By Cynthia M Piccolo
These days, when people consider doing an advanced degree, their thoughts often turn towards an MBA. Why an MBA over another degree? It's a general degree that opens many doors (e.g. finance, HR, consulting, management) in many industries (e.g. life sciences, finance, manufacturing). With life science professionals, an MBA is often the degree of choice when looking to leave clinical work behind or enter administration.
Of course, life science professionals who begin training for work outside the hands-on, clinical world, need to prepare themselves for a different type of learning than they're used to, learning that covers totally new subjects, like economics, finance, business ethics, marketing, accounting, and more.
And many will have to write the GMAT, a standardized test that is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), and which is used as an admissions tool by approximately 2,000 business schools throughout North America.
You'll have to decide what type of program is best for you, because there are many options for length of program, delivery of program, and focus. For example, there are two-year full-time, one-year full-time, part-time, executive (another type of part-time), joint or dual (e.g. a combination law/MBA), and distance learning options.
An MBA is expensive. Can you afford to be away from full-time work? Can you afford it for one year, but not two years? The tuition alone at prestigious Wharton in Philadelphia is US$39,835 for the 2004–2005 year. And in Canada, the tuition for the first year at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto is C$25,815 (the fee for those on student visas is C$35,369).
You might want to do a combination program like law/MBA. If so, you'll have to do well enough on the LSAT (the standarized test administered by the Law School Admission Council and used as an admissions tool at more than 200 law schools throughout North America) to be admitted into the law program. And remember that it will take longer to complete a dual program.
Distance education is increasingly popular, but as mba.com (a division of the GMAC) warns, it's not for everyone: "Distance learning does not offer the networking opportunities on-site learning does, making distance learning a poor choice for career switchers. It is also not a good choice for someone who works better in an interactive environment."
You may also say, "Why an MBA? People with these degrees seem to be a dime a dozen these days." If this is the case, one could argue that earning an MBA would put you on par with the competition. And if you're considering management or consulting in the life sciences field, it could put you ahead of the competition. And if more people are earning MBAs, then where you earn it will be important. So when choosing an alma mater, look at the quality and reputation of the school. Definitely avoid non-accredited schools and diploma mills.
And think of the options an MBA will open for you.
As a life science professional, you'd have an advantage over candidates "just" holding MBAs in certain fields. Indeed, your previous industry experience will help in any of a number of environments such as government or international departments or agencies, medical product manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, or nutraceutical companies.
You could start work as a consultant, enjoying the freedom and constant challenge of new projects. Perhaps you might discover your latent entrepreneurial sense, and decide to open your own company. In such a case, you'd be combining the business and economic knowledge you gained in your studies with all of the skills you brought with you, such as interpersonal skills, the ability to think analytically, the ability to teach, counsel, "sell," and more.
Alternatively, your studies might reveal to you that your true calling is in another area, such as investment banking, and so launch yourself on a totally new career.