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EDTECH: My Online MBA Is Helping Me Learn While I Earn At GlaxoSmithKline

A digital degree helps Rachel Allison inject what she learns directly into the workplace

Wed Jun 15 2016

When Rachel Allison first joined GlaxoSmithKline, the British drugs giant, she was a particle scientist. Flash forward a decade, and she’s a technical manager.

Rachel’s degree didn’t get her the job. The MBA instead allows her to inject learning directly into the workplace.  

Rachel, who received a corporate scholarship, began Aston Business School’s online program in 2015. The flexible format means she can earn while she learns.

The Imperial College chemical engineering graduate has risen through the ranks at GSK. Her posts include leader of a materials science team and respiratory materials science lead. But Rachel will hope a dose of management science can take her higher.

When and why did you decide to get an online MBA at Aston Business School?

The online MBA at Aston runs over two and a half years and allows me to remain in full-time employment throughout. This part-time study plus full-time work route, is an all-consuming experience. But it means I can continue to earn and stay in a role I enjoy, whilst developing and applying new skills and perspective through the MBA.

The decision to apply for an online MBA was made in August 2015, when I found out about the opportunity to apply for a corporate scholarship at Aston.

Aston is [also] a well-rated school whose ranking has been rising over recent years and its program is AMBA, AACSB and EQUIS accredited.

Has it been difficult to transition from scientist to business manager?

Not really, as it has been a gradual change rather than an overnight transition. And I still have the opportunity to engage in science in my current role. As a manager at a site in the global manufacturing and supply organization, I lead scientists and engineers, so I am still quite engaged in the technical aspects.

I’ve also benefited throughout that journey from the support and experience of various managers, mentors and coaches, particularly recently as part of my inclusion in the accelerating difference program for female leaders.

What are your top tips for getting hired by GSK?

Firstly, understand the variety of roles and parts of the business — the GSK careers website is a great place to start. GSK also offers the ‘Esprit’ program, a rotational program specifically for MBA graduates.

Next, [you should] understand what GSK is looking for — in addition to having the necessary skills, there’s a strong focus on competencies and behaviours, or more simply how you have delivered.

In my experience that means looking for someone with a proactive approach, who engages positively with others and, most importantly, who shows patient-focus. 

Are you able to apply learning directly into the workplace?

In some cases the learning has been directly applicable, for example [by] considering [the] motivation of teams, organizational design, or the ethics of decision-making in my day-to-day work.

Topics such as business strategy and operations management have been interesting [to see through] a new lens.

Finally there have been other modules, such as marketing, which are completely new and not directly applicable in my current position, but could benefit me in future.

Can online networking match face-to-face contact?

Perhaps not, but it is quite similar to working in the increasingly virtual real world! In my previous role, I worked with geographically-dispersed colleagues, many of whom I never had the opportunity to meet in person, but with whom it was really important to build a strong working relationship.

The distance-learning route is not dissimilar. I am looking forward to July when I’ll attend the first of the two residential weeks included in Aston’s program. That will be a chance to finally meet the people who I have been collaborating with.