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My Moore School

A PMBA ambassador shares her secrets for success

Dec. 12, 2022

Shortly after graduating college, I accepted a position working at a prestigious firm in Washington, D.C.  My original post-graduate plan was to work for the organization for a year and then attend law school. In December 2006, there were some major amendments and changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure around electronically stored information (ESI) and electronic discovery. The electronic discovery landscape started to change and evolve with more of a focus on information systems, technology and analytics to manage and inform case strategy and practitioner decision-making. 

With this development, my professional and intellectual focus in the legal field began to shift from an interest in the substantive practice of law to contemplating how organizations could utilize technology, innovation and strategy to drive work-flow efficiencies, cost-savings and solve electronic discovery case-related and enterprise-wide problems in the future. I decided to postpone law school attendance to explore and establish a career in this area. 

More than 15 years later, I have developed a career in a specialized area that now is referred to as eDiscovery where I have served in advisory and managerial roles for top domestic and international firms on the Am Law 100 and Fortune 100 lists. Although satisfied with my career progression and opportunities, I wanted to hone my understanding of key business principles, explore new and emerging business models and learn the theoretical concepts that serve as the basis of business strategy and innovation. For me, this meant that it was time to apply and enroll in business school. 

At the age of 40 and in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I applied and was accepted to the Professional MBA program at the Darla Moore School of Business. Being a member of this community has been one of the most exciting, satisfying and challenging experiences of my adult life. I have new professional and personal relationships with students and faculty, and I’ve explored business concepts and ideas and concentrated on specialized areas of academic and professional interest to me (e.g., the Strategic Innovation and Cybersecurity Graduate Certificates).  

At times, the PMBA experience can also be quite demanding as I try and manage competing priorities and needs from a variety of stakeholders. Balancing a career, part-time MBA coursework and family, personal and health responsibilities is tough even for the best time and task managers (and there are a lot of us here at the Darla Moore School of Business!). 

As I wrap up my final semesters of the PMBA program and look forward to graduation in May 2023, I wanted to share some key lessons and insights about my journey that may be helpful for current and future PMBA students. 

  1. Foster and build relationships — both inside and outside the classroom — with your PMBA cohort and the Darla Moore School of Business. The PMBA cohort is quite diverse with a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds and experiences. There is no better, safer place to discuss and explore new business ideas and models than in this dynamic environment.
  2. Evaluate at the beginning of your PMBA program and the start of each semester how you will organize and balance work, school and family/personal life and your health. What does that mean and look like for you? Reflect throughout the semester; have you set realistic goals and objectives? If not, how do you reset your expectations and schedule to accommodate?
  3. Seven-week courses are fast-paced! Set aside and schedule on your calendar focused study time each day (or several times each week) but remain flexible when assignments take longer than you might expect, especially for areas where you have little academic or professional experience or exposure. There are many areas of study that take quite a bit of time and effort to master — keep going and do not give up!
  4. Select a course, concentration or graduate certificate that complements your existing skill-set but also allows you to learn and explore new concepts and ideas. The Strategic Innovation Graduate Certificate courses have been personally and professionally rewarding for me. Management professor Laura B. Cardinal is both a challenging and amazing instructor!  Have fun!
  5. Know when good enough is good enough. Take a moment to determine if adding more time, money or other resources will make a discernable difference on what you are working on or trying to achieve.  If not, then move on to the next item on your list.  Do not let perfection stifle your productivity. 

Sarah Sawvell ’23 Professional MBA expected graduation 
Global eDiscovery Program Manager, Litigation Center of Excellence (COE), for Honeywell
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