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By any measure, my husband, Jeremy, was an unlikely candidate for business school. The small liberal arts college where we studied for our undergraduate degrees, tended to produce public interest lawyers, doctors practising in under-served areas, teachers, academics and a slew of non-profit professionals.
We were no different. With a double major in education and political science and his teaching certification in hand, Jeremy prepared himself for a career of classroom teaching. When it was time to apply for jobs, it never occurred to me to look any further than the non-profit positions posted on Idealist.org.
Six years later, my career trajectory was what I might have predicted at my college graduation: three years in the philanthropic and non-profit trenches, followed by matriculation into a PhD, studying American labour history. My husband’s professional path was also similar to that of most of our college classmates: work at three innovative, education-related not-for-profit organisations and a stint working as a kindergarten teacher in one of Brooklyn’s rougher neighbourhoods.
Then something unexpected happened. Jeremy decided to apply to business school.
He hoped to work at an educational technology company that had the resources to make substantial and long-lasting changes in how children learned. The only problem was that these companies would not return his calls. When they did their advice was: “Get an MBA and then contact us”. And so, that’s how we ended up in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In fact, we had been trying to leave New York for some time. We were more than ready to give up long commutes, tiny apartments and sky-high rents. But when I decided to attend graduate school at the City University of New York Graduate Center, we found ourselves stuck in New York for years to come. Jeremy’s MBA studies offered us a way out. I was by then entering the dissertation stage and had greater flexibility in my location.
Jeremy had four offers from business schools on the table. He was excited about the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business commitment to real-world problem solving, but ultimately, his decision to accept Michigan’s offer was largely about my work. The largest labour history archive in the country - and a critical source for my dissertation research - is in Detroit, 45 miles from Ann Arbor. Moving to Michigan together meant that I would not have to live there on my own for extended periods of time.
We found much to like in Ann Arbor, but other adjustments were more difficult. I was used to the intensity and stress of graduate school work, but I was unprepared for the business school experience. While I had been able to prepare for the next day from home, Jeremy often found himself on campus, in group study rooms late into the night. Social, recruiting and professional clubs’ events - again, unable to be completed from our home - also contributed to Jeremy’s packed schedule. As a result, I found myself doing both the cooking and the after-dinner cleanup, duties that we had typically split.
There were days when I left the house for Detroit before Jeremy awoke and it would not be until after I had gone to bed that he returned home from a section happy hour or group study session.
I didn’t begrudge Jeremy the full business school experience. But at the same time, the lifestyle of our first few months in Michigan was not sustainable. We both realised that things needed to change.
Jeremy began including me in some of his business school activities and sought out other university activities that might appeal to me. We attended gourmet club dinners together, drank hot chocolate with the Jewish grad school group, watched a noted behavioural economist deliver remarks and cooked dinner for other MBA couples.
Jeremy also tried to limit his commitments, taking a reduced course load when he could, targeting only those clubs about which he was most passionate and only pursuing jobs in which he could see himself being happy. For my part, I began to develop a community outside the business school - forming relationships with Detroit carpool friends and fellow PhD students with whom I shared intellectual interests and progressive politics. I also used Jeremy’s busy schedule and my reduced workload as an opportunity to try out some new things on my own - yoga, watercolour painting and freelance journalism.
If asked seven years ago, I would not have predicted that Jeremy would be studying for an MBA, or that we’d be living in Michigan. But I think the decision was the right one for both of us. Jeremy has had professional opportunities that would have been previously unimaginable - an internship with Apple last summer, the chance to learn from incredibly talented and committed professors and exposure to some of the world’s top education and technology entrepreneurs.
And I have taken valuable skills from the business school experience as well. The MBA recruitment process has also touched me. For the first time, I am considering working outside academia, more actively promoting my own work and writing and thinking strategically about what it is that I most value in a location or job.
Jeremy will complete his MBA in the spring and it is likely we will move when he finds a full-time job. This transition will be difficult, particularly because I love life in the midwest. But if the experience of being the partner of an MBA student has taught me anything, it is this: I can create my own opportunities, no matter where we are - networking, freelancing and developing a community of my own.
I’m looking forward to seeing where we land next.
Rachel Burstein is a PhD candidate in history at the City University of New York Graduate Center.