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Working & Learning During Corona: Program Managers & Students Share Their Stories

Part-time education while also working can be tough – especially in times like these when everything has to be done remotely. Meanwhile, adapting to new routines and finding ways to be effective at home may also serve as a chance to grow and to fully embrace the possibilities of digitalization – which matches an approach that’s deeply embedded in the Executive Education Center’s DNA. That’s why we’d like to share some insights into the daily lives and challenges of our Young Professional- and Executive Education Program students during times of COVID-19. A lot of them have discovered new ways of structuring themselves and maximizing their academic potential while writing theses, doing research at home and staying connected to their Program Managers and their respective program peers.

”I start every morning with a quick yoga session to wake up my mind and body and to replace the kick-start I usually get from riding my bike to the office”, Else Suutarinen, who has just started her 4th semester for the Master in Management & Innovation, summarizes. Else is from Finland and joined the program having studied Business Administration with concentrations in HR Management and Marketing during her Bachelor’s. “I try to be very consistent by establishing a daily routine. That means: planning my workday and goals while making coffee, starting to work around 9 am, maybe then having some video meetings, making lunch, and eating around noon. If I feel like I need a change of scenery, I sometimes go for a short walk to get some fresh air. To cap off the day, I usually continue working or writing my master thesis until around 5 or 6 pm. Structuring my days like that really helps me to stay mentally and physically fit.”

Quite fortunately, she was given the opportunity to write her master thesis with her current employer – something that at the same time can be rather tricky, too: ”I constantly need to draw a line between thesis work and job tasks. Personally, making a plan to find the balance between work and student life really helps me to get things done. The thesis research is the trickiest part to combine with everything else – mostly because it’s so different from all the implementation and field work I usually do. Starting my thesis research in a Colombian jungle village, where I was forced to pause my private travels during the initial lockdown, was not the easiest place to stay focused. But having working people around me during the one and a half month span helped me to keep my eyes on the goal and to stay structured. To support my thesis topic, my whole job description has changed quite a lot and it’s easy to stay motivated since I’m now doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do in the fields of product management and product development.”

She admits that keeping up regular contact with her fellow master students has become a bit more difficult during the last couple of months. For her, networking and staying connected with her fellow students remotely proved to be essential: ”We have a zoom call every four weeks and social media helps to keep up with who’s in which part of the world. At some point, we had a time zone span from Eastern Asia up to the western parts of South America, which made calling even trickier. But – by trying new digital tools and formats – we even managed to do a virtual wine tasting with attendants on three different continents. That was really a cool thing to be a part of. Also, sharing some frustration and boosting each other for staying focused on the thesis was really helpful.”

Thorsten Adami, a member of our Executive MBA Class of 2021, also found a way of seeing the bright side of the current situation: “My business routine has shifted to 100% online meetings. Prior to the crisis, I used to have a mixture of onsite and remote meetings. Especially the onsite meetings are important for personal interaction and relationship building that can hardly be substituted. However, for me, there are at least some upsides: Since there is no traveling involved right now, I have more time on my hands for studying and spending it with my family. In addition, online meetings tend to be more productive these days.”

There is of course a natural desire to get back to the face-to-face delivery of the program, and participants are looking forward to a safe return to their campus. But until this is possible again, good compromise solutions are key: ”Maintaining the dynamics of a face-to-face exchange between fellow students as well as our teaching staff in the virtual environment is a challenge we have to overcome”, Executive MBA Program Manager John Pye proclaims. ”Nonetheless, the situation has presented an opportunity to learn more about digital ways of interaction and communication. Everyone has been making a great collective effort to adapt to the digital format to ensure we make a success of it. That being said – we are all looking forward to having these lively discussions and networking opportunities in person as soon as we can safely do so.” He assures: “Overall, the feedback has been positive so far, in particular our participants have been pleased with how quickly we have been able to adapt and offer our courses online. We are looking to continue this momentum as we adapt again to make our teaching spaces safe and suitable for the return to campus.”

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