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The ultimate balancing act: the Cambridge MBA and motherhood

Motherhood is potentially one of the most rewarding – and exhausting – experiences of a woman’s life, so why would you choose to do an MBA programme at the same time?

Cambridge MBA mother and child

Current students Katherine and Xin Pei tell us why they made the decision to do an MBA with a young family and offer practical advice on how to balance life as a mother and an MBA.

Katherine Rock

Katharine Rock (MBA 2017)

Katharine Rock (MBA 2017)

Katherine came to Cambridge from Australia in September with her husband and two children, Max (three years old) and Reggie (two years old). An award-winning patent attorney with a DPhil from University of Oxford, she previously ran her own business specialising in intellectual property law.

Katherine says that coming to Cambridge has been positive, not just for her and her husband, but also for her children, who are in a local nursery which has a huge range of nationalities, joking that the nursery school is probably as diverse as the Cambridge MBA class.

Katherine had originally considered going to a local school to do the MBA part-time, however after scoring 760 in her GMAT she revisited her plans and she and her husband discussed the idea of moving further away so that she could study an MBA at an international school. Once the idea had been cemented, she says it was just a matter of taking things step-by-step.

“Once I thought ‘what’s stopping me?’ I started exploring options. I looked at steps as they emerged and found that each one was viable. When you look at each step individually, you realise undertaking international study as a mother is completely achievable.”

Katherine has had the support of her partner throughout, and he takes on a lot of the childcare so that she is able to study and attend evening events (she makes around two a week). They were also very fortunate in that they could relocate to the UK because he works remotely for his own company.

Katherine says looking after a family while taking an MBA comes down to compromise.

“I schedule a time in my diary for work and I have to make sure I’m really productive in that time. It can be difficult because it means accepting that sometimes assessments won’t always be as perfect as I’d like, but it’s necessary so that I can have time with the children.”

Katherine says that an important thing worth considering is the additional expense of nursery school. And though she has been fortunate to receive a partial bursary for childcare from her College (St Johns), she advises that potential MBA families factor this into their budget. However, her College are keen to support families and hold family events so that parents can socialise with each other and are even looking to put on a “family formal hall”.

Katherine plans to return the Australia after her MBA and expand her business, using her MBA experience as a catalyst.

Xin Pei Low

Xin Pei Low

Xin Pei Low (MBA 2017)

Xin Pei is a current Cambridge MBA student who had her first child, Theodore (three months old) between the first and second terms of her MBA. She previously lived and worked in Singapore as a consultant and moved to Cambridge last March to live with her partner, who is currently also studying at the University.

Xin Pei found out she was pregnant after she had been accepted onto the MBA, so had the difficult decision as to whether to do the programme while looking after a new born, to defer, or to not go ahead with an MBA. She made the bold decision to study while pregnant and looking after a baby, as for her it allowed a little more flexibility – if no less hard work – than returning to the workplace and doing an MBA later in her career.

A typical day involves feeding Theodore, coming into Cambridge Judge Business School for lessons or group work, using the coffee break to express milk, a short trip back home for lunch and time with Theodore, and then back to the School for the rest of the day.

Lessons for the Cambridge MBA are generally 09:00-17:00, but she is also able to attend some events in the evening if she plans ahead. She says:

“My classmates have been a great source of support, sharing their experiences and even threw me a baby shower – it’s great having a group of people to celebrate important moments with, and they have been great in accommodating my schedule.”

Her College tutor and nurse from Hughes Hall have also been providing lots of support ensuring that she had her exams in a comfortable setting during the pregnancy and providing advice on University nursery options as well as information about the University childcare bursary.

As she was already based in Cambridge, she knew it would be a great place to bring up her children. She says once her son is old enough, the plan is he will go to a University nursery (her partner is studying a PhD).

Xin Pei plans to go straight back to work once she has finished the MBA and has been applying for jobs along with her classmates. But what is her biggest piece of advice?

“You need to be very efficient with your time – and make sure you have your priorities right. Also make sure that you have the support you need from your family, I have been fortunate enough to have my mother and mother-in-law helping me – otherwise I would get no sleep!”

Cambridge and families

We also welcome many MBA fathers to the programme each term too, as well as those students bringing their partners, and seven per cent of the students who came said they would be bringing their family to Cambridge with them. Events for partners and families are regularly hosted by Cambridge Business School Club (CBSC), and families join us at our annual Orientation BBQ and Summer Soiree. Each of the Colleges also organises family events, and families and partners are a valued part of the college community.

Each College has a designated childcare contact who is a point of contact and a voice for student parents within their College, and several Colleges have nurseries or allocated places at nurseries. There are a number of University groups for children and parents, as well as the University of Cambridge Holiday Playscheme and Children’s Centres throughout Cambridge.

Cambridge is a very international and family-orientated city and as well as having excellent schools and nursery school provision, there are lots of events throughout the year for families in Cambridge which are hosted by the University such as the Science Festival, Festival of Ideas, and Night at the Museum.