Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Trinity College Dublin
Fleet Engineering Manager, Heathrow Express
Winner of the Edie Hunt Inspiration Award by the Forté Foundation
My career in engineering
Prior to beginning my MBA journey at Imperial, I’d spent the previous six years working in the UK rail industry. After completing a Master’s in Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering back home in Ireland, I moved to London in 2014 to join the Transport for London (TfL) Mechanical Engineering graduate programme.
When I joined TfL I hadn’t realised how train focused my job would be, but I soon fell in love with the railway. It’s really inspiring to work on something so tangible and to feel like you’re making people’s lives easier by keeping them moving safely and efficiently across London. After three and a half years at TfL, I took a new job with Heathrow Express, a private express rail operator between London and Heathrow Airport. While working for Heathrow Express I obtained my professional engineering chartership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers; something I’m particularly proud of as it means being recognised as meeting a certain standard of engineering competence by my peers. It also helped me be promoted to the responsibility of Professional Head of Engineering at Heathrow Express – a position that had never previously been held by someone so young.
From engineer to business school student
An MBA had always been in the back of my mind. I love being an engineer, but I’ve always known my strengths lay more in the realms of management engineering. For me an MBA wasn’t essential, I could have gotten the business experience and knowledge through work, but I wanted to take a year out to fully focus on learning again. With my STEM background, Imperial was the obvious choice. The links the Business School has to the other Imperial departments of Engineering, Natural Sciences and Healthcare is something you can only really get with an MBA from Imperial.
Being the year that we are in with COVID-19, it also became important to me to stay London based, so Imperial fitted all my requirements.
Funding my MBA
The pandemic threw a bit of a spanner in my MBA funding plans to be honest. I was originally going to be sponsored by my company, but obviously, when COVID-19 struck that became unviable. I don’t for a minute resent my company for pulling my funding as they were incredibly supportive of my goals from the beginning. No one could have planned for this year and everything happens for a reason.
I am very lucky, however, that I received a scholarship from the Forté Foundation. As a Forté Fellow, I am part of an incredible organisation that supports women in business and, most importantly for me, funded a large portion of my MBA fees which has made this year possible. I also come from a very academic family and feel blessed that my parents have a strong belief in the importance of education and have helped me through this year. Having my boyfriend as a landlord has also helped hugely with living expenses. London is not a cheap city to live in – this is something those moving here for an MBA need to ensure they are prepared for!
Ethics was the highlight of my first semester. It’s something so applicable to every job and indeed to everyday life. It’s the subject that’s made me think the most about the decisions I make and what my morals are. Professor Celia Moore, who teaches this module, is also an incredible educator and learning from her was a privilege. She makes you think as an ethical leader without forcing her opinions on you.
One of the great aspects of the Imperial MBA is the variety of electives on offer ranging from M&A to pricing strategy, to entrepreneurial finance and even the future of cities. After completing my core modules with only the full-time MBA cohort, it was also great to learn alongside students from the other MBA and MSc programmes. One of my favourite electives was 'managing negotiations' with Michael Yeomans. I'd done a negotiations course whilst in my previous job, but I think it's something you can always improve upon and learn new tricks and approaches. This elective was really interactive with great input from the whole class to make it an encouraging learning environment. I've already utilised what I learned in this class in my daily life.
I also never thought I’d understand stocks and bonds. Despite being good at numbers, the world of finance was just this incredibly elusive monster to me before the MBA. Any time my friends who work in finance would talk about their jobs I used to zone out because I didn’t understand any of it – now I feel like I can at the very least hold a conversation on the topic!
Being part of a driven cohort
My classmates are hands down the best part of the MBA programme. One of the reasons I wanted to do the MBA was for networking opportunities, and it has not disappointed. When the pandemic hit, I considered whether I should do an online MBA, but nothing can compare to the organic conversations you have in class around the topics being learned – that’s what brings the subjects to life.
The work ethic, drive and support from my cohort honestly make me remember why I chose to pursue an MBA in the midst of a global pandemic. Every one of them has something different to bring to the conversation and I respect and am in awe of every one of them.
Enjoyable group projects
I’m probably in the minority of people who love group work projects! It also helps that my syndicate team are the best. While we’re all quite different people, our work ethic and standards align which has made any group work thus far enjoyable rather than a struggle – maybe I’m biased though.
My entrepreneurial endeavours
Imperial has an incredible track record for entrepreneurship and even has a dedicated Enterprise Lab to support and nurture startups. Despite wanting to go back into salaried employment post-MBA, I’m really enjoying the opportunity to dabble in entrepreneurship this year and am involved in a fitness startup with some of my cohort.
The Imperial MBA Women
At the beginning of the year, myself and some amazing women from my cohort took on the responsibility of forming a committee for the “Imperial MBA Women” group - a support network for all Imperial MBA women past and present, set up by Brianna Johnson of the Full-Time MBA class of 2020. This group has shown me the compassion and support women have for each other. Coming from a male-dominated industry, I hadn’t realised how empowering that can be.
Studying in challenging times
Stating the obvious here, but COVID-19 has really made this year though. It’s amazing to get on campus 50% of the time, but not being able to hang out socially with my cohort has really made things tough. Especially around exams, it felt quite isolating, but knowing we’re all in the same boat is a comfort. Unfortunately, things are not looking promising for the global elements of the Full-Time MBA programme this year due to the pandemic. I’m hoping we’ll get to travel before the year is out however and we’re working with the Programme team to try to make things possible, but it will all depend on how things develop.
Opportunities outside of the classroom
I’m a bit of a fiend for joining committees. I’m Chair of the Student-Staff Committee (SSC) for the Full-Time MBA, Co-Chair of the Imperial MBA Women group, a Student Ambassador, Student Content Creator, and am also the student representative on the college’s Athena Swan working group which aims to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research. With two of my best friends in my class being Presidents of both the Finance and TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunications) Business School Clubs, I also find myself attending a lot of their events!
The Student-Staff Committee
Being elected as Chair of the Student-Staff Committee (SSC) has been something I didn’t expect to be so rewarding. I think the year that we’re in has meant there are a lot more issues to be worked out. I feel humbled to represent the opinions and feelings of my class in discussions with the Business School and the Programme team and to come to accept compromises in a difficult year.
The Imperial faculty
Being chair of the SSC means I have had the chance to get to know the Business School faculty quite well. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the work they do to make the Full-Time MBA as great an experience as possible for us as students. No one would wish having to deal with what’s happened this year, but they are always open to a conversation on how to best adapt. I also want to thank the amazing lecturers we have for adapting to a difficult year. My Mum is a university lecturer in Ireland, and I know the work she’s put in to adapt to remote teaching this year and it’s no easy feat. I have a lot of appreciation for the ability of our lecturers to pivot.
New career opportunity
When I started the MBA, I was at a bit of a loss as to what I wanted to do afterwards. I had planned to go back to my old company but after the pandemic struck I ended up taking voluntary redundancy to further help fund my MBA so going back was no longer an option. I had toyed with going back to the rail industry, it’s something I’m truly passionate about, however, I know that this is my chance to try something new. My Imperial Career Consultant really helped me in the first months of my MBA to hone into what it is I want to do, and I’ve been lucky enough to already have a job offer for a well renowned MBA graduate programme. I never thought I’d have a job offer this early, but it means I can now focus on other things like entrepreneurial ventures for the rest of the year and take a lot of pressure off!
I can honestly say that without my Careers Consultant, Rachel Tonner, I wouldn’t have gotten my job offer. She prepped me so well for my interview and made sure I was ready for anything they could have asked me.
The industry-specific events run by Careers also helped me understand what type of jobs are open to someone with my skills set and what companies hire MBA graduates.
Looking to the future
Once we’re allowed to travel safely again, I’ll certainly be using my Imperial colleagues as an excuse to travel the world! In all seriousness though, the Full-Time MBA has already provided me with the knowledge that would have taken me much longer to pick up in the workplace. It’s given me confidence in areas where I had weaknesses and I hope to utilise this in my new job after my MBA.
Living in London
I have adored London from a young age when I used to visit with my family, so when I moved here six years ago it felt like I’d made it. London is busy, it can be grimy, it can definitely be lonely, but there’s something that draws you in. There’s a beautiful juxtaposition between old and new and the buildings aren’t so tall. There is a beautiful light in London. If I’m ever sad I need only to wander the streets of the city to feel inspired again.
I am in the minority of those in my class who already lived in London before the Full-Time MBA. I live in Stockwell which is about 40 minutes door to door on the tube. I don’t mind the commute as I’ve lived in London for the past six years, however, if I were moving to London to study, I would definitely advise living closer to campus, around the Kensington/Chelsea area, or else living in student-specific accommodation. It seems to really help with making friends for those who don’t already know people in the city.
Imperial’s location in South Kensington means it’s perfectly placed within a stone’s throw of the museums and some beautiful London parks. I’ve also enjoyed the cheap gym membership you get as an Imperial student at their Ethos facility. Fitness has really helped me get through this year and the membership price makes fitness accessible to students.
Balancing the MBA, family and a social life
While I don’t have children yet, as someone who was already London based before joining the Full-Time MBA, I’ve found juggling my “non-MBA” life and my MBA life difficult. I already had a large social group and I live with my boyfriend, so it was important that they understood that doing the MBA was a massive undertaking for me and that I wouldn’t be available as much or have as much disposable income. Everyone has been very understanding of course, but I still definitely feel like I don’t give enough to both my existing friends and my MBA friends. There are only so many hours in the day, so you do find yourself having to prioritise and choose between social events. The pandemic has actually benefitted this as it means there are fewer events to go to, so I don’t have to let as many people down!
I have so much respect for those in my class with kids who still manage to juggle everything – I’m in complete awe of them. I can barely look after myself, and my boyfriend regularly needs to remind me to eat and sleep so I’m glad I made the decision to pursue my MBA before I’m settled down with a family!
Advice for prospective students
If you’re thinking about applying to do an MBA, the advice I would give is to talk to as many people as possible about it. Reach out to those doing an MBA or those who’ve done them. Don’t feel bad about asking for advice – people who’ve done an MBA love to talk about it! I hassled so many people at my previous job who I knew had done an MBA and their advice was invaluable. It also helped to say out loud that I wanted to do an MBA. When you tell people your goals, you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable to them, and you’ll be astonished at the support you’ll receive.