Mai Doan is a part-time Jenkins MBA student at the Poole College of Management, in addition to being a full-time senior associate scientist at Biogen, a multinational biotechnology company. She says that, given her largely-scientific background, earning her MBA is providing her with the new skills she needs to advance her career as her roles and aspirations become more managerially-focused.
One key element to her student experience has been the practicum project she’s been working on this semester for one of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative’s (SCRC) partner companies, Altria — an experience Doan expects to pay off not only for her and her classmates, but for the company, as well.
Before joining the Pack
Prior to enrolling at NC State, Doan earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a minor in information technology in IT in 2010 from the University of New Hampshire.
Over the next five years, she spent time working in research laboratories in academia, working in the private sector working for agrochemical company Syngenta, participating in a co-op at Biogen, and earning a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences. In 2016, her position at Biogen turned into a full-time role.
As a senior associate scientist, Doan currently works in one of Biogen’s cell bank facilities where she oversees cell material slated for use in new biological drug products; she ensures necessary testing is completed and guidelines are adhered to per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Doan’s role also sees her work in both manufacturing and laboratory settings, which means collaborating with personnel from multiple departments. As her career has progressed to involve more of these management-oriented tasks (Doan also leads various continuous improvement projects in her facility), she says she began to see the value in broadening her skill-set to include more managerial skills, which played a big role in her deciding to come to NC State for her MBA.
In the following Q & A, Doan goes into more detail about how she decided earning an MBA was the right fit for her, how she’s managed working full-time while earning her degree, and what the highlights of her student experience have been at NC State — including the project she’s currently working on for Altria to develop a tool to help the company manage spending.
What led you to eventually decide to pursue your MBA?
During my working years, I learned the importance of people management and having diverse technical and soft skills. Since I have mainly concentrated on my technical skill as a scientist, I wanted to branch out more and build on my skill sets. Additionally, as an individual contributor working in the sciences, a lot of time my colleagues and I do not understand the decision-making process of our management. I hope that by obtaining an MBA, it will help me bridge the gap between a business decision and how that affects my role.
Why did you choose NC State for your MBA?
Before I applied, I talked to a few colleagues that have either graduated from the Jenkins MBA or were working on their MBA at NCSU. What I learned was that I will have the flexibility to complete the program at my own pace. The program was close to home and I can take in-person or online classes. As a full-time employee, and having a family, my family and my job are my top priority. I find that the Jenkins MBA program works with my schedule and my pace.
How have you managed earning your MBA while working full-time?
Time management is the biggest challenge for me. Making sure that I complete all my responsibilities at work and at home while also making sure that I continue to learn and excel in my job and complete all of my responsibilities as a student is challenging. To overcome this challenge, I have a regimen of what time is dedicated to work, home and school. I didn’t want to overlap them, so I make sure I only concentrate on one area at a time to maximize my concentration. I also rely on my family. For anything that I cannot do, I make sure to communicate and ask for help. I also prioritize and plan out my week. This help me ensure that I set out goals for the week and complete them on time.
Tell us more about the practicum project you and your team are working on for your MBA549 (Supply Chain Practicum) class.
We are working on a project for Altria, who owns multiple tobacco companies that manufacture both smokable and smokeless tobacco products. Their transportation supply chain is all over the country, but they have no spending analysis tool to review their transportation spending. The objective of our project is to build a transportation spending analysis tool that visually shows where and how Altria is spending on their transportation.
What challenges have you faced while working on the project? How have you and your team overcome them?
Altria specifically requested that we build that spending analysis tool using [data visualization tool] Tableau. This is software that my team members and I have little to no experience in using. We have had to quickly find resources to learn that tool. We also used each other as resources and to bounce questions back and forth. If one of us is curious about creating something in the tool, we share our thoughts and a lot of time one of us will know how to implement it. This helps the three of us to learn the tool even more and to build an even better tool for Altria.
Have you been successful in achieving your objectives for the project? Do you foresee Altria being able to apply your tool?
We have not fully completed the project, but at this point I would say that we have had no problem achieving our objectives. Altria seems very happy with what we have built. From the comments we have received, we are confident they will be using the tool in their operations.
What have you found most valuable about the project experience?
Most of my working experience has been in one sector, biotech. Altria is in a completely different sector. I have been able to apply a lot of my work experience to the project, and overall it has really shown me that a lot of the skills that I have obtained from school and work are transferable to basically any industry.
What is the one thing you have valued most about your overall student experience?
One thing that I tried to do with my MBA was to take classes and concentrations that I have little to no experience from before. I really wanted to learn something new and different than I have done. I am glad that I was able to do that, as I know the lessons that I learned in my MBA will provide me with a different point of view. I also really enjoy the residency programs where I get to learn about people management, teams, and leading teams. I personally find that people management and teamwork are so important in any job no matter what industry you are in.
What are your plans for after graduation? How do you expect your student experience will play a role in your future success?
After I graduate next year, my plan is to continue working at Biogen in my current role. With that said, one of the challenges of working in any role is having tunnel vision for that role; I believe my student experience in an MBA will allow me to have a broader view. I will have a better understanding of the procurement team and the materials team from my supply chain experience, as well as the financial aspect of a proposed project. This will allow me to help the company rather than just my team or department. I believe this point of view will allow me to be more successful wherever I decide to venture later in my future.