Is return to academics a clever move?

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Never too far from academics: Many professionals benefit from an academic programme after a few years of employment.
Never too far from academics: Many professionals benefit from an academic programme after a few years of employment.


More working professionals seem to be interested in taking academic courses to reshape their careers.

After spending three to four years in a nice, exclusive cabin, moving back to a classroom, case studies and mock discussions with clients could seem trivial. But, today’s professionals don’t think so. More and more managers, particularly those in the middle and senior levels, are considering getting back to academics for a quick stint there, only to come back and revitalise their careers.

Interestingly, some who intend switching careers also opt for relevant courses after significant work experience. No wonder, qualifying examinations such as CAT, GRE and GMAT are growing more popular in industry. The trend becomes evident in the increasing number of one year and executive MBA programmes and in the growing proportion of experienced candidates in MBA programmes.

The IIMs, for their executive MBA programmes, ask for 36 months’ work experience as a pre-requisite. Some go further and specify a ‘cadre level’ for aspiring candidates.

Academics note that for professionals who have a fairly good understanding of the industry dynamics, taking a course is bound to increase their understanding of subjects.

V.K.Menon, Director, Career Advancement Services, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, says: “Work experience is very useful from an ‘internalisation of knowledge’ standpoint. The MBA programme is an applied learning programme. The more you are able to associate the classroom teaching and projects with experiences that you have had while you were working, the better you will be able to internalise the learning.”

Every time a case study is brought up for discussion in class, they instantly relate it to something they came across in their jobs.

Prior experience also gets reflected clearly, during peer group learning exercises. “In all the assignments that you do, expertise based on prior experience is brought to the table. Assume that you are doing a market entry strategy for a health care firm. The doctor in your team would be able to guide you on product relevance, the quant geek would work out the numbers, the CA would look at the financials of the case while the marketing person will be able to put realism into the ’Go to Market’ strategy. The whole final product would be very rich and closely approximate real world analysis,” he says.

“Contrast this to a student who has no work experience managing this assignment. He or she may be able to do a great job, thinking through the case, but when it comes to the applications’ standpoint, there could be gaps.”

With work experience, the interactions that these students have with faculty, peers and the management of the school gets to be richer, Mr. Menon adds.

With many middle management positions having been created, such students fit in well when they get back.

They have the domain and industry experience, and an MBA, which has taught them the broader perspectives, an entrepreneurial mindset and additional management skills. This is perhaps why more companies are showing interest in sending their talented middle management employees to B-Schools.

Students’ perspective

From a student’s perspective, there are two key advantages. They get the opportunity to change roles and industry. The other aspect is that, for those students who do not want to change the role, they are able to leapfrog to senior management positions. Companies do appreciate the value of the total MBA experience and are willing to give credit to the students by placing them higher in the hierarchy, point out senior faculty.

Deepa Iyer joined the MBA programme at Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Tiruchi, after two years’ service in the retail banking sector.

Now, having specialised in banking and marketing she has opted to shift to corporate finance.

“The work experience definitely helped me get a better perspective. However, while at work I’d merely have a micro view of emerging trends in the sector. Now, after the thorough grounding the course has given me, I am able to appreciate a macro view of things,” she says.

Salem-based educational consultant Jaya Prakash Gandhi points to a 15 to 20 per cent increase in experienced candidates joining in MBA programmes.

“Analysing the top 30 B-schools in India, about 58 per cent of the candidates there have work experience,” he says.



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