We know that pursuing a master’s degree can be overwhelming, particularly for students who work full-time and are already balancing professional and personal commitments. We also know that every student has a unique reason that drives him or her to return to school and complete their degree.
Last fall, we held a scholarship competition and asked our students to tell us their story — their why — behind their decision to enroll in a graduate program. This series will profile our scholarship winners.
Graduate Professional Studies: I’m here with Heather Ryder, a student in our Master of Science in Information Technology Management program. Congratulations on winning our first “What’s Your Why” scholarship! Go ahead and introduce yourself.
Heather Ryder: Thank you! My name is Heather Ryder. I’m originally from Freeport, Maine, and I currently live in Newton, Massachusetts.
GPS: Tell me a little about your day job.
HR: I work at HubSpot, a marketing and sales software company in Cambridge. I’ve been here for almost five years, and I manage our help desk team. We have a team of six people here in the U.S., and we support our employees all over the globe. I also do some system administration, and act as a liaison between different departments on projects involving IT.
GPS: Great. Let’s switch gears a bit and talk more about why you decided to go back to school.
HR: I kind of went back and forth with the decision for a while. I wanted to continue learning outside of the workplace, and I had just moved into a managerial role at work — that was something very new to me so I wanted to build my skillsets in that area. No one in my family has attended graduate school and I have a huge family (my dad is one of five, my mom is one of six).
GPS: What made you choose Brandeis over some of the other schools you looked at?
HR: I was really looking for a program that supported online learning, it’s so much easier for my schedule. Sometimes I work really long hours depending on what we’re doing, or I have nightly calls with Sydney, Singapore and some of our offices on the other side of the world. I was looking for classes that supported those types of hours.
Brandeis stuck out because Janice, my student advisor, was just so incredible with helping me through the registration process. And the fact that I could take a course prior to actually applying to see if it was a good fit for me was awesome. I’m only taking two classes per year right now, just because of work and everything, and Janice has been great about making sure I don’t miss my required courses and setting me up for success. That was something really important to me because I’m going on this journey that nobody in my family has gone on before, and it’s so valuable to have someone give me advice on being a working professional who is also in school. Her advice is so hands on point and I absolutely love that.
GPS: What do you hope to gain professionally with the degree?
HR: As I mentioned, HubSpot has international offices that we’ve opened over the course of the past three years. This is a huge area of growth for us, we really want to go global as a company. No one on our team has a lot of experience when it comes to taking an IT team global. How do you handle communications, organizational structure changes, management and leadership? I realized there’s so much expertise that I don’t have, so many things I’m going up against that I have never experienced before. A lot of the courses in my program specifically tackle these challenges. I’m really excited about all these changes on my team, but I know that I could really benefit from talking to other professionals who have gone through a similar process.
GPS: Do you have anything to expand on in terms of personal goals or how you think this degree will fit into your life outside of the office?
HR: When I first started at HubSpot I was incredibly shy. Now that I’m in a management role and help motivate people on my team, that’s like a new world for me. Just working with other professionals in my classes has helped me come out of my shell. They’ve really helped me figure out how to balance my personality versus the personalities of other individuals. This is helpful not only at work, but with personal relationships, too. I also want to show the young women in my family (my cousins who are much younger than me), that the option of getting a master’s degree is available to them. And show them that they can really do anything: they can go to grad school or undergraduate school, and work, and start a family.
GPS: Why do you think that you’re going to be successful in completing this program?
HR: Hands down, it’s because of the program’s flexibility. As I mentioned, my advisor has been great about keeping me on track with my courses. And because we have five years to finish the program, I know I don’t have to worry if something major comes up at work or in my personal life. Right now, I’m planning my wedding for this fall, so I know that I can skip a term if I need to.
GPS: Can you think of an example of any course assignments that have directly impacted anything that you’re doing at work?
HR: Absolutely! In one of my most recent classes, Strategic Information Technologies, we wrote a paper about the pros and cons of software that we want to implement into our work environment. I used the format covered in my paper to look at six different processes we’re currently using at HubSpot, I measured the benefits of each technology, and evaluated the benefits of each one. That helped us move from six knowledge-based software that we were using to three.
GPS: Tell me more about your hobbies outside of school or work.
HR: I have a six-year-old stepdaughter that I enjoy spending my weekends with. I’m also learning Russian kind of on my own. I love to write and to read, and I play board games and video games to decompress. I also really like to bake and cook, and I love watching baking and cooking shows. So a lot of different options when I have free time!
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