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Testimonial: How to manage your work, your research and your personal life at the same time

frances-ellington GEM DBA
Published on
04 June 2019

Managing a work-life balance may seem difficult at times in your life, and even more of a concern if you are considering going back to school. It is important to consider all aspects and priorities in your life when you are making a decision of whether to start a DBA program, or when to start a DBA program. 
Frances Ellington, DBA Graduate 2018

When I started my DBA program in November of 2015, the timing was right for me.  I was in a role at a private company, and to be honest, I was bored.  I needed a new challenge, and the Grenoble DBA was the perfect opportunity.  I am based in Los Angeles, and Grenoble had a partnership with a school in the greater Los Angeles area, where I could attend DBA coursework with minimal impact to my full-time job. 

The first workshop of the program was in Grenoble and that was the first time I met all of my DBA cohort members, and some of the Geneva cohort as well.  I am a worldwide traveler and have spent time working abroad, so the chance to attend sessions in Grenoble and get to know everyone that was part of the program was very exciting.  Each person demonstrated a different background, experience, and passion for research from ideas related to nonprofits in Africa to intriguing economic theories to state tax (that’s me!).

After the initial workshop, my cohort and I periodically met in Los Angeles to attend future workshops all of which were taught by talented professors and many flew in from Grenoble to teach us.  I was assigned a supervisor for my research locally, which was convenient and we met about once every month.  I decided to move forward with a classical thesis, which is essentially a detailed paper about your research question.  I spent time in my second and third year digging into my research and finalizing my dissertation.  My advisors would probably say that I flew through my research, but it was very interesting to me, so I just blocked out time each week to focus on my writing and research.  I set goals to write a certain number of pages or words each week.

At the end of my second year, I defended my preliminary thesis in Grenoble.  With the help of my supervisor, reviewers, and colleagues, I was successful!  Then, I traveled around Europe for about three weeks as my reward to myself.  My then boyfriend surprised me on that trip, and now we are engaged!  He has truly been the best support I can imagine throughout my doctoral journey.  He often volunteered to cook dinner or run errands for me, which I really appreciate.

About six months later, I submitted the final version of my thesis.  In June of 2018, I traveled to France with my mother (who is also a professor) to defend stage two of my DBA. I prepared for the defense with my supervisor and with comments from my reviewers.  Within a couple of hours of my defense, I was taking pictures in my doctoral cap and gown!  It was so fitting to have the degree awarded with my DBA program leaders and mother in attendance.

In my current role at a public accounting firm, the partners are incredibly supportive, and even threw a surprise party for me after I was awarded my degree.  One item that I failed to mention is that I have been teaching since 2016 for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in their graduate business programs.  With the support of my accounting firm and the faculty at UNC, I was able to get the feedback and opportunities I needed to excel in the DBA program.  Managing work, school, and family is hard and sometimes complicated, but the end result of a successful DBA is an amazing and worthwhile experience!

Three key pieces of advice:

Get feedback from your family and friends about the expectations of the program and how your priorities may change before you start the DBA.  Then, set goals and research commitment dates for yourself based on your priorities throughout the year.  This will help you manage your school schedule with your other commitments.

Make sure you pick a research topic that is interesting to you because the research will span over multiple years and you need to be prepared to dive in to the information about your subject.  You want to avoid getting tired of doing research or burnt out on a specific topic.

If you are working while attending school, make sure you are in a role where your colleagues are supportive because you will have occasional Fridays where you need to attend class, and other times of the year when your research is a priority.

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