Taking Lifelong Learning to the Online Space
Even though Abir Chakraborty was developing his successful career as a supply chain strategist when he decided he wanted to take his education to the next level. As his career path progressed upward, he felt the need to gain more management knowledge and skills. But with 17 years of industry experience and a demanding career, Chakraborty knew that he couldn’t go the traditional campus route in order to earn his master’s degree.
In an effort to maintain his job but further his education, Chakraborty enrolled in an online Masters of Integrated Supply Chain Management degree program at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville. While Chakraborty realizes that campus programs are the right fit for some students, the flexibility of online learning allowed him to complete the coursework needed to earn his degree when it was convenient for him. When it was all said and done, he came away with a deep appreciation for the new direction that distance learning is headed in.
Abir Chakraborty earned his Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in India before immigrating to the United States. During his career, he has become an active member of two industry organizations and currently holds two certifications—Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) and Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM). In addition to being a University of Wisconsin-Platteville graduate, Chakraborty is also an active blogger in the supply chain industry and participates in non-profit organizations that help young professionals in supply chain and operation management.
Enjoy our interview with Abir Chakraborty to find out how he navigated the unique landscape of earning his master’s degree while balancing a full-time, demanding career.
"I believe in continuing education and lifelong learning. My professional engagement is quite demanding, so an online education worked out for me." Click To Tweet!
eLearners: Tell us a little about your background. Was there a gap in your undergraduate or graduate education and if so, what caused it?
AC: I started my career as an information technology consultant in 1997 and since then worked in large multinational companies like Cummins, Eaton Corp. and ALCOA corp. The degree in information systems helped me in system modeling, design, programming and other technical aspects of my job. My professional certifications provided insight into business processes. The graduate program in supply chain management was useful in advancing my domain knowledge in operations and supply chain management.
eLearners: What made you decide to enroll in an online college as opposed to applying to a campus school? What were some of the key deciding factors for you to enroll?
AC: I believe in continuing education and lifelong learning. I wanted to maintain my professional career in supply chain management while learning from academics. This combination of academics and industry creates a unique and effective learning environment. My professional engagement is quite demanding, so an online education worked out for me.
eLearners: What are some of the features of online learning that were beneficial to your circumstances of working and having family obligations?
AC: The online program offers flexibility in time management, which was a key factor for me to balance family, work and study at the same time. Like traditional on-campus programs, online programs have time sensitive assignments, project work and exams, but they give the flexibility to the student to plan for those activities along with other priorities.
eLearners: Has your experience as an online learner influenced your professional life as a supply chain strategist? If so, how?
AC: It did, in many ways, the direct influence is the application of the learning to the job, the program provides tools to think and analyze more effectively and systematically. At the same time the program makes a person a better planner in real life because in many cases, one has to manage a full-time job, maintain a family, and meet course requirement at the same time.
eLearners: What do you think are some of elements of negative stigma that people have about online learning? Did you find them to be true or false?
AC: I think while online learning is becoming increasingly popular day by day, it is true that many people argue in favor of traditional on campus delivery method. The on-campus learning and online learning are for two different groups of students; each has their own requirements. At the end of the day quality of education matters, so it is important to select the online school based on its reputation and recognition.
eLearners: What were the important elements you looked for in a school (in terms of flexibility scheduling, transferring credits, accreditation, etc.)?
AC: The following are the elements in the order of priority for me:
- Quality of education
- Flexibility in scheduling
- Credit transfer options
eLearners: Did you need to work together on projects or participate in class discuss via online forums?
AC: I worked in groups with my classmates for different projects and it was a positive learning experience. In my opinion, there are reasons for that; the students who enroll in a graduate online program are very focused and committed to the goal of learning. They have to be; otherwise they would not have taken the challenge of the self-motivated learning while maintaining other responsibilities in life. And this urge of learning leads to open-minded and mature behavior.
eLearners: Did you find any downsides to completing an online program?
AC: I do not see any downside and personally, it worked out for me very well.
eLearners: Were there a lot of steps that went into transferring credits from your earlier education? If so, how did you stay organized while enrolling in your program?
AC: I did not transfer credits but got one course waived based on my professional certifications in the subject. The main thing I needed was self-motivation, and I wanted to complete the program within a year. At the same time, I did not want to compromise my grade or grasping the knowledge. I knew it was going to be tough, so I used to plan my daily activities once a week and tried to follow the plan. The daily plan used to be by hours; in some semesters I took three courses along with a full time job so every hour in a day counts in such situation.
My wife supported me in this challenge; again time-to-time life throws curveballs at every person, I also faced unplanned events from work and family but I always asked myself: “Why I am doing this?” I did this not because I needed to but because I wanted to.
eLearners: What advice do you have for a student who is considering enrolling in an online degree program?
AC: I would suggest to select the program carefully based on the goal and aspirations. There are 100% online programs and some hybrid programs where few on-campus hours are mandatory; students need to research those. Accreditation is very important. Many of us base our next career move on the graduate degree, so it should be from an accredited school. Students should have self-discipline and motivation to be successful in online education. Most online schools publish their course calendar for a year, so a student should prepare a course-plan for the entire program, and this can be done with the help of the program advisor of the graduate school.