How My Graduate School Experience Has Enriched Me

Going back to graduate school was not an easy decision for me. That meant I had to let go my full-time job (since I decided to do a full-time program). That meant I had to change my lifestyle, to certain extent.

I remember when I told my friend that I decided to quit my job in Germany and take up the offer for the Master of Engineering Management program at the University of Ottawa. Some of them said I must have been crazy to do that.

However, here I am — in Ottawa, finishing my last semester for my Master of Engineering Management program.

I just would like to share (with my fellow post-graduate students or with you, general audience) here about some tips on how to make the best use of your study and how my graduate school experience has shaped me as individual and professional.


Never say No to opportunities that come by

You never know what these opportunities will bring you to — they might open up the door for something that you hardly expected before.

I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to be part of the newly created entrepreneurship program, Women’s Startup Network, at the University as one of their mentors starting last summer. I have chance to work closely and be mentored by three amazing Professors in this program.

Through them, I had chance to learn in depth about and apply a lean startup methodology, communication and mentoring skills, and how to develop my idea from ideation step to next steps. From this program, the SeedBase project was born.

I have had chance to get to know an entrepreneurship community in Ottawa and pitched to some of them last summer. We also engaged some prominent successful women entrepreneurs to come and give a talk to students at the University.

All these interactions opened up a world that I hardly knew before: an entrepreneurship world. And this world has changed the way I think and the way I approached problems. (I am currently working with my protege to develop her business idea and I am excited to see where this will lead her to).


Apply what you learn in class to real life

While this sounds straightforward, a lot of people take this for granted. I think the effective learning will really materialize if you apply what you learn to your daily interaction. Learn from your mistake and improve upon it.

I had some amazing lecturers, who have enormous professional executive experience working with people in the industry. I learned the soft skills and influencing skill in selling your idea as engineer or engineering manager. I applied those insights when I interacted with people from the industry for the SeedBase project. I also learned of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept in one of my courses and we tried it out when we were doing the product development for SeedBase.


Never stop learning

There is a saying: “There is only so much you can learn in the classroom” — I cannot agree more with this statement.

Attending the talks that you are interested in outside your classroom hours will give you an idea what is happening out there and to interact with others in the industry.

For me, I became seriously interested in topics related product management and development, and big data, so I decided to attend the talks by different groups here in Ottawa. I am fortunate enough that Ottawa is quite happening when it comes to this. Your best bet is to go to meetup.com for your city and start joining groups that are of your interest. I also attended fireside chats with the founder/executives from local high-tech companies. I personally enjoyed this interaction, too because it gives me an insight on their management skills and their journey to become successful in their field.

And lastly, be brave and learn as you go. I picked up a few other languages by chance beside my mother tongue through interactions with local people in the countries that I lived in on the top of language classes.


Give back to community

Use your skill and experience to give back to community and develop the skill sets of other people in your city. I personally think that volunteering is one of the ways to give back as you grow your professional footprints.

My involvement in Women’s Startup Network brought me to volunteer as a mentor last summer for AmbiSHEous, a program that is curated to ignite the entrepreneurial skills for young teen girls. Through this engagement, I have had chance to get to know a founder of this program, Katharine Cornfield, an amazing woman who have had extensive experience in social entrepreneurship field. They have the next workshop program upcoming in May’16, sign-up your teen girls if you are interested. :)

Since I am in and passionate about software development and delivery, I decided to volunteer for Girls Learning Code program to teach young girls, aged between 8–13, on how to write up basic HTML and CSS codes. I got a chance to practice my skills on how to explain technical terms and concepts in a non-jargon user-friendly way to these girls. Invaluable experience!

On ongoing basis, I am also helping Project Management Institute Ottawa Chapter (PMI OVOC) to drive their social media presence and activities. This involvement led me to receive a scholarship from the PMI to attend an Agile Project Management certification course this summer.


And…don’t forget to have fun in whatever you are doing ;)

While I am happy that I am closing the chapter for my graduate program soon and ready to go back to corporate world, I am excited to find out what kind of career path awaits me next.

Stay tuned. :)

Leny

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