2023 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Caitlin Bristol, Imperial College

Caitlin Bristol

Imperial College Business School

“Long-haul optimist working at the intersection of businesses and social impact.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Originally from Portland, Oregon, USA – I have been living in London for nearly 10 years now.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Santa Clara University: B.A. in English, minor in Political Science.

  • Jean Donovan Social Justice Fellow Recipient
  • Charles F. Bannan Scholarship Recipient

Where are you currently working? Director of Social Innovation, Johnson & Johnson

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud to be part of the team that worked to launch two impact platforms – The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, a $250 million, ten-year commitment to support the global health workforce, and Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures, a fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation that invests in companies and entrepreneurs innovating to improve health equity for underserved patients around the world.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA programme?  I knew I would be completing the MBA while working full-time, and with two young children at home. Therefore, I knew that a flexible learning environment would be key for me. I love that each class is offered at three different times a day so I can attend the class that works around my meetings or, if I’m travelling, the time zone I’m in. Imperial College Business School has an award-winning online learning platform, top-rankings for academic excellence, and I appreciated the online structure of live classes while also allowing for in-person and on-campus touchpoints.

Each cohort comes together in London to kick off the programme, and this happens again near the end for a week-long Capstone project. In between, students have the option to take several of their electives courses on campus. I’ve loved being able to meet and spend time in person with my classmates from all over the world.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA programme? The programme is primarily online; therefore, it attracts a truly global student base. With my cohort, there are close to 100 students across 48 different nationalities! I love the diverse networking opportunities and the wisdom and exposure to new ideas and ways of working that I gain from my classmates.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was surprised at how engaging a class discussion can be, even online. In many ways, the online format reduces some of the intimidation of speaking up in a large group and allows people the option to contribute via different channels (forums, chat, etc.). I think you end up hearing more from a variety of personalities and views compared to an in-person class that may unconsciously optimise airtime for the more confident public speakers.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? Per the above question, I love that there are many ways to engage in a conversation online – during the live class, chats, forums, etc. It levels the playing field in some ways by offering multiple options for engagement for different personality types and comfort levels, whereas an in-class only environment can inadvertently optimise for those that are more confident public speakers. In today’s culture of WhatsApp and virtual coffee chats it makes it easier to connect with a more diverse and distributed cohort that may not have been possible with a place-based in-person programme.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA programme? You’ll often hear the advice to say yes to everything and to take up every opportunity. I would argue instead of learning to say no. You can spend 24 hours a day going to events, attending webinars, networking, and taking sit-in classes. Get clear on why YOU have enrolled in an MBA programme. Be curious, but if something isn’t an enthusiastic yes, then release it. Know your priorities and values and focus on those opportunities. Otherwise, you can end up distracted by everyone else’s dream and become completely burnt out. What would it look like to graduate feeling more optimistic and energised around your passion and purpose? Choose wisely.

What would you change about an online MBA Programme? I would really encourage those seeking out an online programme to look for one that also has an in-person component, even if only optional. I love that Imperial College Business School’s online programme has an in-person week at the beginning of the programme, as well as one week towards the end for the Capstone project. That 5% of in-person time super charges and deepens the other 95% of time spent working together online.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I have been able to apply learnings to my day job immediately, both in the way I understand and support social entrepreneurs and the way in which I can review pitch decks for impact investing. The work I do with the Impact Ventures team is looking at health equity innovations so it’s critical to have a good foundation and understanding of the basics in business and finance.

Why did you pursue an online MBA programme instead of a full-time residential programme? I am doing the work I want to be doing and, in a role, I feel has the potential for great impact. I didn’t want to step away from that. I have spent time in the Silicon Valley start-up world and over a decade in the corporate social impact sector. I felt I had reached a plateau in my growth and learning of business, finance and strategy by way of experience and exposure and wanted the dedicated focus and rigour of an MBA to deepen my knowledge and increase how I could contribute to my work. The flexibility of the online programme allowed me to continue doing the work I love and immediately apply my learnings to the programmes I manage. I also feel my day job provided great context, that I could bring into my coursework and deepen my understanding.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA: 20-25 hours

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I appreciate this may be an unpopular answer, but I am less interested in climbing a career ladder and don’t have “the” dream job in mind, per se. I hope to be a part of upending the status quo and redesigning and rebuilding systems that work for people rather than exploit them. I want to look back at a hundred proof points that demonstrate how successful businesses can be inclusive and regenerative and can scale without leaving a path of destructive externalities in their wake.

In the long run, I hope to have a career that allows me to press the field of business and finance to further diversify and remove barriers to access resources. Through the last decade of my career, I have been reminded time and again that a good idea can come from anywhere, and often great ideas come from proximity to the problem, and less often from those with the biggest pocketbooks. I want to work to redistribute and rebalance the way resources and capital are allocated so that the right new businesses are born and supported to succeed.


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