I have been pondering this question “How have things changed for you overall in the past 2.5 years?” posed by Kyra a few days ago. Perhaps this is because she is considering going back to school herself and I am just completing my MBA. In part, I have tracked how many things have changed since December of 2004 with this blog. A few weeks ago, I tried to articulate, at least professionally, how the MBA created opportunities that I could not even have imagined previously. I won’t reiterate those professional accomplishments here, but it’s actually much more than that. First you have to understand who I was in January of 2004 when I started the program.

Starting at about age 6, I had a single goal in life, to become a scientist, that I pursued letting nothing and no one obstruct my path. I started college at 16 and earned my PhD by 26. Within 3 years of getting my PhD, I was running my own lab and successfully getting grant support. My foundation was shaken in 1999 with a divorce but in general I was living the life I had always planned to live. It took my research institute almost closing in 2003 for my life-long blinders to come off. Even though my laboratory was fully funded, I would have needed to leave the state, to try to find another position somewhere. There were no guarantees. Until that moment, it really did not matter to me that I had no other skills outside a very narrow scientific discipline. What did it matter? I always thought you were in the top 10-20% of your chosen field, you did not really need any. Oops.

My research institute was rescued and in the fall of 2003 I submitted what is known as a competitive renewal to NIH to hopefully support my laboratory for the next 5 years. I cannot express how nerve-wracking this process was. The wait from submission to answer was about 6 months. If my grant failed, I and my two employees would have been on the street (it did not fail). I also realized that I needed more skills as I literally had NONE. From age 17 on, I worked only in labs. I did also work as a lifeguard for a time but that was it. No marketable skills. Thus, I also took the GMAT and submitted applications to the two local evening MBA programs.  PhD programs train you to do one thing exquisitely well. MBA programs are the complete opposite. It’s all a survey. Nothing is deep; and yet, I feel like I need the MBA super-hero cape. The MBA curriculum makes you feel like you can do anything. I realize this is probably not true but it is an interesting feeling.

Cathy in 2004:

  • I did one thing very well
  • I had  no other skills
  • I was ~20 lbs overweight; I did not exercise
  • I was drinking about 1/2 to 1 bottle of wine per day
  • I had utterly no understanding & no interest of how the world or anything outside of my single scientific discipline worked
  • I had only had a single way of approaching/viewing any problem (if you only have a hammer every problem is a nail)
  • I was so introverted that I could not easily make eye contact or say hello to strangers walking down a hallway
  • The future was bleak

Cathy in 2006 (almost MBA):

  • I still do that one thing very well
  • I now have many other skills & a list of more I want to develop
  • I’m at a healthy weight; I’m training for a marathon
  • I have a glass of wine about twice a month
  • The world is fascinating
  • There are many more tools in my problem solving toolbox
  • I’m still a bit introverted but I’m leaps and bounds more outgoing
  • There are so many possible futures that I look forward to

There is still so much more than this. I simply think differently. I have a bit more self-awareness. I have a much better understanding of how other people think/feel. It is of course all still a Work in Progress, but I’m pleased with the overall direction.