Grace Stephens




United States


Real Estate



By Grace Stephens

Why I Chose Oxford? For a Week Exactly like This

As I think back on this time of year, I remember that last year I was gearing up to head to Oxford for my admissions interview after having received the invitation at the end of January. It was an exciting time, but also a bit nerve-racking. I was thinking through my application for potential questions they could ask about myself, what questions they might expect me to answer about the program, etc. but the one question I absolutely knew they would ask is “Why Oxford for an MBA?” I knew I would have to explain a clear case of why it made sense to me and what inspired me to embark on the journey.  My answer to that question?  It is best embodied in a week like this past one.

On Monday, I had Marketing and Strategy courses, where we discussed things like marketing campaigns for toilet paper as a part of a fine art photography installations in Portugal and France, and the implications of globalisation via the impact of China on the United States by voting precinct. Of course, this allowed for fascinating discussions amongst classmates about the current challenges faced by businesses around the world no matter the industry. While I highlight these discussions, I should say that much like the rest of this, this is simply a day, not a particularly remarkable one.  These conversations are quite commonplace in our program and within our cohort – a huge plus for me when I think about other programs that are often more US-focused or singular industry-focused.

After class I headed to drinks hosted by the Global Industries OBN (of which I sit on the leadership team as a Sector Director for Real Estate), where we got a chance to talk about media, affordable housing, Brexit, and a bevy of other divergent, yet intersecting topics over a pint out of the business school building.

These themes continued on Tuesday with Entrepreneurship and Firms & Markets courses I had for the day, followed by some fascinating talks I was fortunate to get tickets to attend.  The first was by Rikke Rosenlund, CEO & Founder of BorrowMyDoggy, a website that connects dog owners and lovers with part-time care opportunities.  The talk was part of the Inspiring Women series hosted by the business school. Her talk focused on passion, and one of the biggest takeaways for me was not just that she allowed herself multiple passions in her life (something I think many overlook or think is wrong as it could be characterized as “distracting”), but that she saw that passion as something pragmatic to be improved upon from the perspective of both humans and dogs with “happiness” as the goal that binds them all together. (The whole talk with some great Q&A on entrepreneurship can be seen here)

I then dashed over to All Souls College after Rosenlund’s talk to then attend another talk, this time hosted by the Oxford University Strategic Studies Group.  The speaker was Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord, or the professional head of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy.  His talk focused on maritime policy for the British navy, but the challenges he highlighted were not just political or solely focused on the UK.  Instead, he brought up vulnerabilities of the sea floor which has huge fiber optic cable networks that connect the world.  Global warming is re-shaping coast lines and impacting their own operations as they re-think their fossil fuel usage to power ships. Businesses are starting to look at the world’s oceans as prime opportunity for innovation, like Microsoft creating an underwater data center off the coast of Scotland. I walked into the talk not knowing exactly what to expect or how relevant I’d find it to my day-to-day, but in the end, I gained such a wider perspective on issues that I knew only a little or nothing about from a prominent leader that I would never normally be able to access.

Wednesday brought on more course work in the morning with a group session with my GOTO team as we discussed the future of energy problem statement, we had come up with to bring to our tutorial session. I thoroughly enjoy that we are really digging into such a complicated world that is energy usage, and one that being studied by preeminent people around the world, but we are still encouraged to think of ourselves as fresh eyes that have right and responsibility to think about the larger impact we have and encourage through business.

The afternoon brought on a Talent Development workshop hosted by the Careers team on Salary Negotiations, with Giuseppe Conti, an outside consultant who was able to share some great tips, recommendations, strategies, and scenario planning as we all begin to think about the stressful time that is securing a job.  I have attended such workshops before, but it is always great to have a reminder of best practices and learn something new/gain a new way of thinking about something that will soon be top of mind.

Thursday’s class was Global Strategy where we were enlightened by a couple of Chilean classmates about their country’s business environment, cultural practices, and economic conditions.  We voluntarily offered to have students from different countries each week share these particulars with the room at the start of class so that we may learn more about where we all come from and may also find ourselves working in the future, which is something I most looked forward to when I was thinking about the Oxford MBA.

If the first part of my week seemed incredibly academic, let fears be assuaged by my very social Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  I was lucky to be invited by a classmate to dinner at Brasenose College on Friday night, where we crammed together with a few other MBAs to have delicious food and share what was going on with each other’s lives. Saturday brought the first ball of Hilary term at Mansfield College (with my makeup done by fellow blogger, the amazing Alma C. Gutierrez Toledano)  While it was freezing cold outside and I was in a ball gown very much lacking sleeves, it was a good time to be had by all as we partied the night away.  It all culminated in one last late night as a group gathered at a local pub to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night (or early into Monday morning).

In essence, this week was fun, this week was intense, this week was a great hodge-podge of activities, people, and topics, and this week was also only one of many other very similar weeks in terms of breadth of activities and focuses. I found myself constantly on the move to the next thing, continually mixing with different people, groups, departments, in and out of the business school.  And of course, one of the best things is that my week is completely different than anyone else’s, and my next week will also be great but in completely different ways as it is never the same even for yourself beyond those similarities I just mentioned.  Here at Oxford you are not likely to find that everyone goes to the same classes, then the same review sessions, then the same talks, then the same workshops, and on until your differentiating factors are where you sleep and eat. It’s true that MBAs travel in herds, but often that herd changes and sometimes you do even find yourself on your own doing something completely off track in a good way. Though it’s a very structured program, there are plenty of places for you to get lost in something else and pursue a passion that is true to you with the wider University at your fingertips. And you’ll have amazing classmates along the way to encourage you and inspire you, now and in the future as friends no matter where you all end up afterwards.

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