No Training Wheels: The MBA Life

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Author: Kyle Huck
Posted: October 28, 2016

I’ve been an MBA student for all of five weeks. Naturally, I feel qualified enough to share my experience about re-entering school. I think it’s important that with every step forward in the program, I take a moment to reflect on what I’m putting in and what I’m getting out. I hope my classmates can relate to my thoughts and that any readers considering their MBA can take a glimpse into our crazy new lives. We haven’t come far yet, but we’re almost halfway through what is considered the toughest term of the Portland State MBA.

It’s difficult to revert to the mindset I had before class started, but I can say for certain that I never knew exactly what to expect. I mean, how could you? I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — I accepted that. I knew it was going to come with some odd hours and varying levels of sleep and stress — I accepted that as well. What I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly and irreversibly I was shoved into the life of a graduate student. It’s still strange to even verbalize. I am a graduate student.

The Transition From Work to Study

Like the vast majority of my classmates, I was working a 9-to-5 for the last few years before deciding I wanted to further my education. Notice how 9-to-5 has a definitive beginning and end. Your work day ends and you go home and unwind and that’s it. Not when you’re a student. Especially not when you’re a grad student. Since classes started — well, really since a week or two before that — I have not been able to turn off the “there-is-something-I-should-be-working-on” feeling in the back of my head. It’s a feeling I had all through college and one I did not miss in the slightest. What am I forgetting to do right now? (That reminds me I have some accounting reading to catch up on.)

Another difference between work and school is deadline flexibility. School assignments due at 10 a.m. on Tuesday are docked by 20 percent if they are as little as one minute late. If my old boss had held me to that kind of standard and deducted my pay as a consequence, I probably would have lost a few hundred bucks once in awhile. The key is to get ahead early and do your best to stay ahead. Prioritizing is also a must — graded assignments top the list and sometimes readings have to be pushed to another day.

As for my work itself, it’s no longer a product of me alone. Group projects are a major staple in the MBA program. Of course this is to prepare you for the working world, but in the working world, my pay isn’t affected by somebody else’s performance, good or bad. I can accept a grade earned as a result of my own effort. I find it harder to swallow the grade produced by the effort (or lack thereof) of my peers. The flip side is the pressure to not be the weak link in the chain. To be perfectly real, my class is filled to the brim with highly intelligent borderline geniuses. The first group project we were assigned rendered me nervous about whether I would live up to their expectations. As the weeks progress, we’re all learning to complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses, leaning on our classmates at times and stepping into a leadership role when necessary.

Embracing the Student Way of Life

Perhaps the more obvious change I’ve undergone is in my lifestyle. Free time hasn’t entirely disintegrated, but it is never regular and always unpredictable. Just because classes end at two doesn’t mean a group meeting or networking event won’t pop up in just the right spot so you have too much time to do nothing and not enough time to accomplish anything productive. It’s just great. One upside, however, is that I don’t have to get up particularly early. I’ve always been more of a night owl than an early bird, so that suits me. Being able to stay up late has come in handy.

Weekends can get a little stifled, too. Even when I do find a little time to relax, it can be somewhat tricky to properly exhale and sink into the couch. I eat like you might expect a 20-something-year-old to. My diet is fairly balanced and staying active is a must if I don’t want to lose my mind (or my body). I will say that my rate of bowls of cereal per week has spiked back up to a figure near that of my undergraduate days. Life’s really not too bad though. I still watch some football on Sundays (I’m an NFL guy not an NCAA guy) and manage to sneak in an hour of video gaming here and there.

It’s helpful to remind myself why I’m here in the first place. I decided to pursue my MBA because I wanted more out of my career. It’s supposed to be challenging, otherwise everybody would do it. I mentally reframe stress as “stretching”. Every time things get difficult, I get stronger, smarter and more capable of taking it on in the future. I have an amazing support system of my girlfriend, our cat (yes, he helps), my family, my friends and my cohort. Two years seems like a long time to do this, but I’m sure it will go by in a flash.

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Kyle Huck is a first year full-time MBA student at Portland State. He is a graduate assistant in the Marketing and Communications department of the School of Business Administration. His background is in graphic design and web-based marketing. He plans to use his MBA to advance his career in the creative/marketing world.