Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ask CJ: What if I want to get an MBA?

A reader asked me recently if I knew about pharmaceutical companies and their willingness to help pay for their employees to get MBAs. All joking aside, I wonder if anyone knows about this sort of thing and how it is working out in the post-recession era.

In the past, it seems that companies were willing to pay for outside education for entry-level employees. I assume that sort of thing still goes on (along with a variety of other fringe benefits, housing assistance, etc) at larger companies, probably not at smaller ones.

I don't really have an opinion one way or another about MBAs. It is my uninformed impression that night-school MBAs are good for credentialing/signaling that you can read a balance sheet, but that it's only the very top of the MBA pile (the Harvards/Stanfords of the world) that will be able to get significant financial boosts from their degrees.

Readers, any thoughts? How is your company doing in terms of paying for more education for you? Leave them in the comments.

10 comments:

  1. I know two people (both Ph.D. Chemists) who did MBAs early in their careers (one at Edinburgh University, one at Manchester). I'm pretty sure one of them paid for it himself, I'm not sure about the other. They both did very well afterwards. One is Director of Operations and Strategy, the other is "Life Cycle Leader" (whatever that means) at Roche. So it worked out well for them. On the other hand, some of my colleagues were very disparaging about MBAs (one of them told me he thought they were "about as much use as a chocolate fireguard"). I get the impression that they aren't as much in fashion as they used to be. If you have a clear idea of where you want to go in your company and don't think you can get there with just your chemistry qualifications, then it's a good idea. As CJ said, if you're working for a large company you mught get some financial assistance. Otherwise, it's a big waste of time and money.

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  2. CJ: During my latest interview campaign, I was lucky enough to field offers from two companies that advertised educational assistance as a major perk. YMMV, but both companies were multi-nationals. For the record, the degree had to be relevant to current corporate interests, and had to be graduate-level. Business, financial, law degrees were especially emphasized.

    I asked the recruiters how often employees took advantage of said benefits, and was surprised to learn that certain higher-level positions (Director, SVP) saw a degree in these fields as a pre-req, despite having the Ph.D.

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  3. The large pharma company I work at still provides assistance to get your MBA at night. For the two bench chemists I know who got their MBAs after 20 years on the bench, one (a PhD) moved pretty seamlessly into an external alliance management position within the company, and the other (a BS) was laid off the same week they got their MBA. So, I guess it depends.

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  4. I wonder if timing is important to get an MBA. Lets say you were a Chem PhD who just turned 50, would an MBA help you as much as if you were turning 30? In general, I would think not, but of course there might be exceptions. I would think that if your a Chem PhD there gets to be a certain age where no extra credential can save you. I would think as you get older if you want to retrain you have to find something that is very low cost and has great job placement, even if its for a job that might be out of your field.

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  5. I know someone who worked for a certain pfirm that wanted to do this. They wouldn't pay for him, but were very supportive of him doing the evening/weekend program on his own money while still working. Of course as soon as he finished he moved on to a much better job outside the industry.The problem for non-elite MBA programs, is that prospective students can generally figure out ROI and determine if the investment is not worthwhile.

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  6. Pretty sure we provide tuition assistance for relevant degrees, of which an MBA is one (big multinational company). Seems to me the mentality is that if you ever want to get into management or be a director of some sort, an MBA helps you get there. If you want to stay on the technical side, dont bother. Talking to friends in the business world, it definitely matters where you get your MBA.

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  7. Having got a MBA (at a top 25, not top 10, school) about 10 years after PhD, I can say for sure it has been a huge benefit in terms of salary and career opportunities even taking into account that I paid for it myself. Best career decision I ever made.

    Sadly, while the MBA was useful in getting to my current position it was solely based on people I met and not on any real value of the MBA (Mediocre But Arrogant is true) coursework. It is a sad reflection on the work world that a real degree requiring actual substance is less esteemed than a couple of years of bs group work on comical 'case studies' and nights at the bar "networking".

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  8. If you are not willing to work as an indentured servant, don't accept educational benefits. Even if companies don't have pay-back clauses, you never know when they are going to change or eliminate the benefits they offer. When a company thinks it owns you it really restricts both pay and career progression.

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  9. A while ago I interviewed for the GSK esprit leadership program (chemistry track) whilst i was enrolled on a part-time MBA from a highly accredited UK school. They had no interest in this qualification at all. I was one of only a couple of non-GSK candidates to get to the actual interview stage and none of the others had MBAs or were studying towards one.

    I believe that by itself the qualification is worthless, rather it opens doors so long as you are the 'mediocre but arrogant' type. Typical bench scientists (sceptical, mostly modest, somewhat introverted, well read, highly analytical, highly tuned BS meters) will not be well served by the qualification in general.

    thats not to say the degree is crap (i enjoyed much of mine) but the ROI of the MBA is very marginal unless you go to a prestige full time school.

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