3 months before our flight to Boston, I was at INSEAD graduating from the 1-year Masters in Business Administration (MBA) program. I’ve had the privilege to attend two of the highest ranked graduate programs in the world, and perhaps I might be able to share some wisdom to one of the eternal dilemmas for engineers pondering if they should pursue graduate education: to study an MBA or a MASc/MEng.
I do not intend to know the perfect answer, but I’ll try to provide a framework to help people think about the decision, and perhaps share some insights from both experiences. For me, choosing between an MBA and MASc/MEng can be reduced to three key trade-offs:
Desired career outcomes
Your prior experience and where you want to go after graduate school are key aspects to think about. MBA programs are great for transitioning into management roles regardless of your prior experience. On the other hand, programs like MIT’s Supply Chain Management master’s provide you the flexibility to specialise in a field, grow in the same vertical into a management role or transition into academia.
What is the extra-upside of MBA programs? The structure: the programs are typically designed to help you learn, connect and succeed in recruiting for management roles in highly competitive management verticals (i.e., consulting, tech, PE, VC, etc.). You can pursue the same opportunities in MIT’s SCM program, but you’ll have to explore them through networking, alumni, elective course options, or other campus offerings.
Interest in research
If you are interested in pursuing research, the way to go is a specialised graduate program aligned to PhD program. For example, the SCM program can help you transition into a PhD in Transportation. If you are just curious or have never conducted research, doing applied research during the SCM program can be enlightening. For me, SCM has been an opportunity to help me decide that in the long-term, I’ll be interested in pursuing a PhD in Operations Research.
The MBA will have limited research opportunities but you’ll be more exposed to industry projects and active learning collaborations with sponsoring companies across multiple electives. It won’t be comparable to a thesis or research paper, but the experiences can be enriching due to the rigour of applying management theory. Programs like MIT’s SCM master’s allow you to also be exposed to this opportunities through MIT Sloan School of Management, but you’ll have less time to budget for.
How you decide to build your network is a personal choice, but there are differences on the size and type of profiles that you’ll easily be exposed to between MBA & the SCM program. An MBA class is usually larger (~200-1,000 students per cohort), whereas SCM has 40-50 residential + 30-40 blended cohort students. The SCM program will expose you to people with similar experiences and industry passions–not just within your cohort, but with students pursuing SCM master’s programs around the world through the MIT SCALE Network centers–quite a unique experience, and rare opportunity.
I want to stress that social networking is quite a personal endeavor. In the SCM program you can connect and socialize with the larger community of MIT including Sloan, LGO, SDM, etc. But seeking those opportunities is up to you.
All in all, if you are considering pursuing a graduate program and you’re struggling to decide between an MBA and a MASc/MEng program, you can always explore a combination of both by considering 2-3 years of graduate studies at independent programs or by pursuing joint-offerings like LGO at MIT. If you are constrained to choosing between both options, I would encourage you to think of these 3 dimensions, and prioritize based on what you are looking for to obtain from your graduate studies.