jackson (Careers Manager at WBS), gave us some advice that resonated with me. She told us that there are two types of activities we engage with, those that give us energy (even when they are hard work) and those that suck energy from us. She advised us to spend our time and resources working as much as possible on tasks that give us energy. I have reflected on those words many times since and often quote Sarah when people ask me how I manage the juggle, because the reality is that managing work, family and studying is difficult, but that my time on my MBA always gives me more than it takes from me. 

There have been assignments that I have particularly enjoyed, such as Leadership, because they have forced me to reflect on my own skills and experiences. They have encouraged me to see past events in my career through a different lens and I have often come out the other end with a new perspective. 

I have also appreciated the opportunity to ‘deep dive’ on specific topics; at work I am required to be across multiple facets simultaneously and switch from one issue to another quickly. The structure of the Executive MBA has enabled me to focus on one area for an extended period and really think something through. This has allowed me to challenge my traditional thinking, consider alternative approaches, and reflect on how different decisions might play out.

In practical terms, time management is critical to being able to manage the workload. I set myself mini deadlines and try to be as effective as possible during the time I am studying, often building it into my working day, as I have prioritised family time at evening and weekends. I have found that completing the assignment (or at least starting it!) as soon as possible after the module teaching is finished has always led to me achieving better grades than on those I’ve left languishing, as it has meant the lecture discussions are fresh in my mind and I can explore wider research if required.

One of the best aspects of the Executive MBA was meeting my cohort peer group. Having worked within the same industry for my whole career, sometimes you can find yourself in an echo chamber in your own network and the MBA has enabled me to expand that. I have enjoyed the wide reaching discussions on culture in the Army, innovation within NGOs, and learnt a lot more than I ever expected about the Russian oil industry. My only disappointment is that due to COVID we couldn’t all be in Warwick in person as frequently as we would like. However, we have all made a conscious effort to stay in touch and support each other remotely and I have made lasting friendships.

Reflecting on those words from Sarah on our first day, I realised that I have used the MBA to provide space and a welcome relief from the ‘day job’ to my brain. My studies are something that are just for me, an investment in myself, so whilst the four days in Warwick are always incredibly intense, and often mentally exhausting, I always return to work excited to put my learning into practice and feeling re-energised from the experience.

Find out more about our Executive MBA programmes here.