Interview with Caroline Norman, Online MBA Student and Cruise Ship Worker
By Richard Orr in Online Students / Tue February 2, 2010
Meet Caroline. She is someone you have to admire. Although her job requires that she spends most of her time at sea, managing over 300 staff on board a P&O Cruise Liner, Caroline is over half-way through her MBA, studying it online at the University Of Liverpool.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My Name is Caroline Norman, I live in the UK in a small town by the sea in Devon and I am in my early thirties. I work for P&O Cruises part of Carnival Corporation on Cruise Ships that sail around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and further afield, so I am constantly on the move in different ports of call. My title is Passenger Services Manager which means I am head of the Accommodation Division, Front of House Operations and Administrative Duties of the Hotel Department on board Cruise Ships, responsible for over 300 staff delivering passenger services to about 3,000 passengers. My role is operational, but under my remit are the internal financial responsibilities such as budgeting and marketing aspects.
After graduating from the University Of Gloucestershire at Cheltenham with a BSc (Hons) Degree in Hospitality and Catering Management in 2000, I spent 18 months in Newport, Rhode Island USA as a trainee Manager on an Internship. When my US work permit had expired I returned to the UK and I worked as a Food and Beverage Manager in a small County House Hotel in Warwickshire. It wasn’t long before the travel bug got hold of me and I wanted to travel again, hence the decision to change career path to the Cruise Industry. I have been with P&O Cruises for seven years working progressively through the ranks to my current position.
In my spare time I love any type of Water Sports, but my particular passion is Scuba Diving.
What are you studying, and where?
I am studying for the Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the University Of Liverpool through their online programme facilitated by Laureate Online Education. I commenced the course on 25th September 2008 and have completed all eight core modules as of the end of January 2010. I am just embarking on the final phase of the course, the independent research Dissertation, which will take nine months to complete. All being well I am looking to finish the programme on 28th October 2010.
What do you hope to achieve from studying this?
I hope that the MBA qualification will open further career opportunities and be of benefit when potential employers view my CV.
How are you enjoying the course?
I have really enjoyed my studies because you can tailor them to suit your professional job. If there is particular area of development or change within your job role or organization you can use that as an example during the modules in order to explore a solution. I can identify the ways in which I have personally grown as a result of my studies and have gained confidence especially in Leadership skills.
Describe what it is like to study online?
Timetable - the online programme through the University Of Liverpool consists of 8 modules of 8 weeks each in length plus the dissertation of 6-9 months. Once you commence the programme you have four years to complete it and you can choose how fast or slowly you study the modules. You can take gaps in between each module of a week or a month or two. For personal reasons I wanted to complete my studies as quickly as possible and therefore I took my modules consecutively and even overlapped two modules so I studied two simultaneously for a period of a month. I did take a break of 1 month in between my 5th and 6th module so that I could go on holiday without worrying about studying. The course is so flexible you can pick and choose in order to fit around your professional or personal commitments.
Each module varies in what work is expected, however a typical week involves three written assignment of between approximately 750 to 1,000 words plus Participation.
A study week starts on a Thursday and finishes on a Wednesday. Usually one assignment is due in on a Saturday, the second on a Monday and a Summary Paper of the week’s learning due in on a Wednesday.
Class participation - participation is the greatest learning aspect of the course. After you submit your first assignment of the week on a Saturday the conversations with your classmates commence. You respond to each other's assignments and discuss the learning aspects of your classmate's postings. The module Instructor will assist the virtual conversation along during the week by asking further questions of classmates and commenting on what has been discussed. I have found this the most rewarding aspect of the programme learning from other people. Participation is graded on how many posts you make within the week and the quality of your further research. Typically you must make between 6 – 10 postings to your classmates work and participate over at least 3-4 days per week.
Some modules also require a project which you work on progressively throughout the module by completing a chapter each week, so it develops during the eight weeks.
Resources - there is a recommended textbook for each module plus you must do additional research through the Universities online Library, journals, broadsheets, additional texts and the internet.
The virtual classroom - access to the virtual classroom is done through the University’s home page and you log on with a username and password. Each module has a separate area to access the classroom. Each week on a Wednesday the module tutor uploads the required work for the week, the recommended reading and any lecture notes to read. Each classmate posts their assignments and then you discuss the content by replying to each other's work in an area of the website called the Blackboard.
Each week usually on a Saturday or a Sunday the Module Tutor will send you an email with your grades for the previous week and feedback on how you have done and any recommendations for areas of improvement.
How easy is online learning easy to fit into your home/work life?
I have had a unique situation during my studies and that is that I spend the majority of my time at sea on a ship and therefore the internet for me is only available through a satellite connection. Sometimes the signal fails depending on the location of the ship if we are far out to sea or if the weather is particularly rough. Throughout my studies Tutors and Lecturers have been extremely accommodating in situations where I have not been able to make the deadlines due to lack of internet or a situation like this out of my control.
The way the weeks are set up commencing on a Thursday and ending on a Saturday is set up to accommodate the majority of people who have a Monday to Friday job, as it leaves the week end for most of the required work to be done. I work and live in a 24/7 environment and work every day for the four months I am on a ship. When I commenced the course this was one of the aspects I was most worried about however, the course is so very flexible depending on your needs that it has been very easy to fit the required study time around my work.
Tutor’s and Lecturers are very supportive and encouraging during the modules, but in particular each student has a Student Support Manager who is there to assist you through any problems or to answer non-academic questions.
What would you say the main benefits of online learning are?
The main benefit of online learning is that you can dictate your study time around social engagements and work commitments. You can also ask questions without fear of embarrassment as no-one can see you!
Also you have the benefit of time and money. A full time MBA course would mean that you would not be able to work at the same time so you would not be earning while you are studying or paying living costs when you have no income. In addition you are not taking out any time from professional life and career path.
What attributes should you have to be a successful online student?
You’ve got to have Discipline to be successful! You’ve got to be able to plan a study time table in order to fit everything in and be disciplined enough to stick to the plan. I used to make sure I planned each week a day off from study as well in order to give my brain a rest from studying. I think this is very important.
Also you’ve got to have the determination to succeed and complete the course, especially during the final phase when the dissertation module is less structured and is self driven.
Meeting so many people from different countries and cultures in the online environment has been truly rewarding especially sharing experiences and opinions. I have studied with fellow students from countries such as China, the USA, Africa and Norway to name but a few.
What advice would you give to potential online students?
Make a study plan each week and record how many hours study you achieve and who you respond to during the participation. This is some advice that lecturers do not tell you and I found it so important in order to reflect on the week when you come to writing your learning summaries. If you just make a quick note in a diary or notebook when you participate in the classroom it really helps. For instance I used to write things like: ‘5th Jan – responded to Jim’s assignment on Leadership skills it took 20 minutes. I commented on his use of setting objectives in the work place’
For anyone who has a job occupying anti-social hours or is located where the internet is not as fast as broadband this should not deter you from studying online. It is a fun, friendly environment and very rewarding. I am still in contact with two students from my very first module and we have vowed to meet up at our Graduation next year.
Would you recommend online learning as a study mode?
I would absolutely recommend online learning as a study mode due to its flexibility and camaraderie with fellow online students. It has been challenging and rewarding and I am looking forward to completing my MBA and being able to put those three letters after my name.
Would you recommend studying an MBA?
The MBA gives the student a complete perspective of management principles from Accounting, Marketing, Leadership, Human Resources, Entrepreneurship, Operations and Change Management to name but a few modules you can choose from. You have the opportunity to tailor the course to your particular needs which enables you to thoroughly connect with the course and be motivated by its content. You as the student really have the control over how in depth you want to study a particular area and discuss the different areas of Leadership.
I would recommend the MBA programme online without hesitation to anyone thinking of gaining a further Managerial qualification because of its flexibility and subject content. If anyone is having doubts about the difficulty to balance to work, life and study - it is challenging, you do need a huge amount of determination, but it is extremely rewarding and worthwhile.
Good Luck if you choose this medium of study!