We are often coached to pursue a specific goal while growing up - be it deciding on a course of further study, going to university, getting a job or ‘settling down’. More often than not, there are age brackets attached to these pursuits.

Conventional attitudes towards education would place you at university in your early twenties and then settle you into the process of adult life - getting a job, perhaps tying the knot and having kids, and so on.

There are not many individuals who at a later stage in life choose to break free from the norm and set themselves on a path of higher learning, while juggling their personal and professional lives.

But as Dr Muhra Almuhairi, advisor of learning and development at Human Resource Authority, Abu Dhabi, puts it, “Women have an inbuilt ability for multi-tasking.”

The inspiring Emirati, who has over 14 years experience in federal and local government, is currently pursuing a Mid-Career Master of Public Administration course at Harvard University after opting to get back into academics at the age of 46.

She already holds a Doctorate of Business Administration from Abu Dhabi University as well as an Executive MBA from Zayed University and a Master of Education from Deakin University, Australia.

Almuhairi in a recent interaction with City Times shared her passion for advancement through knowledge, which she believes is not limited by age.

Excerpts from our interview:

As someone in their 40s who has a full-time job and experience in different industries in the UAE as well as several academic accomplishments in higher learning, what inspired you to continue your education at Harvard at this time?

I believe that learning is a journey; a person can only move forward in this journey.

As an Emirati it is my duty to my country to keep developing, to aspire and reach what the UAE wants to be in the future, and being a student at Harvard would give me the knowledge and skills to do so.

You have chosen to study Mid-Career Master of Public Administration at Harvard. What does this course entail and what do you hope to take away from it?

This one-year course aims to prepare people for the next step of their career. In this program you get to design your own study plan.

And as an MC/MPA student, you have the freedom to pursue your intellectual interests, develop new capabilities, expose yourself to new approaches and methods, and advance your career.

You get to choose from 300 courses offered by Harvard to support your plan. I chose Policy, Leadership, Socioeconomic and Social Behaviour Science as a focus of my study.

Learning is often looked upon as a pursuit of youth - as when one gets older we get busy with finding jobs, settling down, looking after children and family. Do you believe learning is in any way age-related - or is there no age limit for improving yourself and expanding your knowledge?

No matter what position I am in, a student’s chair has always been my favourite chair. I actually believe it is dangerous for a person to think that they know (everything); on the contrary, they should be curious about the world and interested in the environment.

Knowledge is an ocean you keep diving into and exploring. There is no age to complete your studies; this is a myth.

Knowledge for your brain is like food for your body. Would you stop eating? Likewise, you should not stop obtaining knowledge whether it is through study, courses, reading or any other means of learning.

You have worked in government, education as well as employee learning, all of which are people-oriented and involve a lot of interaction. With so much of experience, would you say people are receptive to learning new things or ways of doing things? Or do they take time to adapt to change?

Well, the development of a human being is required for the adoption of any new environment or situation.

We aspire to a future self, so we should evolve to reach there. Having said that, many people are resistant to change; they might fear moving out of their comfort zone.

I believe that the development of different dimensions in our lives is important; we make sure we are part of the evolution, otherwise we stay behind.

Academics and any kind of training nowadays is highly digitalized as compared to the ‘80s and early ’90s when there was a lot of paper and book learning and Internet facilities were not available. What is the advantage one had then as compared to now when every information is available at the click of a button? Do you feel that students now sometimes take it all too easily?

Very interesting question - that’s right, now we find ourselves getting information as it’s happening, unlike the old days when we waited for newspapers or magazines or even books to get information.

The availability of information though is a mixed blessing. The amount of data produced electronically is enormous, and although it is easily accessible, it is hard for a student to obtain the right resources to support their knowledge.

So every era has its own advantages and disadvantages in the learning and development field and we have to work through that.

What message do you hope to send out to women out there who are doing it all - marriage, job and more and wish to pursue further studies?

I would say you can do it and go for it! Women are the best at multi-tasking; they have an inbuilt ability for it! So a woman just has to choose what she wants to study and then step up to find the right way (to go about it).

The UAE has always set a great example when it comes to women’s empowerment. As an Emirati, how has the country supported and shaped your goals and objectives?

I’ve never felt discriminated against or at a disadvantage being a woman in the UAE.

We work together with our male co-workers to support objectives and the bigger vision. The UAE has supported women as much as men at all stages of their lives, whether at school, university level, work and even beyond that.

The UAE is now hosting one of the most prestigious events in the world - Expo 2020 Dubai. What do you hope visitors take away from this event and how do you feel it will help build the country’s business image around the world?

Expo 2020 Dubai is an advantage for the host country through its socio-economic impact. The UAE as a young country has found its own standing amongst the advanced countries of the world. Visitors at Expo 2020 Dubai will get to know about the enormous effort on the part of our leadership that makes us stand out in many industries. Here’s hoping that will open up a bigger space and opportunities for the UAE.

How would you spend an ideal day in the UAE? Where would you go and what would you do?

I like to wake up early so I’m an early bird, morning exercise is part of my daily routine, add to that meditation and also reading or listening to a knowledgeable podcast. Then I start the day, of course taking care of the kids as they start their journey of the day is the next mission of the day. When I go to work I always start with my to do list to seize the day, I like to spend the evening with family this is the most important time of the day.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like art; I paint. I believe that art is a amazing form of expression. I also read - mostly non-fiction, basically titles on self-development.

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