An engineer with Indian Railways seeks innovation as a Rotman MBA student. [Show summary]
Meenakshi Chauhan spent five years as an engineer with Indian Railways (and the only woman in her department) before leaving in search of a more challenging, innovative work environment. Now, she’s preparing to re-enter student life at the University of Toronto’s Rotman MBA program.
Preparing for life as an MBA student at Toronto Rotman [Show notes]
Meenakshi Chauhan has worked since graduating college as an Indian Railways engineer. She started a beauty blog in 2018 and is now looking forward to starting her MBA studies at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, and what you like to do for fun? [1:23]
I was born in a small village where I lived with my parents and their extended family. I lived there for about two years, but for most of my childhood, I’ve lived with my grandmother. My father was the only person earning and my mother had to take care of the whole family, so they didn’t have much time for me. So I was mostly brought up by my grandmother. I lived for around eight to 10 years with her, and then I moved back with my parents. As far as what I like to do for fun, there are a lot of things that I like to do. I like to paint. I like to cook, and this lockdown has given me the chance to cook a lot. And I love to work out. On my blog, I’m also writing a lot about health and nutrition, so I love to work out and take care of myself.
You earned your BTech in 2013. On your blog you write, “I was selected as an assistant engineer in Indian Railways, considered one of the most prestigious jobs in the engineering field. I was at the top of the world until I joined. I realized that the job was not as exciting as I had expected it to be.” Why didn’t it live up to your expectations? [2:32]
So when I joined Indian Railways, I had a certain impression in my mind: The job is going to be very challenging, I’m going to work and learn about a lot of new technologies, and I’ll be involved in innovating stuff. Indian Railways is completely owned by the Indian government, so bureaucracy tends to slow down things a bit, and I felt that when I started working with Indian Railways that things were a bit slow. It took months to get the approval for anything. So it got a little monotonous for me, and I didn’t really find it as challenging as I was expecting it to be. So it got a little bit boring for me there, and I wanted to do something more exciting that would help me develop my skills as well as enjoy the whole working process.
Was it difficult for you as a woman in a male-dominated field and industry? [4:04]
It was a bit difficult for me, and mostly because in the department I joined, there were not many women. I was the only woman in that department, so I got judged a lot. My intelligence was questioned. My seniors, as well as my juniors, would often say that I was not fit for the job. I wasn’t capable of handling long hours or putting in that much effort towards my work. So that was a bit disheartening for me. Eventually, I did handle it, but initially it was a bit disheartening for me.
How did you handle it? [5:00]
I got a few opportunities, and I must say I’m lucky that I got opportunities where most of the topmost officiants of Indian Railways were monitoring the project, looking after that. I was solely responsible for handling a few of those projects, and I did exceptionally well in those projects. They eventually did understand that it doesn’t matter whether I am a girl or some male person working there, and it’s just the kind of dedication you put in, the effort you put in that matters, not my gender that matters.
You worked with the Indian Railways for just about five years. Did the frustration ultimately lead you to turn to business and an MBA? [5:38]
No, I wouldn’t say it was the frustration, but I just want to grow from where I am. I have achieved something in life, I have a certain set of skills, and now I want to grow and develop more. That’s what pushed me to pursue an MBA. I am from a technical field. I have great technical skills. I have those quantitative skills. But the kind of job I’m doing, that’s not just technical. It’s more of a managerial, techno-managerial kind of a job. So those are strategic skills, financial skills. They’re equally important for me, and I want to develop those. That’s why I wanted to do an MBA.
Why Toronto Rotman? [6:33]
The most important thing that attracted me to Rotman is that Rotman is a very innovative school. Even the video interview thing, that is so common now with most colleges, was introduced by Rotman. And the CDL lab they have, the Creative Destruction Lab, that’s also an amazing initiative by Rotman. So the first thing that attracted me to Rotman was the kind of innovation those people are doing. That was the first thing, plus, there is a lot of diversity in Rotman. So even that attracted me to it, and I had my eyes fixed on this school, and I’m lucky now that I got into it.
What challenges did you face during the application process itself? [7:48]
I wouldn’t say the application process was that challenging for me because even before my GMAT, I knew that I had to work with someone from Accepted.com. One of my friends who applied to Kellogg last year, she worked with Accepted, and she worked with Michelle, and she recommended her to me. Even before my GMAT, I talked to Michelle, and she was the one who convinced me to give it another go. My first go was around 660. When I talked to Michelle, she told me to give it another go and improve my score, and because of her, I gave another shot. I got a better score. I again contacted her to say, “You have to help me with the application.” So it was all very smooth for me because I worked with her from the start. She’s great.
Are you concerned at all about the impact of COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic on your MBA experience and getting a visa to enter Canada? [8:59]
I am a bit worried about that because it’s affecting visas all over the world. Currently, I’ve not been able to apply for my study permit, and I’m worried about how much time it will take. But things are so uncertain at this point that you never know what will happen in the next two weeks. So it’s just a bit scary right now, but I’m hoping for the best.
Are you concerned that part of your MBA might be online? [9:44]
Yes, that’s a concern for me, and I’m actually preparing myself for that because I think that there’s a great possibility that some part of my course will be online if things don’t improve in the near future. So, yes, I am a bit worried about this. I think I’ll be lacking some of the networking.
It’s seven years at this point since you graduated college. Are you concerned about transitioning back to school? [10:44]
Yeah, that’s the exact thought I was having. I’ve always been good at studies. I’ve always been good in school, in college, everywhere. So I think I’ll be able to adjust quite easily. I think I’ll get used to the school thing within a few weeks.
You’ve emphasized throughout the call that you were frustrated with Indian Railways because it wasn’t very innovative. You’re attracted to Toronto because it is very innovative. What are your plans for the future? How do you intend to use your MBA? Where do you plan to innovate? [11:21]
Actually, I wrote about this in my essay. I don’t plan to divert much from my current path. I’m working in a technical field, and I plan to stay in the field. But I want to enhance my skills. There’s a company, Bombardier, which is based in Canada and with whom Indian Railways has been a longtime partner. So I plan to work, if I get the chance, with Bombardier. I’ll be able to enhance my managerial and my business skills, as well as stay connected to my main field. I’ll still be connected to railways in some way. So I plan to do that. Maybe later in the future, I might come back to India, and if I get the chance, I might work again with Indian Railways, and that experience and the knowledge that I gained I know will be definitely helpful to help Indian Railways in some way.
Have you always had a fascination with trains? [12:57]
I won’t say I’ve always had a fascination with trains, but, yes, there are many memories related to it. When we were young, we mostly traveled by rail or railways, and there are many memories related to that. In India, railways are huge, and people generally travel by railway, so everyone is in some way or other connected to trains, you know? It’s not just a means of transporting people. It has certain memories related to it.
Do you have any tips for Rotman MBA applicants? [13:38]
Applicants need to relax a bit. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the application process is very difficult and it’s very frustrating. Even my friend who recommended Michelle to me, she said, “The application process is more difficult than the GMAT itself.” I think if you manage the time properly, it can go very smoothly. You don’t need to worry much about it. Everyone has a story, and you just need to take your time and work through it and just relax a bit.
How did you come to start your blog, HealthyPassenger.com? [14:44]
The blog isn’t just about beauty and travel. It’s also about health, and I’ve always been interested in nutrition, taking care of yourself, and how to be both mentally and physically fit. One day, it just hit me that I know a lot about these things, so why not share them? I consulted my friend (he’s now my husband), and we together started this blog. I wrote all the content, and he managed the digital part of it, running ads and stuff. So he did all that, and it was going great. I am still working on it. This lockdown has given me so much time that I’ve even added a category, healthy recipes, because I’m cooking a lot. So I’m working on it, and it’s going good, and I hope that it does better. Once I join Rotman, I’ll definitely think about sharing my MBA experience there as well.
Where can listeners find you online? [16:35]
- Healthy Passenger Blog
- Healthy Passenger on instagram
- International MBA Applicants and COVID-19: Risks & Opportunities, a short video with Accepted admissions consultant Michelle Stockman
- Toronto Rotman MBA Program
- Toronto Rotman Application Essay Tips
- Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services
- Toronto Rotman MBA: The Spike Factor
- The Toronto Rotman MBA Program: Where Application Volume is Soaring
- Wake Up to Your Amazing Career Possibilities
- An Admissions Expert’s Top Tips for Business School Applicants