In May 2013 I finished my MBA at Fuqua. I cannot believe how fast time flew by. Two years earlier, I arrived in the Durham area with a 2-month old baby. I remember being nervous about whether I was going to be able to make the most of my MBA while at the same time enjoying the precious, blissful time of being a new mom.
During orientation, while my classmates were pumped about the start of two years of awesomeness, I was pumping in the lactation room. Don’t get me wrong; I was excited too, but scared. Many people who had gone through the MBA experience at Duke had told me that it was going to be very hard to manage both being a mom and an MBA student.
Looking back, I am a bit grateful that they lowered my expectations so much because I now feel that it was not that bad. I probably should disclose now that my baby is a thumb-sucker, and his pediatrician said that is what an MBA mom needs. Beyond that, there are many reasons why I was able to successfully complete my MBA and fulfill my duties as a mom. I had very generous support from my family who lived nearby, and my husband helped me immensely, as did many people at Fuqua.
Earning an MBA as a mother is definitely feasible. In fact, for me it was a wonderful experience. It does require a lot of prioritization, discipline, effectiveness, and as Ellen K. Kullman, CEO of DuPont mentioned when she visited Fuqua and talked about managing work-life balance, it takes flexibility.
Prioritization is Key
Knowing the experiences that I wanted to take part in during my MBA helped me prioritize and ensure I enjoyed the MBA experience. One of the reasons I came back to school was to learn new skills so academic work was one of my priorities. I also wanted to take the opportunity to travel abroad. I decided to take part in the Global Consulting Practicum (FCCP) and the Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE). As a breastfeeding mother, this meant that I had to pump while I was away. Pumping in airplane bathrooms, airport bathrooms, and other bathrooms was definitely not fun, but I am so glad I took the opportunity to visit South Africa and China during my first year. I also wanted to get to know my wonderful classmates, so I tried to work with somebody new for every class and got involved in activities such as organizing Global Week and the Leadership Cohort Experience.
Doing It All (All that You Can)
The first 6 months of the MBA were challenging. Between classes, school work, and pumping, every minute of my day was accounted for. Discipline and effectiveness helped me manage through this challenging time. I was fortunate to be able to exempt two classes, which allowed me to have a schedule where I could pump in between classes at Fuqua’s comfortable lactation room. Looking back, I realize that forcing myself to take a break from the bustle of Fuqua helped me keep calm and put things in perspective. It was my way to slow down to then hurry up. It was also a way to feel close to my baby even if I was not with him all day. Discipline also helped make sure that when I was not with my baby, I was taking care of class work.
Fuqua Provides Flexibility and Support
Most of all, juggling parenthood and other responsibilities requires you to be flexible. During my time at Fuqua, I took the opportunity to ask many successful parents (including professors and visiting business professionals) about how they make it work. I heard stories from both women and men who were going to school or working while being parents. I remember hearing the story of someone who brought his daughter to class, another person had her husband bring her baby for “milk breaks” (feeding break) at work. I even saw one of my classmates bring his son to a Teaching Assistant meeting.
Many women may be wondering whether an MBA is right for them. This is a personal decision that I cannot answer for anybody. What I can tell you is that if you really want to get your MBA and you are already a mother or a father, you can make it work. I encourage you to consider Fuqua as the place where you can fulfill your dream. Fuqua is a welcoming community that offers many resources (lactation room, Fuqua Friday’s family room, Fuqua Partners group) for student parents. The Fuqua Partners group works to enhance the experience of Fuqua families starting upon arrival to Durham by providing the Fuqua Family Survival Guide and by organizing numerous family friendly activities during the two years. You can also learn more on the Family Matters website that I and my classmate Liz Charles created for future Duke MBA parents. For another perspective, read about Liz’s experience as a mom and MBA student. These resources and the beautiful Durham and Chapel Hill area will help make your 2-year MBA a wonderful experience for you and your family.