Sometimes, I think we all miss school a little bit. Maybe it’s having the opportunity to research something that interests you, or just having a group setting to discuss something in an academic way. Alaina Waagner actually took herself back to school after a few years off to get a masters in business all while working full time at Penguin Random House. She took the time out of her very busy schedule to tell Trendsetter what it’s really like to have a full time job and school at the same time.
Alaina Waagner works in the marketing department of the Random House Publishing Group. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, and is currently pursuing her MBA at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business. She lives in Brooklyn, loves travel, and can usually be found petting stranger’s dogs on the street.
Describe your current role at Random House:
I am an assistant marketing manager at the Random House Publishing Group. If you looked at my resumé or LinkedIn, it’d tell you that my job involves a lot of things like consumer insight research, testing out new digital vendors, and platform evaluation. In simpler and more realistic terms, my job is to communicate with consumers and booksellers and relay their thoughts and information to editors and authors in a way that informs the way that we talk about and sell the book. I do a little of everything, from writing copy for e-newsletters to planning social media campaigns to doing book mailings. And of course there are a lot of meetings. Meetings with authors, with agents, with publishers, with sales. Marketing involves a little bit of everything, and it’s crazy busy in the best way possible.
What master’s program are you in currently?
I’m in a part-time MBA program at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business, but I haven’t decided what I’m going to specialize in yet.
What made you want to go back to grad school?
My educational background is very liberal-arts and soft-skills heavy (aka I majored in English) — when I got into publishing, I originally imagined that I’d work in editorial. Landing in marketing, however, turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I decided to go back to graduate school to help me develop more of those “hard” marketing skills that I missed out on in my undergraduate years. While not all of my classes are focused on things like analytics, taking courses across business disciplines has already given me a much broader view of the industry and how management operates in general.
What’s your class load like?
Baruch’s program is 57 credits for most specialties, and I’m trying not to take more than two classes in any given semester in order to give myself some breathing room. This usually translates to class two nights a week for about 4 hours. I also took a microeconomics class during the January intersession, though, which is an abbreviated, 3-week “semester” that allows you to take an intensive course to get it out of the way. That was certainly a challenge. At this rate, I’m likely to complete the whole program in about 3 years.
Did you always want to go to grad school? Or was it something that came up later?
I’m actually not sure! My parents heavily encouraged me to go to graduate school right after undergrad, but in hindsight, I’m so glad that I didn’t. I would have ended up with a master’s in English Literature or something similar, and a career track in academia and teaching that I’ve realized would not suit me at all. I think once I moved to the city and started working for a living I appreciated so much more what you can learn in an academic setting and how that can be more directly useful in your day-to-day career. When I figured out what I enjoy most about my job, I started thinking about programs that would give me the skills and credentials I needed to continue to grow.
How will having a master’s degree affect your current job?
I think it’s going to depend. I don’t necessarily see myself staying on the imprint-specific side of marketing, or even in marketing as a discipline. The great thing about the MBA is that it’s allowing me to expand a bit and take a look at other business angles that might appeal to me in the future (for example, I found my accounting and statistics classes weirdly satisfying, but I don’t know that I want to do that as a career full-time) while also strengthening my skills on the marketing side.
What is it like working full time and going back to school? Do you have any free time? Do you get enough sleep?
It’s definitely not easy! More difficult than the workload is convincing myself to go to class after I’ve already worked a full day, especially when the professor doesn’t count attendance. I usually dedicate a full day — Sunday — to catching up on reading and homework, which is usually enough to keep me up to date. What I’ve found, though, is that I feel so much busier since I have to limit my social interactions to just a couple of days a week — and since I have a hard time saying no, I frequently overschedule myself trying to fit everything I want to do into those limited days. I’d probably be healthier and less stressed if I gave myself some time off, but I also perform best when my time is rigidly scheduled and I don’t have much room to lie around and do nothing. Luckily, that tendency has been extremely helpful for my success in the program.
Is Random House helping you in any way during this process?
Random House has been incredibly supportive. The tuition reimbursement program that they offer is one of the major reasons that this has been financially feasible for me; additionally, my boss completed her MBA a few years ago, and thus understands exactly what the program requires. She encouraged me to apply to the program, and has been very flexible about allowing me to take a few hours to study when I need them before an exam or to get feedback on a project that I’m working on. It’s difficult to imagine having the capacity to do this in a less supportive environment.