POLO and Personal Growth: A Mother’s Perspective on the Chicago Booth MBA

POLO and Personal Growth: A Mother’s Perspective on the Chicago Booth MBA

Guest blog by Rae Liu

Navigating parenthood and business school is not an easy feat. Learn how Rae Liu, co-chair of Parents of Little Ones, embarked on her journey to Chicago Booth and more of her experience as a parent working towards her MBA.

1. Tell us about yourself and take us along your journey to Chicago Booth?

My journey to Chicago Booth began when my parents sent me to Canada as an international student during my last year of high school. During this time, I fell in love with the North American approach to mathematics, which focused on understanding the logic behind concepts rather than just memorizing formulas, which I was never good at. This newfound love for math led me to pursue a degree in pure mathematics at the University of Waterloo. As I approached the end of my bachelor’s program, I decided to expand my horizons by obtaining a second degree in financial economics, as I saw economics as an excellent application of the mathematical theories I had learned.

Before joining Booth, I had the privilege of spending six years in investment management, collaborating with top-tier institutional investors like The Carlyle Group and Canada Pension Plan Investments. I encountered numerous exceptional mentors who helped me refine my analytical abilities and broaden my understanding of the financial markets and the business world. Investment management captivated me with its intellectually engaging nature. There was a constant stream of new information and market developments to absorb, creating an ever-evolving puzzle to piece together.

Outside of work, I embarked on several successful side projects, including investing in real estate and starting a free online education channel to promote financial literacy among the general public. I also developed a business idea that focused on using innovative materials to replace plastic packaging for a more sustainable future. These experiences allowed me to take on a hands-on role as a business operator. I genuinely appreciated the opportunity to make immediate, tangible changes and improvements.

As I contemplated the next steps in my career, I felt torn between pursuing further growth in my current field and exploring new business ventures. Business school, particularly Chicago Booth, presented itself as the perfect solution. It would provide me the opportunity to reflect on my career path, determine my true passions, and access numerous resources to help me turn my ideas into reality.

2. Why did you choose Chicago Booth, more specifically, what sold you on our Full-Time MBA Program?

Choosing Chicago Booth was a deliberate decision for me, and several factors played a pivotal role in my choice, particularly when it came to the Full-Time MBA Program. While it may not be the most conventional reason, the school’s ranking was indeed a significant consideration for me. I firmly believe that higher-ranked MBA programs generally offer superior resources, educational opportunities, professional connections, and access to an exceptional network of individuals.

Beyond the rankings, I like to envision MBA programs as having distinct personalities, and Booth’s unique character resonated with me deeply. In my eyes, Booth embodies a blend of intellectual curiosity (which some might call “nerdy”), ambition, creativity, and ethical values. This combination aligns with who I aspire to be and the kind of people I wish to surround myself with during my MBA journey.

This strong sense of personal fit and connection with Booth’s culture set it apart from other programs. I felt confident that pursuing my MBA at Booth would not only provide me with an outstanding education but also immerse me in a like-minded community of individuals who share my values, interests, and drive for success. The opportunity to grow alongside such an exceptional group of people, while learning from renowned faculty and leveraging the vast resources available, ultimately solidified my decision to join the Chicago Booth Full-Time MBA Program.

3. What one word or phrase best describes your Booth experience thus far?

The one word or phrase that best encapsulates my Booth experience thus far would be “an abundance of opportunities.” I was well aware that a Booth MBA would present me with a plethora of academic, professional, and social possibilities, but the sheer volume and diversity of these opportunities exceeded my expectations during my first year.

Recruitment season opened my eyes to the vast array of industries and career paths, each of which held its own unique appeal. I found myself wishing that multiple internships were a requirement for graduation, simply to explore and experience each enticing field. Booth’s supportive career services and coaching made career pivoting seem effortless, with the most challenging aspect being to identify one’s true desires amidst the wealth of choices.

As I recently planned my second year at Booth, I realized that I needed to narrow down my focus in order to make the most of my time. The options were seemingly endless – from becoming a teaching assistant and forging deeper connections with favorite professors, to participating in the New Venture Challenge to bring my business ideas to life. I also considered engaging in various industry and functional competitions, taking on a part-time job to put classroom learnings into practice, involving in Leadership Development activities, or serving as a family lead for first-year students to give back to the Booth community.

Navigating the Booth experience is like being at the center of a thriving ecosystem, brimming with opportunities for growth, exploration, and involvement. The true challenge lies in discerning which paths to pursue, all while remaining deeply connected to the Booth community and making a meaningful impact.

4. What has your experience been like as a parent working towards your MBA?

Balancing parenthood and pursuing an MBA has undoubtedly been challenging, particularly as a mother. However, I am incredibly grateful for my husband’s unwavering support throughout this journey.

In my experience, an MBA program consists of three main pillars: academics, professional development, and social engagement. Surprisingly, parenthood has had minimal impact on the academic and professional aspects of my MBA experience. We’ve enrolled our son in daycare, allowing us to focus on our daily responsibilities. Admittedly, there have been instances when our son’s illness led to last-minute schedule changes, causing me to miss classes or group work. However, Booth’s supportive environment, including understanding professors and classmates, has enabled me to catch up by listening to recorded lectures or collaborating with my peers.

The social aspect of the MBA experience requires a more deliberate approach as a parent. It’s crucial to set realistic expectations and make a concerted effort to participate in social activities. While it’s natural for parents to miss certain events like random walk trips or to leave TNDC early, I strive to attend the events I can, such as game nights, friends’ birthday celebrations, and activities organized by student clubs I’m involved in. This intentional effort has allowed me to continuously meet new people and expand my network at Booth and beyond.

Navigating parenthood while working towards an MBA is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s also a rewarding experience that strengthens one’s ability to adapt, prioritize, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. With a supportive community and a clear focus on personal goals, it’s possible to thrive both as a parent and as an MBA student at Booth.

5. In what ways has your involvement in POLO added value to your MBA experience?

Being involved with POLO (Parents of Little Ones) has significantly enriched my MBA experience in multiple ways. My family and I have truly enjoyed the various events organized by the club, such as last year’s Halloween party at Harper. These occasions provide a fantastic opportunity for parents to socialize with one another while their children have a blast together.

As the co-chair of POLO this year, I am both excited and grateful for the chance to shape the direction of this relatively new club. There is a substantial parent community at Booth that deserves more attention and support. Our primary goal for POLO this year is to create more opportunities for parent students to connect and learn together in a family-friendly environment, without worrying about their children. We aim to offer a diverse range of activities that cater to families and children, fostering a sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

In addition, we are working diligently to bring in exceptional speakers who can share insights on various topics related to career development, family dynamics, and parenting. My fellow co-chairs and I have been investing time and effort into updating our website and family resource guide, which are designed to assist families with their relocation to Chicago and create a warm, welcoming atmosphere for incoming parent students.

Although being actively involved in POLO can be demanding at times, even surpassing the workload of my classes, I find the leadership experience and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the Booth parent community to be incredibly rewarding. I am eager to see the positive outcomes our efforts will bring to POLO in the coming year and how it will further enhance the MBA experience for parents at Booth.

6. What advice would you give to mothers who are considering pursuing their MBA?

Pursuing an MBA can be an excellent avenue for career progression, pivoting into new fields, and building meaningful connections. This experience is valuable for everyone, including mothers. I firmly believe that my child will benefit from my pursuit of a fulfilling career. By staying engaged with an ever-evolving society and continuously expanding my network, I can expose my child to the real world and ensure they benefit from my connections. Additionally, as I develop professionally, I will be better equipped to offer guidance on career-related topics later in my child’s life. The values imparted by a Booth MBA, such as intellectual curiosity and lifelong learning, will profoundly shape who you are and, in turn, influence the type of person your child will become.

It is essential to set realistic expectations for your MBA journey as a parent. Mothers face a unique set of challenges that other students may not encounter. However, with a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard, you can overcome these obstacles and maximize your MBA experience. These challenges also serve to strengthen your ability to adapt, prioritize, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

When considering an MBA as a mother, it’s crucial to recognize the support systems available at your chosen institution. Schools like Booth offer academic and professional resources and clubs like POLO to help you navigate the complexities of parenthood and academia. Seek out opportunities to connect with other parents and share experiences, as this support network can be invaluable in overcoming challenges and celebrating successes.

In summary, my advice to mothers considering an MBA is to embrace the opportunity, set realistic expectations, and lean on available support systems. With determination and the right mindset, you can thrive both as a parent and as an MBA student, ultimately setting a strong example for your child and enriching their future prospects.