Sarah Stuart's 2014 Blog

Sarah Stuart, an MBA student and former editor of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, reveals the challenges of the programme in a weekly blog.

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A place that grows your brain

17 November 2014

I write this from the University of Auckland Business School's Excel café. I have drunk my second coffee and third Coke Zero and have a half-finished plate of chicken burrito next to my laptop.

I feel like I live here, leaving only occasionally to harass the librarians in the second floor Business Information Centre (where the international magazines distract me from my tasks) or to shut myself into a small room on the third floor where banned undergraduates seem to sneak in, in their dozens.

But on December 1 I will be here no more. Well, I'll probably return but it will be voluntary. On December 1, an assignment of some 15,000 words will be handed in and my Cohort 43 will celebrate the end of our two-year MBA programme with drinks at 5pm.

"What happens if my assignment is late?" I asked last week, during a one-on-one session with a kindly lecturer. "You can't come to drinks," he said. Drinks - especially final, celebratory, well-deserved and free drinks - are some of my favourites. So I am here at my café desk more hours than I care to count, hammering out those final words.

It's got me thinking about what I will miss most when my evenings are my own, when Sundays seems to stretch endlessly and when my lunches are enjoyed in more salubrious surroundings. Here are the top three:

1. Being surrounded by super smart people who want to talk about ideas.
It's not just the faculty, who often stop by the café tables to share their latest find, or my fellow students debating the pre-course readings everyone has diligently absorbed. It's everyone -Business School management who are watching what's happening in education abroad; those librarians whose research takes them to dozens of new places each day and the people next to me at the café table. Ideas being discussed by smart people is oxygen here. At an MBA breakfast yesterday, a physicist from Buckley Systems was passionately describing particle acceleration, and I got it. Where am I going to find that back out in the real world?

2. Put in the work - get the grade.
It's like a guaranteed positive feedback loop. Do the readings. Think. Write. Explain and put in all the effort you can. Boom - a good grade. No being overlooked. No office politics getting in the way or a boss too busy to remember to say 'thanks' or 'good job'. Just that gleaming grade every few weeks, as long as you've done the work.

3. Feeling your brain ache.
Sometimes it's not an ache, it's just a nice little stretch. But always it feels like growth. Mid-life learning makes you want to do it forever - take that short course, pick up that challenging book, drop yourself into an uncomfortable zone. It's addictive, this self-improvement stuff. It feels as good as anything I've yet tried. And so I'm sure this café will be a friend for a few years yet. I just need to dream up a reason to be here.