On the eve of receiving my final marks and over a year since I commenced my postgraduate studies at Oxford, the excitement and benefits of being an Oxonian remains ubiquitous in my life, with the experience being an incredibly important stimulant for my career and personal development journey.
Choosing Oxford and Saïd Business School
It has always been a life goal of mine to attend Oxford, given its unparalleled history, prestige, pre-eminence as one of the best (if not the best) universities in the world, renowned quality of teaching, sheer beauty, and kaleidoscopic community.
Like many, I was at a career and personal juncture around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic where I yearned for intellectual stimulation, greater opportunities for international engagement, personal inspiration, and a catalyst for my career journey. Consequently, my attention turned to what I could do at Oxford to help fulfil these needs while also achieving a lifelong dream.
My criteria was not easy, but common for mid-senior career professionals. I wanted to study a postgraduate qualification: with a practical and stimulating curriculum that aligned closely to my interests in international business and/or government; with an international and diverse cohort; that allowed me to sustainably study part-time around work commitments and attend class in-person once every few months (given I was travelling from Australia); and that allowed me to be a member of a college. The Postgraduate Executive Diploma in Global Business at Oxford Saïd met my criteria. Moreover, it had the added bonus of affording me an opportunity to continue my studies at Oxford through an Executive MBA.
Impact on career development
Having a postgraduate qualification that provided knowledge and tools that could be practically applied was a crucial element of my decision. The Executive Diploma delivered this through relevant case studies, high quality teachers, esteemed guest lecturers and extensive readings that collectively bolstered my career toolkit. The breadth of knowledge garnered from these resources extended beyond the realm of business to encompass elements of sociology, government relations, and others providing holistic perspectives on the multitude of factors in international business that are often concealed or overlooked resulting in myopic business decisions. Indeed, there were certain subjects such as scenario planning that would have been useful at various stages in my career.
Beyond the university-generated knowledge, an integral part of the experience and learnings came from my learned cohort who brought their wisdom from a plethora of industries, functions, geographies, and cultures. The tremendous insights of my classmates provided depth to the teaching through their contextualisation of the information and real-world application from supply chain issues in retail in Asia and fast-moving consumer goods in Africa, through to pharmaceutical sales challenges in the US, and regulatory considerations for companies in Europe.
This shared learning was cultivated by lecturers (particularly Professor Sako) who actively encouraged academic freedom, contribution, sharing, questioning and respectful debate, which also assisted us to challenge our own perspectives. Engaging in these class debates, sharing opinions, undertaking class exercises, and completing exams also required elevating oneself to a unique degree of excellence to perform well at Oxford. This has had flow on implications outside of university and into the workplace where I have been able to apply new ways of thinking, skills, and knowledge on topics such as non-market influence considerations.
Impact on personal development
Equal, if not more, consequential from this experience at Oxford has been my own personal development journey fostered collectively by Oxford, Saïd Business School, and my cohort. While I knew attending the university would be impactful from an intellectual perspective, and had heard great things about life at Oxford, I underestimated the magnitude of invigoration.
The Oxford experience, particularly while on-campus, is unique and unparalleled. As you walk the cobblestones and navigate yourself through the magnificent buildings, there is an air of history in-the-making as one traces the footsteps of students dating back nearly 930 years who have shaped the world, and continue to do so (us included). It is strikingly beautiful by day, as by night in the faux gas light-illuminated streets. The candlelit formal dinners in the venerable colleges (most of them older than independent US), with their glorious paintings and architecture, is also a highlight. Beyond these, some of my most awe-inspiring immersive experiences have been in the Bodleian Libraries. In particular, studying and working in the Duke Humfrey’s Library (the oldest reading room at Oxford and one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 15th century) was especially inspiring particularly when trying to channel the cumulative intellect of students who have graced the wooden benches and gazed upon its bookshelves, from Oscar Wilde to CS Lewis and Stephen Hawking. Daydreaming in there, thinking about their stories (and this as the ‘Hogwarts Library’) provided an uplifting aid as I read about cross-border acquisitions or wrote a paper for ASEAN.
Beyond the physical structures and distant history, however, were the people that I met at Oxford. I felt that my curiosity and love of learning about the world and people was stimulated and satisfied every day. It would not be unusual for there to be hefty discussions over dinner on topics ranging from: China’s policies in the South China sea with a China-focused academic, beer industry trends with a former brewery owner, Australian politics with a government think-tank professor, salmon industry challenges in Canada, to discussions about how we would attempt to break the 4 minute-mile world record at Iffley Road, set by Roger Bannister. The diversity of backgrounds, cultures (from over 21 nationalities), expertise, thoughts, and political persuasions (and friendly discussion despite differences) was something I have never encountered at the same level. I came away energised and inspired from these countless exchanges over meals, walks, runs or drinks (including at the Turf Tavern where former Australian prime minister and Rhode Scholar, Bob Hawke, notoriously drank a yard glass in world record time).
In the process, I have been afforded a profound sense of opportunity, encouragement, optimism, and drive for the future, as well as an affirmation of my values and career journey. Importantly too, I have gained great lifelong friends, and also found a tremendous sense of belonging. I can therefore unequivocally say that having the chance to study at Oxford has been one of the most consequential, positive, and rewarding experiences that I have had.