Alumni

A Profitable Strategy: Olga Kipnis (M.S. in MIT ’10) on Navigating Graduate School Success

The Commerce School alumna was the right person to ask about balancing career, family, and grad school.

Olga Kipnis

Olga Kipnis

Balancing a career and a family can be a challenge. Add graduate studies to the mix, and for many, it quickly becomes apparent that maintaining all three important life aspects is an endeavor that requires a concerted effort.

Where to begin? We started by speaking with Olga Kipnis, a Commerce School alumna with firsthand experiences that could prove particularly useful for anyone considering McIntire’s innovative M.S. in the Management of Information Technology Program.

Having worked at UVA for 13 years, and serving as the School of Medicine’s Director of Project Management and Continuous Improvement for the last four years, Kipnis has over two decades of professional experience in the private and public sectors, where she’s focused her efforts on the development of people, systems, and processes. She’s also a mother of three.

And, it turns out, she was the right person to ask about the career-family-grad school question.

Opening Doors
She came to the program with an impressive background. Kipnis holds a B.Sc. in Math and Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where she began her career as a programmer before being promoted to a team leader for software and services company Amdocs. After seven years with the firm, she and her husband moved to the U.S.

It was at that time that she began to consider increasing her professional opportunities and started researching master’s programs.

“McIntire’s M.S. in MIT was appealing to me because of the prestige of the School—and it was a natural progression of my education,” Kipnis says. “The program’s length and the fact that I was able to remain at my full-time job were other important factors to me, especially when considering my family’s needs.”

She notes that although she had already decided she would not be pursuing a career as an IT professional, the program’s focus on using information technology to create business value energized her; the experience also prompted her to seek out employment opportunities that put her in closer contact with customers and “connected to a higher purpose.”

Ultimately, the M.S. in MIT Program, coupled with her background, helped to open a door for her to take a position at the School of Medicine.

“I was much better equipped to move with knowledge and authority as it related to strategic thinking, project management at a larger scale, and work with external vendors. In today’s world, and as I see our future, an education in managing IT is an important one to consider,” she says.

Balancing Responsibilities
As she progressed through McIntire’s innovative graduate program, she was working full time and, along with her partner, was responsible for caring for her then two children, aged 8 and 5 at the time. She admits that it was difficult for her husband, a scientist, to leave his lab at 5 p.m. sharp, but he agreed that it was crucial for her to invest in her career. He offered the necessary support for her to successfully complete the yearlong graduate degree with the attention it required.

“It is wise to understand that committing to anything will introduce a change to your environment. Committing to a master’s program, in this specific case, is going to introduce a significant change. The better prepared we are, the more successful we will be. The opposite is true as well,” Kipnis remarks, explaining that the M.S. in MIT Program leadership wisely engaged partners and families from the outset to help ease the transition into the immersive program.

Valuable Guidance
Benefiting from an M.S. in MIT education is a journey that requires attention and preparation, Kipnis advises, before even starting the program. Defining structure and securing assistance from personal networks allow would-be students to best focus on learning.

“Your passion and knowing you are doing the right thing will motivate you to continue studying, all while learning from great faculty and other determined students—and positioning yourself for successful career progression.”

Kipnis says that having gone through the M.S. in MIT experience, followed by 10 years of reflection of it, continuous study, and a commitment to her career taught her worthwhile lessons. Here, she shares some advice that prepared her to navigate the rigor of the program and led to her choice to enroll:

Ask yourself three questions about what you want to achieve. The first question is “Is this the right program that is going to move you towards achieving your goals?” The second question is “Is this the right time?” Constraints will always be there, such as a job, familial responsibilities, or other commitments. The third question is “Are there critical, exceptional challenges that need to be taken into consideration?”

Investing in this program is a big commitment of resources, and it is important to evaluate, know, and feel that it is the right investment at the right time.

Establish an environment of success. This environment includes actual physical space and your mental space. Where are you going to study? Do you have a dedicated space, or do you need to create or find one? Are you able to use your office space?

There are many amazing libraries at UVA if you live in the area. I loved spending time there around other students. In order to create a mental space, a few things may need to be considered, such as negotiations with your employer, family members, or other people who are involved in your life.

My husband and I had a conversation. It is also helpful to have a conversation with your kids, especially older ones, to make sure they are aware of what will and won’t be changing in their lives.

Recognize your needs and identify your resources. It is important to be upfront about the help you need. Speak up, and do not assume that people know what you require of them. Determine the resources, both personal (any family members) and financial (funds to acquire additional outside assistance), that you already have or can obtain to help during your time in school.

Update: Since this article was written, Kipnis has started a new role with Washington University in St. Louis as Assistant Dean for Organizational Excellence at the Medical School. We wish her the best!

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