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Congratulations, MBA Student…and Family

by Katie Chung, Full Time MBA, Class of 2021

Rice MBA students on a site visit
Rice MBA students on a site visit

This blog post was originally featured in Poets & Quants

I don’t know about you, but for me, going to business school was a huge decision. I am a career pivoter. And a big one at that! For context, just a few years ago I was performing in one of my final shows Off-Broadway. Days were devoted to dance classes, voice lessons and memorizing callback materials; my evenings were spent in full beat, wigs, and costume. Usually around 8:30 p.m., I was cartwheeling onstage for the next big musical dance number.

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Katie Chung (Second from Left) with MBA classmates
Katie Chung (Second from Left) with MBA classmates

So, when I decided to switch gears from my BFA to an MBA, I wanted to get it right. I thought about everything from class size, to grocery store options near my apartment. No more NYC subway trips with multiple grocery bags for me, thank you! I did my research and created my own rubric. Decisions are not easy for me, so I took this on like the others. I gathered all necessary information and weighed each option very carefully, knowing the right choice comes from this detail-oriented process (For Brian, my significant other, my commitment to thorough decision-making is the bane of his existence since it applies to dinner decisions too).

What I did not think about was who was going to school with me – and who wasn’t. This may shock you, but your entire inner circle goes to school with you. That’s right, it’s not just the shining MBA student. It’s your family, your friends, your significant other, your kids, and your pets. In fact, I think my dog has gotten more swag this year than I have! Once at school, it struck me that it was almost a second job working to stay connected to the people I care about while also trying to be present for schoolwork, team meetings, and networking.

As we enter our two-year programs, we’re also presented with a new group of people who may soon enter that inner circle. My classmates were like-minded people with extremely unique backgrounds. I met a student who was simultaneously pursuing an Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering degree with his MBA. In other words, he is a rocket scientist! I wanted to make room for all of this. Simultaneously, I was learning literally every foundation of business for the first time. My brain was slightly overwhelmed. How can one do it all?

I have my own perspective about family, friends and business school but I wanted to learn more about what my classmates went through. I spoke with two of my second-year classmates, Amie Uttecht and Kunal Shinde, who brought some unique perspectives. After both conversations, three themes really stood out to me: manage expectations, stick to a schedule, and find your tribe.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS…WELL SORT OF

As I went into these conversations one of my prepared questions centered around how to set expectations for your family. Except, thinking back, I didn’t manage expectations at all because I had no idea what to expect. When I spoke to Amie, she told me about an experience she had early on.

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Amie Uttecht, Rice MBA
Amie Uttecht, Rice MBA

“We had family in town and we were at dinner, I had to excuse myself to go do schoolwork and sometimes people can forget all the work that school entails, and I had to explain that I had to go write a paper. I probably didn’t do a good job of setting expectations in the beginning. I didn’t fully understand all school was going to encompass because I had been so far removed from academia.”

It is hard to think back and remember how many hours I’d spent in the library writing my thesis as an undergrad. Even though Amie and I did not set exact expectations, we found it naturally worked itself out. With loved ones, the only expectation I set was that school was a change I was making in my life and it was important to me. I am lucky that this was all I needed to do. My immediate family and my chosen family supported me; they understood that sometimes, like Amie, I would need to step away from a dinner or I wouldn’t make it to a family event because I had a team meeting or a final the next day.

That doesn’t mean it was easy. I live with Brian and I didn’t do a great job of setting expectations at the start with him. Our adjustment was more go with the flow, not really who I am at my core. Some Saturdays, the list kept adding up. I knew if I ran errands or went out to dinner, I would only be thinking of the finance practice problems I needed to work on. On other occasions, if I finished the short list, we would quickly make a reservation for dinner and enjoy a new restaurant. Brian was flexible and rolled with the punches. It was easier because we knew there was an end date to this.

SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE

After speaking with my classmate Kunal Shinde, I am signing up for his future TED Talk on how to schedule effectively. After my go with the flow approach, the idea of more structure is extremely appealing. One of the themes that came from our conversation was the importance of writing critical items down and scheduling them in. Kunal moved to Houston from Pune, India and his family is still there. He was not only balancing this new school schedule and recruiting, but also working with a time difference when trying to connect with his wife, son, and new baby daughter. Kunal emphasized the importance of “being ruthless” with your time.

“Make sure you are not wasting your time,” he told me. “I block times for my classes and then I have my calendar filled with everything from family time to mealtimes because of the time difference. So, my family doesn’t have to wake up very early and I don’t have to stay up very late.”

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Kunal Shinde, Rice MBA
Kunal Shinde, Rice MBA

Kunal talked about how prior to his MBA he found a sweet spot in work life balance; he figured out what worked best for his family. When he began b-school, he simply transferred this philosophy. One of the most meaningful nuggets of information he provided was the magnitude that quality over quantity has. If he was able to have a 10-minute conversation with his wife and kids, that helped refill his cup much more than 30-40 minutes of distracted time. It was important to him to mentally be there 100% for his family. And with these ideas in mind, he has been able to stay in quality touch with his family.

FIND YOUR TRIBE

After speaking with my classmates, one thing was clear, we found our tribe early. For Amie, it was another new mom in our cohort. Oh, did I not mention that Amie is a new mom? She started our intensive two week, 8-hour-a-day launch with a six-week-old baby girl, Stella. Talk about exciting new challenges!

“One of our classmates had also recently had a baby,” Amie explains. “We really bonded and created a support system for each other. Having a classmate in the same situation as me was crucial to my success getting through my first semester. It would have been a lot more challenging without that friendship.”

Kunal found his tribe through joining student run organizations. This gave him an opportunity to connect with and build relationships with the second years in our program.

“Talk to the second years because they have gone through this. Make sure you talk to many, as you will get a good idea of what you are doing and how you should approach your issue. Remember, any problem you are facing, it’s not the first time in the world that someone is facing this problem. No need to reinvent the wheel; people are really nice, and they are open to help you.”

As for me, well, I found out the people I sat next to on the first day of school happen to be my people. We were able to laugh together (and sometimes tear up) through the stress.

We spent hours studying together, talking through game theory, and served as each other’s wing person at networking events. And we were always ready for a wine night at the end of a hard week. I found that my friends from home were there anytime I called. While it may have only been at the end of first semester, they were there waiting to hear how the last three months had gone.

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Brian and Katie
Brian and Katie

Brian, who is not in school, was always willing to talk things through with me as well. Sometimes, it was reading a networking email out loud to him and asking him 100 times if I should close with ‘Sincerely’, ‘Thanks’, or ‘Talk soon’. Other times, we figured out a math concept that neither of us had thought about in years. It was so helpful to just talk things out with someone I could say anything to, even if it was embarrassing!

What I found was that once people know how important things are to you, they support you. That’s true even if you don’t really know what you need. I found that once the stress of semester one was over, I was able to find more time to be there for those who needed me and reciprocate their support. Friendships and family move with the times. They ebb and flow, but they are always there when you need them.

Overall, it can be daunting to manage relationships while venturing into something new. One of the biggest misconceptions is setting expectations early on. Like Amie said, how do you set expectations when you don’t know what to expect? Let your inner circle know how important this change is for you and you really don’t know what to expect. They will always be there, in your corner, cheering you on.

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