How to study for an MBA and keep your business going

Combining study with a full-time job can bring big rewards but it’s a tough challenge

“You can forget about reading for pleasure or watching TV because there is no down time.” Photograph: iStock

For two years, Michelle Mary McEvoy got on a plane to Dublin every Friday at the end of a long week’s work as a paediatric consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. She was doing the part-time executive MBA at the UCD Smurfit School and, come Monday morning, she was back on the red-eye to the UK.

She bought a big-screen iPhone to read course documents on the run. Conference calls with her study group usually took place late in the evening when everyone’s work and family commitments had wound down for the day.

“The study opens up a lot of possibilities, but it’s a huge commitment, so I think you need to know what your endgame is and keep that firmly in your sights,” says McEvoy. “I’d describe it as stepping onto a rollercoaster with no way off.”

Deirdre Monks runs her own data management company and recently completed a higher diploma in data analytics at the NCI. "I didn't go to college after my Leaving Cert, so getting to grips with the study and academic writing was a challenge," she says.


“What helped me get through was that I was prepared to ask questions if I didn’t know something, whereas other people just sat there. In fact, the lecturers were genuinely pleased that I was so engaged and I benefited more as a result,” she says.

“For me, the whole college experience was very rewarding but also full-on and very tough. I was fortunate my husband was there to mind the kids, because I hardly saw them for a year.

‘Burn out’

“Essentially you need to give up your life outside work, focus on the study and prioritise it for the length of time involved,” she says. “If you don’t, you’ll burn out trying to do too many things.”

Monks’s best piece of study survival advice? “Find a small group of like-minded people and work with them.

“I was in a group of four and we both supported and pushed each other. My other piece of advice is start a course in September. It’s hard enough without finding yourself attending lectures during the summer.”

McEvoy and Monks are now reaping the rewards of their Herculean efforts as both have moved on to new things.

“I am about to get involved in an exciting new venture and am also thinking about going back to college to do a master’s,” says Monks. “My existing business has really benefited from my doing the course and I have the confidence to call it if someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes now.

“I also have the knowledge and confidence to act as the bridge between clients and the tech people because they often don’t understand or talk well to each other.”

McEvoy is no longer working at Great Ormond Street. In fact, she has given up medicine completely to become a consultant with Accenture in its health and public service practice.

“I got my consultant post very early in my career and after a few years I wanted a new challenge. The MBA fitted the bill and opened up a lot of possibilities,” McEvoy says.

‘Different world’

“My learning up to the MBA was medical so it was quite narrow. I was looking for something broader and in a different world.

“Discipline and time management are essential if you’re going to combine work with a demanding course. You need to map out everything that has to be done and when you’re going to do it before you start, as once you’re into the course, you don’t have time to think as things are flying at you so fast from all angles.

“You can forget about reading for pleasure or watching TV because there is no down time, even on flights. My best piece of advice? Reach out to course alumni and ask them questions. They will help you with resources and tell you what’s expected.”

On the whole, employers are supportive of employees who want to go to college. Some are prepared to help with fees while others are willing to be flexible around time off.

There are rarely shortcuts to academic success, but CPA Ireland, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Ireland, has linked up with DIT College of Business to provide a fast-track course combining a master's in applied accountancy with a professional qualification. Applications for the course, which starts this September, are open through CPA Ireland.

‘Fastest route’

"The new programme provides the fastest route for would-be accountants to obtain both qualifications and it can cut study time by between a year and 2½ years depending on where someone is in their professional development," says Gillian Peters, business development director with CPA Ireland.

“Students go directly into a work placement and in the initial two years they participate in paid work placements four days a week and have classes in DIT each Friday. The final year will see students work full-time to obtain their professional CPA qualification.

“There is currently a big demand for accountants and this is an ideal course for those interested in a career change or in upskilling as well as for young graduates. Exemptions may be available depending on experience so people can contact us to see if they qualify.”