In search of the bigger picture

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Only A few months ago, my one-year-old daughter strapped to my back, I was trekking around Ilulissat in Greenland, admiring some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. After more than a decade in the UK, mostly in London, it was a thoroughly refreshing experience.

The contrast, in terms of space, solitude and raw nature, could hardly be greater. Equally striking is the remarkable transition that Greenlanders are managing,, from a culture centred on hunting just a few generations ago, to a modern society combining deeply held traditions with a burgeoning sustainable economy for the 21st century.

As I try to imagine what life must have been like before xxxxx the astonishing change, I begin to see my own challenges in a different perspective.

So it is with a sense of humility that I consider the changes I face in my own life. In September, my husband, daughter and I moved from London to Cambridge, where I have since enrolled on the MBA programme at Judge Business School. We left behind our home and friends and, scarily,I have given up my job.

The idea of pursuing an MBA started to take shape when I was writing my PhD thesis in neuroscience.

My enthusiasm for science was alive and well, but four years in the lab had shown me that I did not thrive in the lonely atmosphere of academic research and missed the lively banter of working in a bigger team. While writing my thesis, I found it very satisfying to finally step back and discuss the bigger picture, rather than delving the endless minutiae of experimental detail. So it was not a hard choice to move away from research and I found myself suddenly wishing for some more generalist skills.

Although an MBA seemed a logical way to gain these, I wanted to get a job first and have a few years of respite from academia.

I was offered a job with Cancer Research UK, which gave me the opportunity to stay in science, but move away from the lab.

The move into this sector was fascinating and an excellent opportunity. Neuroscience is an exciting area of research, but it is very academic. Most of its clinical applications are some way in the future.

In comparison, there is an immediacy about work in cancer at all levels – basic research, genetics, epidemiology, detection and biomarker development. The whole field of cancer treatment is undergoing an explosion of innovation and new therapeutic agents are coming online all the time, with many more in the pipeline.

Cancer Research UK is a rapidly growing organisation with a highly motivated workforce and is a great place to work. I loved the challenges of my new job and the practical learning. But I found myself wanting to know more about management tools, so the MBA idea lingered.

After a year, I moved to another role in the organisation. In my new team we sometimes felt concerned that we were going over old ground instead of learning from the best practice of other organisations within and outside the non-profit and medical research world. So, a year later when I saw an advert from Judge entitled “What MBAs can do for Non-profits”, I knew it is was time to revisit some of my earlier plans.

My search for the right programme began with Judge in Cambridge. I also thought about going to one of the main London schools, or Oxford and even considered studying in the US. , In the end I felt it made more sense to stay in the UK if this was where I wanted to work afterwards. Everyone I spoke to during the application process emphasised the importance of networksgained. Although all the big schools have impressive international reach, the links are naturally stronger where the school is based.

Cambridge was an easy choice. I did my undergraduate degree in Oxford and knew I would love to return to the college system.

Although London Business School had a lot to offer, the strong emphasis on collaboration in Cambridge had more appeal. The consulting projects undertaken during the MBA were also a big draw and, particularly
since there was a cluster of biotechnology start-ups around the city, it seemed a natural fit.

Six months later, in addition to the offer from Cambridge, I had gained had been lucky enough scholarships both from the school itself and from the Sainsbury family’s Monument Trust. Everything seemed to have come together.

Having enjoyed my 2½ years at Cancer Research UK, it was with some trepidation that I handed in my application for a year’s leave. But I knew that the opportunity I had been given was one to be seized with both hands.

We have only been in Cambridge a few weeks and so much has already happened; so many new impressions, faces and topics to get to grips with that our life in London feels long ago. Everyone seems incredibly bright and excited to be here and the atmosphere is buzzing with expectation. anticipation. I am surprised by the huge diversity of backgrounds. I had expected to feel like the odd one out. In reality, there is no single dominant industry profile. Many of the students from commercial backgrounds are keen to move into non-profits at some point and there is already plenty of attention for the non-profit
special interest groups, where people get together and explore shared career interests, often with the involvement of Judge alumni.

Although the days seem a lot more hectic than when I was working, I feel very privileged just to be here to learn, challenge myself and develop. The schedule is demanding, with classes all day, which leaves evenings and weekends to prepare and do group assignments.

I have lost count of the number of times people have looked at me in disbelief when they learn that I have a child to look after as well.

I cast my mind back to our trip to Ilulissat, which seems a lifetime away, and I am filled with excitement about the year of learning and exploration ahead of me, and a quiet belief that I’ll find a way to meet the challenges.

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