Q&A with UQ MBA alumnus Maggie James

How the UQ MBA enhanced Maggie’s career as a paediatric neurologic music therapist


Maggie James has always been passionate about using music to help people. Previously Maggie worked as the Clinical Leader (music therapy) at the Queensland Children’s Hospital. As she prepares for the next stage in her personal journey, which includes moving to Montreal, Maggie shares how studying a UQ Master of Business Administration (MBA) transformed her career and what it’s like to study an MBA while working full time.

Can you give us an overview of your career journey? How did you get to where you are in your career today?

I always wanted to be a concert pianist. I completed my first degree, majoring in performance at the QLD Conservatorium. However, I missed being with people and didn’t want to spend six hours a day in a practice room by myself. So, I researched careers that would allow a perfect combination of people and music. I believed there was more to music and longed to use it to help people. So, in 2012, I completed my Graduate Diploma in Music Therapy at The University of Queensland (UQ), and this started an exciting and bright career journey as a registered music therapist.

One of my first jobs was to provide music therapy through Playgroup Queensland in working with mothers in jail and their babies. The program aimed to provide positive bonding opportunities and developmental stimulation to mothers and babies through music and play. It was a very meaningful program and I loved it.

As my career continued to progress, I decided to do further study and completed the Neurologic Music Therapy training through the Colorado University. This training gave me further insight and knowledge into how human brains respond to music. Then, in 2013, I started my MBA at UQ Business School.

Today, I am one of very few paediatric neurologic music therapists in Australia; and am excited to lead the change in paediatric music therapy as the Senior Music Therapist at the Queensland Children’s Hospital (previously known as the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital) in Brisbane.

Why did you decide to do an MBA?

When I became a clinical leader, I felt that I had a gap in my business knowledge. I didn’t feel confident enough to manage the budget or lead a team in an unpredictable and at times chaotic health environment. I wanted to develop my leadership and business skills and enhance my ability to anticipate, respond and implement best business plans in the healthcare industry.

I chose to study the UQ MBA because of the flexibility of the program, which enabled me to complete the program over 18 months while working full time.



Was it difficult studying an MBA without a background in business?

While it was hard at first coming from a music background, I studied the UQ MBA because I wanted to be challenged. As I gained new knowledge and skills, it was like the program helped me discover a new language that enabled me to understand and discuss the business side of things.

How did you balance studying the MBA full time with full-time work?

I won’t lie; studying full time over two years was hard work, but it is doable. I did it, and my husband also did his MBA at UQ while working full time, so we’re living proof that it’s possible.

A typical weekday for me consisted of finishing work at 6pm (if I was lucky), going home to have a quick bite, then going to my two-hour lecture. Afterwards, I’d often meet with some of my peers to talk about an upcoming group assignment, then I’d go home and study.

You just have to be committed to prioritising your study over having much of a social life for a while. But it's definitely worth it. I would have to say that doing the MBA was one of the best experiences I have had studying.

What are the benefits of studying with a UQ MBA cohort?

You develop a strong bond with the people you study the MBA with because you go through such an intense learning experience together. I’m still in touch with my cohort. We talk about different business ideas, which helps me stay mentally stimulated. I feel lucky that when I'm ready to go back into the workforce, I will have all these connections and networks to rely on.
Studying with people from a diverse range of professional backgrounds in the UQ MBA program also helped me think in a new way. After working in healthcare for 18 years, I found that I only ever really talked to other medical professionals, so my professional knowledge was quite narrow.
During my MBA, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to people from different industries, which really opened up my mind. Suddenly, I wasn’t just thinking about the healthcare industry in Australia… I gained a global mindset, which was honestly something that I didn't expect. It really woke me up and made me more passionate about how I could make a difference in my industry.

How has the UQ MBA transformed your career?

The UQ MBA helped me understand business concepts like finance, human resource organisation, management and strategic planning. The knowledge I developed during my studies equipped me to think about how I could expand my work in the health industry as an organisation. After completing the MBA, I moved into my current role as team leader for the Queensland Cancer Children’s Services. It was definitely because of the MBA that they gave me the job, and everything I learned during the program prepared me to succeed in this role.

How does the future look for your current role and industry?

I believe the future looks very positive! Music therapy is a safe, scientific and therapeutic tool that can maximise children’s overall wellbeing while reducing financial burden on our health system. I believe as we increase the public and medical system’s awareness, music therapy will have a bright future in improving children’s’ health.

What is your motto in life that you try and live by?

My parents used to tell me ‘Don’t think that you might fall, think that you might fly.’ I have that statement framed on my desk! They encouraged me to take a leap of faith every now and then…

When I have doubts about what I do, I ask myself “What have I got to lose?”

I don’t want an ordinary life. I want sparkles in every chapter of my journey.