Two years ago, I would not have imagined that I’d be an MBA student at the Ross School of Business.
My pre-business school life was nothing like what it is now. I never expected I would be able to make the switch from life as a scientist to life as a businesswoman. I was a lab manager at a metastatic breast cancer research lab, dually studying the genetic drivers of cancer and the effects of pre-clinical drugs on cancer progression. My work consisted of reading scientific journal articles, designing experiments, pipetting chemicals, and endlessly analyzing data on almost incomprehensibly complex equipment.
My coworkers often spoke of how they could lose themselves in their research and be in the lab for 12 or more hours at a time. Although I could relate to their excitement, I often felt like I wanted something different. I was more excited by the prospect of improving a process and increasing efficiency within the lab than I was by a new discovery.
WHY BUSINESS WAS A FIT
It took me several years to understand what was missing – a translational impact component. Although the research I was conducting had the potential to be lifesaving, any discovery made was decades from creating real impact. Any developed drug had to go through multiple rounds of trials; any new method had to be proven repeatedly through peer-reviewed studies; and any improvement in care had to pass numerous safety regulations before it could be implemented. I wanted to see the real impact I was making on people, and I found that I could better do this in a field that was science adjacent, where I could still use my technical background and skills but also see the impact that I looked for. My experience managing a lab helped make this decision easy as I knew where my skills would be most useful – in scientific management. And when I realized this, I understood that my career path had to be altered to find professional contentment. I also knew, however, that I did not have enough management experience or formal education to succeed beyond the academic lab.
So I did what I was good at – I researched my options forward. I found that business school would be the best next step for me. Business school caters to a variety of backgrounds and teaches the skills necessary to operate as leaders at the conjunction of a variety of functions. I would be able to meet others from similar backgrounds, learn from those in very different industries, and gain and apply skills to extend my expertise to fields outside the lab.
I had four main criteria in my search for appropriate business schools: academics, post-business school career opportunities, a concentration in my desired field, and opportunities to apply and cement my learnings during school. Late nights researching business schools online, speaking with student ambassadors, and visiting schools led me to realize that Ross matched all my needs.
SUPPORT FROM THE SECOND-YEARS
To make myself a strong candidate, I worked to supplement my scientific experience with business-oriented experiences. I enrolled in a Coursera accounting class, spoke with current MBA students about their experiences (and how they prepared for business school), and took on a volunteer project manager role at the American Red Cross. Through these activities, I was able to broaden my skill set past the lab and form connections with people from diverse backgrounds – a skill that has proven to be useful in a setting as diverse as business school, where my peers come from numerous countries, backgrounds, and with varying skillsets.
Once on campus, Ross provided a rigorous course load which allowed me to learn subjects far from my expertise, like finance and accounting. I was able to lean on the Career Development Office, which provided me with opportunities to connect with alumni at various companies for coffee chats and informational interviews. This helped me recruit for my internship and full-time position afterwards. I was able to learn to case through the weekly sessions the Consulting Club provided, and I learned how to negotiate my offer with further assistance from the Career Development Office. And finally, I could declare a concentration in Data Analytics and Healthcare, two fields that I knew I wanted to work in post-business school.
Ross also provided strong action-based learning programs such as MAP and other informal research and teaching opportunities to further develop my understanding of subjects I learned. One such experience was through the Community Consulting Club, where I led a team of six students in developing a strategic marketing plan to increase membership for a national nonprofit agency. I had never taken on such work before, but I was able to learn from second-year MBA students who had done similar projects before and learn by doing how to take a project from the initial scoping phase to completion. Through regular meetings with the client, detailed coordination schedules to align multiple workstreams, and working sessions to put together our midpoint and final presentations, I was able to understand aspects of project management and team leadership.
Now in my second year of business school, I am confident I made the correct choice in both my career path and business school, and I can’t wait to see how things turn out.
Bio: My name is Vaishnavi Sitarama and I am a second-year MBA student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. A Californian and Silicon Valley native, I received my degrees in Molecular Biology and Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. With prior experience in metastatic breast cancer research and afterwards in artificial DNA design, I am now pursuing my MBA to gain knowledge in scientific management and the business of healthcare. This past summer, I interned with Strategy& (part of the PwC network) as a Strategy Consultant in their Healthcare vertical. Aside from work, I am a flautist (I even played with Beyonce, Coldplay, and Bruno Mars in the 2016 Halftime Show!), an avid reader, and an amateur DIY crafter. Follow my Linkedin and Instagram to learn more about me and my time at Ross!