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Eric Dolan


by Eric Dolan, MBA 2011 Tuesday, February 22, 2011

With a birthday in the late seventies, a wife, and two kids, I am certainly in the demographic minority here at the Wisconsin School of Business.  Does that mean I am relegated to “bridge-and-tunneler” status compared to my classmates?  Of course not.  If anything, the added extra-curricular responsibilities have forced me to work harder and be more resourceful.  As I complete my second year of the MBA program, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on a few key strategies I used to succeed as a student/parent/spouse:

1. Prioritize based on urgency, not interest. As a member of theA.C. Nielsen Center, it goes without saying my preference would usually be to work on a conjoint analysis homework or lose myself in a chapter on Principal Components Analysis, but that strategy usually left me starting other assignments at the last-minute or after I was fatigued.  What I learned—and what Coach K will impress upon you in Finance—is that writing something down really does have a mystical power.  Making a list helped me be more disciplined and dictated how I allocated my time.

2. Not close to Grainger?  Find a good satellite office. For me, a solid two hours out of the house was worth, roughly, about four hours of work-time at home.  Even though it’s tough to find time to break away, a good coffee shop or library can be a savior if you need to concentrate.  Nonetheless, you must also learn to work amidst distractions.  I was lucky to work for a small company that afforded me my own office before coming back to school.  As a result, I had to somewhat relearn how to work at home effectively.  My advice: if you need to work at home (with kids) try to focus on work that does not require a computer!

3. Find ways to get involved.  It goes without saying that kids severely limit one’s opportunities to head out for dinner or participate in T.A.P.S.  But, that’s no excuse to remove oneself from the non-academic parts of student life.  In fact, as I look back, those times I spent with my classmates socially were some of the most memorable.  I went about this in a few ways:

a. Join student organizations.
b. Find ways to give back.
c. Pick a few nights in advance to go out and plan in advance.
d. Participate in UW’s Joint Venture club to get your spouse/significant other involved.

4. Lastly, use some of your new-found free time to spend with your family. After your two years at the WSOB, you’ll likely be working your tail off in a job that is much more demanding than your previous roles.  That means your time at UW will probably be the last in a while where you’ll have Fridays off, or just one class on a given day.  Sure, there’ll be a lot of work to do, but when you do it is a fairy autonomous decision.  Conversely, few jobs will allow you the same freedom.  So, in short, you gotta cherish it…trust me.  It goes far too fast.

Although these tips are probably fairly obvious, you’ll learn they’re easier said than done.  It takes everyone some time to adjust to life as a full-time student.  Most importantly, don’t take too long to adjust.  Graduate school is a time for experimentation.  Also, things move so quickly, you’ll rarely feel completely comfortable…and even if you do, it probably means it’s time for things to change all over again.