MBA MoTM, Nikole Vargas — Part 2

In Part 1 of her interview, Nikole shared a great deal about how she stayed true to her vision of her career and how she made her decision about Ross. In this portion of her interview Nikole shares some great tips on apps that help with time management, childcare solutions that worked for her family, and advice for you future or current MBA Mamas.

Nikole traveling with her adorable family.

Time management is tricky for any MBA student. What tips do you have for MBA Moms that are trying to stay on track?

As soon as I receive the syllabi for my classes, I open up Wunderlist and start plugging in all of my assignments. I also set up alarms based on how much effort I think the project will take (1–2 days in advance for regular readings, 4–8 days for larger projects).

I also live by my calendar. I spend a good chunk of my Sundays setting up my weekly schedule, determining what group meetings I need to schedule, which recruiting events I’ll attend, what club events I want to prioritize, etc.

Additionally, I try devote windows of time to my email, as opposed to checking it throughout the day. I take full advantage of the Gmail filter options so I can see if something urgent comes through, and I use Boomerang to push off emails for a few days or weeks.

To stay on track, I encourage my groupmates for class assignments to set up our meetings 5–7 days in advance. I have found that classmates actually prefer to do this, as we all have crazy schedules!

Finally, my husband and son help me avoid over-committing. When I go through all of the opportunities available in the next week, I keep my family in mind, which helps me turn down many social events. For many MBA students, it is hard to say ‘no’, but I know I would rather spend that time with my husband and son. No MBA student can do everything she wants to do, and for me, social events are what get pushed to the bottom of the list.

Can you tell us about your son and you husband? What childcare solutions did your family utilize during your MBA program?

In terms of childcare solutions, when I started graduate school, Logan was only 4-weeks-old, too young for most daycares. My husband (Nicolas) and I made the decision that he would watch Logan full-time for the first semester and we would re-evaluate childcare options later. Through pre-MBA recruiting events, I received the offer to intern at Starbucks in November. The internship was located in Seattle, so my husband and I decided that if he stayed at home throughout the summer so I could pursue the career opportunity, we could still be together as a family. He has continued to stay home with Logan so I can take full advantage of all of the opportunities at Ross.

My husband’s willingness to put his career on hold has allowed me to excel in the classroom, recruit, participate in, and lead clubs, and even attend the occasional social event. This has also allowed us to travel. We know that we won’t have so much time off together when we go back to work full-time, so we try to take advantage of the free time while we have it.

Since I started grad school, we have visited Colombia, Costa Rica, Canada (Vancouver, Banff and Jasper, Toronto), Italy, and Portugal (the Azores Islands). We have also traveled by car from New York City to Seattle, hitting numerous national parks along the way.

My son Logan plays a huge part in my current academic career. He is a friendly, curious, active little boy who loves to smile and play, and many of my classmates adore him. I have many friends at Ross who are willing to watch Logan so Nicolas and I can have the occasional night out.

As for my husband, Nicolas and I met in Chicago in 2009, and he proposed to me under the Golden Gate Bridge three years later. We were married in Chicago in 2013, and it was after our wedding that I decided to start the MBA application process (I had so much free time, I wanted to fill it with something!).

About a month before my applications were due, I found out I was pregnant. My first reaction was to not apply for MBA programs anymore, but my husband told me to reconsider.

After watching me work so hard on the GMAT and fully researching programs and self-reflecting, Nicolas encouraged me to complete the applications, receive the admissions decisions, and then decide what to do. And, when I was admitted to Ross, we both knew we’d be moving to Ann Arbor!

Wow! What an incredible supporter. Beyond receiving so much support at home, what were your biggest challenges as an MBA Mom and how did you overcome those?

One of my biggest challenges in that first year was breastfeeding. I wanted to nurse my son for at least one year and this took up so much time. Not only did I need to worry about classes, assignments, group projects, club activities, and all the other things that impact graduate student schedules, but I also had to schedule and find a place to either pump or nurse. That first semester, I needed to pump every 2–3 hours. Looking back, I do not know how I made it all work! It took an army, and my community supported me in so many ways. I remember my husband would bring Logan during lunch time so I could feed him directly instead of pumping. Other times, classmates cooked dinner for us 2–3 times a week during the first semester, and friends grabbed lunch for me when I didn’t have time to eat and pump between classes. For some projects, groups scheduled study groups at my house so I could feed Logan in the middle of the session. Thanks to all of this support, I was able to achieve my goal of nursing Logan for one year (14 months!), while keeping busy with classes and schoolwork.

Another challenge I’ve faced is learning how to ask for help. I find myself feeling uncomfortable when asking for help, and I definitely try to do everything on my own. I have a ton of support from my husband, but from time to time we need additional help (like when we need a night out as a couple). I’ve been so surprised and humbled by the number of classmates who are eager and excited to help.

At the core of the Management & Organizations course, we learned that people in your network are excited to help you, and most people enjoy helping someone else.

Knowing this makes it a little easier to ask for help, but I still struggle every time I need a babysitter, and have skipped a fair number of social events because I did not want to ask someone to watch Logan.

What advice do you have for professional moms considering their MBAs and/or starting their families?

I would tell these women to complete any necessary self-reflection to learn what you want out of your career, and how an MBA will help you achieve those goals. If the MBA is the right fit for you, know that you can do it, even as a mom. Consider the full-time MBA option if you want to switch careers (additionally, full-time MBA programs offer the most opportunity for scholarships). If you plan to stay with your current employer, then the part-time program may be the right fit for you.

Overall, do not sell yourself short. So many dads pursue their MBAs, moms can do it too! I am someone who wanted to delay (or potentially cancel) her MBA journey because I did not know if I could be a mom and a student. Though it has not been easy, it has never been impossible. I am so glad my husband convinced me to follow my dream.

I would argue that there isn’t really a perfect time to start a family. Plus, even if there was a perfect time, the odds that you would become pregnant at that exact moment are low. Professional women like to plan every part of our lives to the second, but when it comes to families, we have to let go. When it’s time, it’s time. Maybe you progressed as far in your career as you wanted, or maybe not. Either way, you will make it work for your family.

Thank you so much for sharing. Where can we expect to find you career-wise post-MBA?

My goal is to work in brand management for a food company. As I consider different companies, I am looking for those that will allow me to have a balance of interesting, meaningful work, while also providing a flexible schedule that enables me to spend time with my family.

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