Asia School of Business

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Juggling Full-Time Work and an MBA During a Pandemic

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Taking on an MBA is a daunting enough prospect for most people. But for individuals juggling a full-time job AND an MBA for Working Professionals (MBA-WP) that is just as intensive as a regular MBA), the challenge is doubled.

So how do individuals who choose to embark on the MBA-WP juggle the intense pace of the program while managing their day jobs as well? I speak to three working professionals from the inaugural MBA-WP Class of 2021, Merlvyn Kho, SCM Task Force, Category Lead at Sapura Energy Berhad, Andy Chin, Vice President, Marketing at MR.

D.I.Y. Group (M) Berhad, and Pyora Eun, Brand Marketing Executive at AirAsia Korea to find out what their journey has been like so far, and their tips for juggling work, studies, and beyond while adjusting to a global pandemic.

The Journey at ASB So Far

When I asked Merlvyn, Andy, and Pyora to describe their journey on the program so far, the words “rewarding”, “fruitful”, and “transformative” came up. Another word that came up often was “challenging”.

“Midway through the course, my colleagues mentioned they’ve noticed a change in me,” said Merlvyn. “I became a lot more open to different things at work. Instead of just interacting with colleagues in my department, I learned to be a bit more confident talking to more people and getting my points across better.”

For Andy, the program has helped him improve in problem scoping. “Learning in Action provides the tools to help us prioritize and quantify which problems we should focus on solving. It also taught us how to present the problem, in order to get stakeholders to buy into your project.”

A Global Community

One of the biggest benefits all three working professionals felt they gained from the program was the network and community at ASB. Said Pyora, “I didn’t have background knowledge in certain subjects, such as Finance, but my colleagues and friends would not let me give up.

The most impressive part of ASB is the spirit of collaboration. Students speak up with suggestions, and faculty and staff at ASB listen to us. Coming from a more conservative culture, this is what makes ASB unconventional and extraordinary.”

Merlvyn echoed Pyora’s sentiments about the people of ASB. “To be honest, I had this perception of what a professor should be, and ASB and MIT professors just blew all those perceptions away,” said Merlvyn.

“You hear stories of how someone gets super inspired by their professors and you think, oh that’s just a fairytale – until you meet some of these professors. You begin to understand just how big of an impact some professors can have on you and influence you.”

For Andy, one of the things that impressed him about the community at ASB was how quickly everyone pivoted in light of the COVID-19 crisis. “The school responded early, did a lot of scenario and crisis planning, and were quick to implement the hybrid classroom. I think there’s a lot of lessons to learn about running a business just from the way they’ve handled the situation.”

Adapting to Virtual Classes

The highlights of the MBA-WP program at ASB are the on-campus weeks, as well as the eagerly anticipated MIT trek. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide, however, those plans had to quickly change.

This brought about a whole new set of challenges, as Merlvyn explained. “My classmates and I were already juggling a full-time job when we started the course. Now that things changed drastically due to COVID-19, we’re doing even more work trying to keep things running in our respective companies. It’s a challenge to detach from that role at work and spend time focusing on studying.”

In physical classes, laptops are switched off and phones are on silent. With virtual classes, “when you are in class, on the laptop, notifications are always popping up,” said Merlvyn. For Pyora, who resides in South Korea, expecting to be on campus and then not being allowed to enter Malaysia was challenging initially.

“At the beginning, I felt isolated, since everyone was gathering on campus except for the international students. However, I’m now enjoying the online lectures, as I save the time I would spend flying for more than 6 hours to participate in KL, and can participate from home.”

Finding Balance Amid It All

Beyond the challenges brought about by COVID-19, being part of such an intensive program brings with it many other challenges, such as time management. “The main challenge is juggling work, studies, and family,” said Andy, who recently became a father to a baby boy, while helping his company, Mr DIY Group (M) Bhd, prepare to go public. “We don’t have as much time to dedicate to studying as a full-timer.

This means we wake up earlier and work till later.” Merlvyn also emphasized the long days of a working professional: “I’m not the kind who wakes up at 4 to 5 AM to study, like I know some of my classmates do, in order to get assignments done.

However, as I drive to work, I put on my pre-readings on audio and have it read aloud to me so I can catch up on that while driving.” The other two also take a similar approach – Andy also uses text-to-audio to have case studies and readings read aloud while doing something else, while Pyora does her readings while commuting in the subway.

Key Takeaways

For Andy, this intensity and hectic pace has taught him about the importance of learning to rely on others. “Don’t be afraid of asking for help – whether at home, work, or in class. Feeling dumb in class is normal – ask your classmates and professors to clarify things for you. Work-wise, I’ve learned to ask my colleagues for help and distribute the workload better.

At home, if I need space to study, I’ve been able to communicate this and my family has given me their support.” For Pyora and Merlvyn, one of their biggest learnings was to savor the time on the program. “Time just flew by – I can’t believe I only have two semesters left!” Pyora said.

“When I started, I thought I had a long journey ahead of me,” said Merlvyn. “During residency weeks when we have full days with our professors, it was really tempting to leave class and just rush to get assignments done. But I realized how little time we have with our professors and it made me want to absorb as much from them as I can.”