Life On The Brady Bunch Screen Of An Online MBA

 I didn’t have a problem making connections online. With Facebook and text messaging being the new norm, people are used to having their best friend live five states away and only seeing them twice a year. At the end of every quarter UNC offers immersion weekends. I attended one on technology and innovation in San Francisco, one on emerging markets in San Paulo, Brazil, and one on leadership in Chapel Hill.  I’m signed up for one in Chicago in a few weeks. When you go to these, you’re not meeting people for the first time. It’s more like a reunion with friends. Plus, you’re learning how to interact professionally online, skills people will need more of in the future.

As far as the technology, I really liked that you could see all your classmates at once online. It’s not like calling in for a conference call. This is very much the opposite. Your web cam comes on, and you’re on the screen.  You see your classmates and their surroundings.  Sometimes people are at the beach or halfway across the world hunched over their screen because it’s 2 a.m. There’s no hiding from the professor.  Classes are capped at 15 people.  Having been through grad school, I know there’s a temptation to sit in the back if you didn’t read and hope that no one will notice.  There’s none of that here. You have to come prepared.

You feel very connected.  You get a better glimpse of peoples’ lives than you typically would if you were sitting a few feet away in the classroom.  You know when it’s dinnertime for someone because family members will be walking around in the background, or sometimes cats and dogs will wander across the screen.

About five to six weeks into the program, I found that I enjoyed my courses more than practicing law, so I’m planning to make a career switch into marketing, communications or human resources. I’ve been working with the career development office at UNC. The school has a dedicated career officer just for this program. We’re at different points in our careers and have a little more experience than students in the full-time program, so it didn’t make sense to squeeze us into a one-size-fits-all career services offering. The career officer meets with everyone when they start the program to evaluate where they are, where they want to be and what resources they can use to get from point A to point B. I had never been 100 percent satisfied with my legal career, and I saw things could be different. I haven’t had time to launch a full-blown job search, but I know that having an MBA will help me be successful.

Whoever expects this to be an MBA mill at UNC will be in for a surprise. That’s not what they’re going to get. It’s the same rigor as a full-time program on top of your regular job, so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. But at the end of the day the rewards and gains are worth it.

Jamie DeMaria, 40, Vice President, Education Marketing and Strategy at Medscape

My background is in the sciences.  I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biology and a doctorate in neuroscience.  I’ve spent the last 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry in medical affairs and marketing.  I’ve always felt that I had a solid scientific, clinical background, but I wanted a better understanding of the business side of things.

Jamie DeMaria earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience prior to enrolling in MBA@UNC

Jamie DeMaria earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience prior to enrolling in MBA@UNC

I’m married and have two kids, plus a full-time job that requires travel, and I couldn’t find a program that would fit into my schedule.  I looked at other online programs, including St. Joseph’s Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Marketing MBA, but none of them felt right. I wanted something broader than pharmaceutical management. I also didn’t want to move and with my schedule, I couldn’t regularly commute to classes.  MBA@UNC is a top-ranked program so I knew there would be excellence behind it. It also fit into my life – I didn’t have to be on a fixed schedule in a brick-and-mortar building to do it.

My wife has been incredibly supportive. When I started the program my kids were 7 and 9, now they’re 9 and 11.  It’s rigorous. We cover the same courses as the full-time program in the same amount of time – 24 months.  You just have to make the time to do it. When I’m travelling, I’ll spend 30 minutes after a client dinner working through another section instead of flipping on a movie at the hotel. You can’t extend time. You just have to make adjustments. There are definitely moments when you’re tired and burned out, but you just keep going. I say jokingly that when I finish the program there is going to be a hole of time that will have to be filled. I’m looking forward to coaching my kids’ sports teams – that would be a great way to do it.

I devoted an average of 15 to 20 hours each week to the program, some weeks are a little lighter, others are heavier.  Everyone has full-time jobs and families so matching schedules for team projects can be tricky, but without exception we never had a problem making it work. Everyone knew what they were getting into, and people are very committed.

As a member of the first cohort, a lot of our classes were financed-based. For someone who comes from a marketing background, I probably never would have taken them if there had been other options. But I’m thrilled I did. Obviously going forward there are more choices to pick from, and if you wanted to hide from the quant electives you could. But, as hard as they are, I would advise anyone to take them.  The only business class I had coming in was a high school accounting class – truly. Managerial accounting was a revelation.  That’s when things started to click.  I wouldn’t have taken that if there had been a way around it.

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