5 Questions for an Online MBA Graduate—Claire Osborn

Claire Osborn graduated from Durham University Business School’s Online MBA program in June 2017. We sat down with her to discuss the pros and cons of an online degree, and how it really works.

If you could give me some idea of why you decided to go for an Online MBA instead of a full or even part time on-campus program: what were your priorities, what were the top pros and cons you weighed?

I actually didn't have a choice in the type of MBA program, it had to be an online program due to work commitments and financial reasons. At the age of forty and a with career that I’d never really chosen myself, I decided that I needed to make a change, and it was now or never. Some people thought I was crazy wanting to go back to school, but when you think about it, forty is only halfway through your working career, and I wanted to be on a different path than the one I was walking.

[Before business school,] I’d decided to start a small business making flower arrangements and doing party planning; in time the business grew and evolved from a floral business into wedding flowers, and then into the bridal wear market. After almost 10 successful years in business, the industry was disrupted with the introduction of the internet and I struggled with no real business background to adapt. I felt defeated, and like a failure.

The next 12 years of my working life were spent as a retail manager. Although I’ve enjoyed my career, I’ve always had regrets and lived with the feeling of not fulfilling my potential, so I decided it was time to face things. I looked into many online programs, but Durham stood out for me as it’s triple-accredited, has a fabulous reputation, offered the flexibility I needed to fit around working full-time, and also gave the opportunity to attend modules on campus at summer school. I was nervous—the doubts started creeping back in: was I capable, what if they asked about my educational level, what if I didn’t fit in. However, the faculty staff were fantastic; they treated people as individuals and each on their own merits, background and experience.

Could you give me a brief idea of what the Online MBA modules are like from a technical standpoint? 

The online modules varied depending on the module topic, which was great as no two modules were the same. I was worried about program becoming repetitive or ‘same process, different subject.’ But each lecturer/module leader had a different way of engaging—some very vocal, with lots of webinars and podcasts, others through discussion boards or group exercises.

The online program based around Blackboard has pros and cons. The pros were that it is self-managing; you can log on and learn at your own convenience and around work and family commitments. The course was broken down into weekly segments; recommended readings, podcasts, recorded webinars and discussion boards. This worked really well for me, as I could watch a webinar during my lunch break, or whilst traveling for work. I also printed the case studies and read them as I got chance during the week when having a coffee. This allowed me to be more productive in the time I put aside to study and join discussions and interact with the other students or module leaders. However, of course with online technology comes technical issues, although these were minimal.

What did you appreciate most about the Online MBA, and what were your bigger disappointments, or things you feel really lacking and could be improved?

The best part of the program were the people. I have made friends for life all over the world. The diversity of the students on the course enabled learning and understanding of international business through real life experience. I also thoroughly enjoyed summer school and the meeting the people I had spent many months chatting with—it really helped build stronger bonds with other students and motivated us all to keep on going. At no point during my experience, although it was online, did I ever feel alone. 

The most disappointing part of the online experience was that not all students were keen to engage; this was particularly disappointing when doing group work and one or two individuals out of a group of five or six wouldn’t participate in discussions or add value to a joint assignment until the last minute, but were willing to still take credit for the work.

Can you tell me a bit about what you do now, and how the Online MBA has advanced your career? 

I changed career paths and now work as an analyst for Baker Hughes GE in the Oil and Gas subsea sector. It’s a totally different industry from retail and one I never imagined I would enter, but it fits me perfectly—it’s volatile and undergoing a huge transformation as an industry. I now have a new challenge that allows my previous experience to merge with my new knowledge base, and hopefully help change and shape a new era of industry.

I started the MBA with the intention on starting a business again, but this time better prepared for the potential pitfalls. I also wanted to prove I was able to achieve the education I never had, which I did with distinction. I’m more analytical and decisive, I have a better and more rounded understanding built on the foundation of others’ experience as well as my own, and I can appreciate other points of view and rationalize options by drawing on many discussions with fellow colleagues. However, not everything went to plan, as I’ve now got the research bug and want to pursue a PhD. 

Any advice you'd give prospective MBA student trying to decide on an Online MBA?

Stop thinking about it, and do it. If you’re considering it an MBA, I believe it’s because you want to either progress in your chosen career, or make a dramatic change. Either way, an MBA will help build your skill set and enhance your overall understanding of business. I’ve never felt so empowered and in control of my career as I do now.

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