Living in a Oxford dream
The Oxford experience, is like being swept up in a stream of learning, with excitement and bubbling effervescence all around you. It feels surreal, almost like you’re living in a dream. Even when I started on the programme, I kept thinking that somebody was going to turn around and say we've made a terrible mistake. It's almost a terrible imposter syndrome. But I soon realised that many of the brilliant people around me were feeling the same way. We are the oldest cohort in the University in terms of average age, which I think is a badge of honour as mature students. It’s a good reflection of the fact that we're all scarred, and can bring unique experiences to the table, from different industries, and an incredible combination of global perspectives. It's not often that you get to be surrounded by like-minded people who share your passion for a subject. So, I found the Oxford experience was something I could really immerse myself in. I'm glad I joined my MSc as a middle-aged woman as it allowed me to really enjoy the quirkiness of Oxford in a way I might not have as an undergraduate. The city itself is a little grittier than I thought it would be, as it's a little bit more down to earth than I expect, but that only adds to its charm. It also has these dichotomies everywhere of real life and Oxford life. Every College dinner we attend or building we visit is an opportunity to learn about the history and the traditions they have, which is interesting and entertaining and somehow rounds the overall student experience. As you’re learning and in a state of mild panic for two years wondering how to juggle, life, work, as well as doing a master’s degree at Oxford, at the same time, every time you visit Oxford Saïd, you gain these extra little nuggets of stories, insights into the experience, and it’s a real privilege to have that.
How the MSc in Major Programme Management helped me practically face a challenge at work
I actually started a new job just before beginning my master's degree, and I was lucky that they decided to invest and sponsor me as well. It was a new functional role for me as Head of Project Management within the nuclear industry, and I’m glad that I've got a very understanding boss who deals with me coming back from each module marching in with wonderful ideas and ways we can change things within work. But really the result of that, is I have been able to apply what I've learned to my workplace, using new language and terminology, and implementing changes where necessary. The way I see the bigger picture now and have been able to open my peripheral vision has really benefitted what I'm doing now, and how I'm continuing to influence the organisation and the wider group on direction of a major programme. One of the challenges I faced was how do I connect with a team that I can't meet, during the pandemic. So, although I'm not saying that this MSc necessarily helped with that, it helped me to reflect on my leadership skills during that experience, using the tools that I learnt from a particular module to navigate this challenge.
Third times the charm
The story of my scholarship is third times the charm. I actually applied for the MSc and got a place in 2019, but I didn't start until 2021. I had been thinking that if I wanted to do any further learning in my career, that it would only be now or never. And you would expect for me to apply for the Executive MBA, right? But it never really appealed to me, as it didn’t resonate in the same way. I was working at Hinkley Point C nuclear new build at the time and although I'd worked on a lot of big projects before Hinkley, I hadn't experienced a project of that scale and magnitude before. My eight years at Hinkley was really challenging; I'm a people-oriented person and found the experience quite challenging, as it was difficult to shine, influence, and be heard. Then one day I saw an advert for the MSc in Major Programme Management in the Project Management Institute newsletter, and there was something that immediately resonated about what a mega project or a major programme is all about. It’s more than just delivering a big project, it's this sort of great big moving monster. When we started out on the Hinkley Point C, it was a little cottage industry that quickly moved from that position to this metropolis like, Jurassic Park scale, and of course you know that it will ultimately move into an operational state. So, how do you manage how that grows and then shrinks back down again, and engage all the people that you need, and address how that impacts the wider community.
I applied for the MSc just after I lost my mum, it had been a difficult time and the work had been highly pressured too. I saw another advert and I downloaded the brochure. The next day, I got a call from the recruitment team essentially saying, we've looked at your CV, we think you should apply. But you have four days till application deadline closes on Monday. So, I spent the weekend getting the references, filling the forms in, writing the essay and submitted the application. Then had the interview and got the place but didn’t get the scholarship. But during this time, it was all so raw and difficult balancing work, grief, and life, so we agreed to defer for the next year. So, I had another go the next year and didn't get the scholarship again that year. Another year goes by, and I had another go and I remember my husband said to me, 'Emma, did you actually answer the question for the scholarship?' So, I set it out this time, answering the question clearly, and the third time applying I got the call about getting a scholarship.
I wrote essays about topics that interested me, and I believe Oxford Saïd is really receptive to hearing what people are passionate about. If that passion shines through, then the School wants to hear more from you. When I tell people the story about submitting the application within a weekend during a difficult time, they look at me in shock. But my advice is to get it done and submit it, but also answer the question. Read the question, answer the question clearly, speak from the heart and show your passion through the paper.
Scholarship for women
I was working from home and receive an email that said, ‘you've been awarded the scholarship’, and all I remember was running downstairs to tell my husband about it. He looked so pleased, but I don't know whether he still is... actually he's been really supportive and you need your family to be on your side. It is a big commitment and has an impact on family life having to balance it all, but it's been a wonderful big impact as well.
How would you describe the programme in three words?
Enlightening. Inspiring. Then third word, I do say quite a lot, Magnificent.