Being a parent while pursuing an MBA

Author: Rachael is passionate about the ability of business to make meaningful, positive change. Before Stern, she was a Producer working at the intersection of the public sector and the entertainment industries. She interned at and will be returning to McKinsey Transformations as a consulting generalist. While at Stern, she’s proud to have been a career mentor, TF for Team Communications, and VP with Stern Women in Business, Management Consulting Association, and Social Impact and Sustainability Association. She’s also the parent to an awesome toddler and a passionate Brooklynite.

Rachael Nisenkier

Deciding to pivot

During the fall of 2021, I got on the phone with a Stern alum (shout out to Jessie!) as I prepped for an interview with the MBA program. I didn’t know when I picked up the phone, but that was the start of a new plan for my life, and a wild ride for me and my family. 

Being a parent and a Sternie

When people find out that I birthed and take care of a tiny human, they tend to ask “how do you do it?” And I mostly demur and say “it’s easy” or “lots of help.” Both of which are true. My kid is great. My husband has a flexible job. We have the money and the familial support to fill in the gaps that need filling.  It’s also often really hard. I skip happy hours, avoid night classes, and frequently have to miss fun events. But it’s been deeply fulfilling and more interesting than I dared to hope. I feel like being a parent and a Sternie has really grounded me in what is most important and made me a mastermind when it comes to prioritizing. It’s also helped me form really deep bonds with other parents at the school – including a Sternies with Little Sternies What’s App Group that basically got me through my first year. 

Not being a typical student

I know my business school experience is not everyone’s, but honestly, I’m not sure ANYONE’S experience is “typical.” Stern has shown me over and over again that my fellow students come from a diverse and fascinating set of backgrounds, with their own complicated stories and circumstances. That said, I know a lot of us aren’t at a point of going directly from watching your chaos-loving kid try to eat your cat straight into a fancy dinner with a top consulting firm. For prospective students thinking of taking this journey, definitely get ready to have to quickly remove peanut butter stains from your favorite coffee chat outfit. 

When I came to Stern, I was so scared about not being a typical student, not being able to keep up with the typical students, of losing out on opportunities because my Millennial self needed to go home and sleep rather than go to Stern Social. And there’s definitely been trade offs – thanks to my economics classes I understand the idea of opportunity costs, and pursuing an MBA at any time in life (but certainly once you already have a family) requires trading off time with friends and family, missing trips we want to take, and occasionally sitting at home to finally finish homework rather than exploring the city. But the biggest surprise about being here at Stern was finding a community of humans who were so supportive, smart, and willing to meet me where I was – even if that  was on day two of a stomach flu while trying to prepare for consulting interviews. My classmates shared their notes with me, helped explain complicated concepts, and generally held space and time for my unique life circumstances every day of the year. In the second year of my MBA, I was able to give some of that back, and build a new community of parents supporting each other through this program. 

Top Three Pieces of Advice for Prospective Students

  1. Create space for being a human – whether that’s coffee with an old friend or a run through Prospect Park. 
  2. Listen to your needs – attending Stern (especially during recruiting) can be like drinking from a firehose. If your body needs a break from networking and happy hours, listen!
  3. Go outside – it can be so tempting to hole up in the 2nd floor study rooms and crank out work and thank you emails, but we’re in this glorious city and you should experience it.

Becoming a Sternie Couple

Author: Paloma Giuliani is an MBA Candidate at the Stern School of Business in NYU, planning to specialize in Innovation and Strategy. Prior to Stern, she worked mostly in the Tech industry, in various customer services roles, such as Reporting, Quality Assurance and Learning & Development. Most recently, she has spent 2 years in the innovations team in Uber Eats, focused on identifying new revenues streams by piloting new products in LATAM. Paloma holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Insper. In her spare time, she likes to cook and get adventurous around beauty and wellness products.

The Long Journey of Becoming a Sternie Couple 

I’ve always joked that I was an “MBA baby,” destined to walk the path laid down by my father as soon as I decided to study Business. His stories of transformative experiences and brilliant professors during his MBA followed me since I was a kid. Despite being early in the game, I told Lucas, my husband, when we just started dating in 2017, that it was something I might pursue in the future. 

Our MBA application journey

In 2020, this conversation smoothly came back as I wanted to pursue an MBA before having kids. Being very honest, I wasn’t as excited as I noticed no one around me had an MBA, giving me the sense that the industry I wanted to follow didn’t value such investment. On the other hand, Lucas started talking with MBA graduates at his workplace and was more and more convinced of how this experience would bring great challenges, learnings, and an advantage for him in his career. As I watched him grow more passionate about the MBA, I decided to switch to a strategic team, to be closer to the leadership, who I was surprised to find out that most were MBA alumni. Hearing about their experiences, and seeing the sparkle in their eyes convinced me that the MBA must be something I do.

Our preparation journeys started in the second half of 2021, and they were very different for us. Lucas nailed the GMAT in 2 months, whereas I took almost 1 year before feeling confident about my score. Of course, this year was very eventful: we got married, my family went through several challenges, my department went through one lay-off round and one reorg, and I got promoted. Our plan was for Lucas to apply in the first round in 2022, and only to schools in cities that had more than one program, maximizing the chances of us living together, since our marriage was a priority. I would apply for the following round for the schools in the cities he was accepted to.

Choosing the school for us

In December 2022, he was accepted by two schools, one being NYU Stern. So in January I applied to four schools, but of course, with a clear priority for which school I wanted the most, since Lucas had an outstanding experience in the interviews.

NYU Stern had a bunch of factors that played very well in its favor. First, its application process was like no other. It felt like Stern’s essays and interviews were designed to not merely evaluate, but to truly understand the essence of who we were as individuals. The interviewer having already read the essays before the interview, made the conversation have a much bigger depth to foster a genuine connection with the future candidates. 

Second, beyond academics, NYU Stern resonated with me through its core values of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI), and collaboration. These principles mirrored my personal convictions and experiences, which diversity and inclusion form the cornerstone of innovation and leadership.

Third, choosing NYU Stern also meant choosing New York City—a metropolis teeming with opportunities, culture, and an endless array of activities. From Broadway shows to corporate workshops, the city offers an unparalleled backdrop to our MBA journey, enhancing our experience beyond the confines of a traditional campus. The absence of a traditional, isolated campus is hardly felt. The vibrant student life, fueled by active WhatsApp groups, students’ clubs and a community eager to connect and explore, means there’s always something happening, always someone to meet, and always a new corner of New York City to discover together.

Choosing NYU Stern was a decision that went beyond academics; as soon as I also got the acceptance letter from Stern, we both knew we were going to live in NYC, and it felt like it was something we had been destined for. Being in such an eventful, but also full of diverse talent, felt like the right place for us to be. For Lucas and me to learn, to find a new community within Stern, and to open many doors for our future careers. 

Being a Sternie Couple!

Both of us being Sternies at the same time felt a little unreal at the start. I remember like it was yesterday when we finally got our NYU Student ID and how it just started sinking in that we were going to embark on this journey together. 

Of course, Stern has put us in different blocks (what we call each class) for the first semester, and this was the best decision, because we got to meet way more people as we introduced each other to our friends! 

And as we approach the second semester, our paths are going to be very different. I’m focusing more on Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and Lucas on Strategy and Data Analytics. But the most interesting thing is that every now and then, we get to share some highlights of our classes and reflect on some of the classes’ insights.

Mastering the Art of the Coffee Chat

Isabelle is a recent MBA graduate, specializing in Global Business, Strategy and Product Management. Prior to Stern, Isabelle was a consultant at Accenture specializing in the life science industry. Post-MBA, she is about to start working for Samsung Electronics as a Global Consultant . At Stern, she was involved in the leadership of Asian Business Society, Student government, Stern Technology association, European Business association and as a member of the Latin American Business Association, Stern Women in business  and the admissions office as a Graduate assistant. 

I came into Stern knowing I wanted to work directly with a product in an innovative field, but like many people who join as first years, I was also looking to learn and explore. While I was secretly hoping someone would be able to tell me my dream job, real life is not that simple – it never really is! But Stern gave me every opportunity to explore. 

Even before you start school, you begin hearing about the importance of recruiting. You receive the Ignite prep and begin chugging away. A lot of information is thrown your way but you keep hearing the same two words: Coffee chats. 

As someone allergic to caffeine, I was less than enthused by the idea of chatting with someone over coffee. My nerves continued to grow as I pictured a potentially  awkward conversation with an industry leader, while I sat there with a cup full of coffee, easing my nerves by pretending to sip every so often to have something to do with my hands. Beyond the awkwardness, coffee chats or informational interviews invoked an image of small talk and desperation. To say the least, these “chats” were not something I was looking forward to.

Now however, I now easily have a coffee chat a day, even after the end of formal recruiting. This change is completely thanks to Stern and the students I recruited with. Almost every alum, student, professor, or professional I reached out to has replied eagerly to share advice, experiences and sometimes (when I was really lucky), even an interview or job opportunity. In an effort to ease your nerves, I thought I would share my learnings about coffee chats!

Rarely any coffee 

This may be silly to say or obvious to some, but coffee chats often don’t involve any coffee. Today,  many coffee chats today are virtual, and if they aren’t, you are always welcome to get another beverage!

Networking is not a dirty word

Often people feel like networking is superfluous because it conveys that you want something (in this case, a job), but that’s not all networking is. Yes, when you set up a coffee chat, you should be the best version of yourself so that the person on the other side will help you, but the aim of the conversation should be to learn about the person you are talking to- whether that is about the company they work for, their interests, or what they did before. In the end, you should aim for the conversation to be as fruitful for them as it was for you. It is a give and take. My best coffee chats were those in which I was able to share my experience with the industry professionals to help them with their own questions or problems. 

As an example, when I was networking with a large bank, I met someone who had the exact position I was interested in. We spoke about the job and the company, but even more so we spoke about what we liked to do, I talked about my community and non profit interests, and they asked me to help them find a way to give back. This person became more than just someone who helped me get an interview, they became someone who I still connect with for advice. 

Coffee chats are not always just a one time thing

The goal of a coffee chat should not just be a one-time conversation to learn about the company, it should be about you growing your network. If you are able to form a more lasting relationship with that person, it makes a big difference – not only in recruiting, but in many areas of your life. 

Remember, industry professionals are just people 

We all often walk into coffee chats nervous and lost. “What do I tell this stranger about myself?” But often, the other person is feeling exactly the same way. They may have just come out of a long meeting or were just concentrating on a task at work. In the end, they have given up their time because they want to be of help, so make sure you come in with questions that will help you most.  

I have been and still am on both sides of the coffee chat, and what always goes through my mind is the airport test. Throughout this conversation with this person, have they given me a sense that I would like to spend 5-10 hours with them in an airport if we were to get caught in delays? So remember that the person is human, have empathy, and build a human connection.

Coffee chats are not always conducted one on one 

Sometimes, coffee chats during recruiting include multiple people with one industry professional. When this happens, make sure that you stand out in some way. Have a list of questions you want to ask and do your research on the person. Always ask for their contact information and follow up to see if you can get a solo chat. 

Lastly, Stern is always there to support us 

Every office at Stern comes together to make sure that you are prepared for recruiting. Stern Career services constantly provides you the opportunity for you to make connections, bringing in hundreds of companies to speak with students. The professional clubs like Stern Tech Association and Management Consulting Association lead knowledge transfer sessions and study groups to prepare you. Other students and professors give up their time to practice with you and give you advice. So take advantage of it!

Key Takeaways

Keeping these things in mind really helped me reform how I looked at coffee chats. Now, everyone is going to have different advice for coffee chats – a former Sternie wrote her advice in 2021 –  but mastering the coffee chat is really about understanding yourself and how to present that to the person standing in front of you. These are some tips that helped me feel comfortable  while growing my network. 

1.  Always ask for the coffee chat host’s contact information 

Make sure to get their information before the end of the coffee chat and send a thank you note afterward. Often, it is good to ask near the beginning or middle of a group coffee chat, but if you are alone, leave it for the last question. 

2. Be genuinely curious

People like to talk about what they are doing – so ask them about it! Make sure to do your research and prepare questions ahead of time. While the conversation can go in any direction, preparation will help you stand out and make the most of the conversation.

3. Look at each coffee chat as a first step

You will rarely only speak to one person at a company. So use each coffee chat as a chance to research for your next one. Ask questions like “what is the biggest challenge your team is facing” or “where do you see the company going in the next year” or “what is the most exciting thing your company is doing?” This way, you hear real-world problems companies face today and will be ready for your next chat and, eventually, interview! 

4. Not all coffee chats are evaluative, but you should prepare as if they are 

Always research before a coffee chat and show your commitment. You never know how the conversation will impact your future career.

5. Be direct 

When you ask for time, be direct in what you hope to speak about so that the person knows exactly why they are meeting with you. You don’t want to use their time asking questions you could have learned on the website!

6. If you have the choice, choose a place in which you are comfortable 

Many coffee chats are done virtually now, so make sure you pick a place that you feel most comfortable. If the person gives you the option of an in person chat, take that option because it often leads to better connections. Choose to meet in a place you like that is quiet and also not too expensive, often they will pay out of their own pocket for you. 

7. Never leave a conversation without having at least one other person to reach out to

You can not build your network unless you ask for more contacts. I like to ask every person I talk to for 2 other people who I should contact based on the interests I have expressed during our conversation. 

8. Be you

As someone who has been on both sides of the coffee chat, it is so easy to see when someone is not being genuine. Remember the airport test-  I want to be able to tell if I would like to spend time with you. The more I want to spend time with you, the more helpful I can be. 

Just be yourself. I promise you, the other person will appreciate it.

A Day in the Life of a Sternie

Brittany Fidalgo is a recent MBA graduate, specializing in Strategy and Global Business. Prior to Stern, Brittany led HR at small and mid-size businesses. Post-MBA, she is going into Consulting at PWC. At Stern, she was involved in AHBBS, SWIB, and Adventures club.

A day in the life of an MBA student can vary depending on what time in the program you find them. In my last semester of school, I had most early mornings free, which allowed me to start my day with breakfast- typically granola, kiefer and berries. I would often go for a quick run along the East River before getting ready to head to school.

 At school, I would stop in to the cafe, Matto, to pick up my favorite chai latte and catch up with friends. Matto is amazing because every drink is under 3 dollars- an absolute deal in New York City! I would then head to the 4th floor reading room to do focused work for my classes.

Club meetings and events often happen during lunch time. Some days I may have a board meeting for AHBBS, or attend another club event. SWIB, for example, hosted a great Stern Speaks event where fellow Sternies volunteered to present personal stories with us over lunch.

After this, it is time to meet with one of my group project teams and attend my classes. A course I took this semester, Marketing Planning and Strategy, focused on group work with a final deliverable of a business strategy proposal. After meeting with my project team, I head to my weekly seminar class, Developing Managerial Skills with Professor Dolly Chugh. This was one of my favorite classes at Stern, and I highly recommend everyone taking the course!

After class, I meet up with a classmate for dinner at a nearby restaurant in the West Village before heading to our 6pm weekly seminar class, Digital Innovation and Crowdsourcing with Professor Natalia Levina. She always had the best Ukrainian snacks for us! After a full day at Stern, I jump on the subway and head home to Brooklyn. 

The days are long and busy in business school, but the years fly by quick! By being thoughtful and intentional about your time, you will be able to make the most of the academics, extracurriculars, social life, and the incredible opportunities in NYC!