Of farewells and future

I observe that many farewells for me lately have been abrupt and sudden. I am already physically or mentally withdrawn from the place and situation by the time I am in a position to take cognisance of what I am leaving behind. It feels as if I subconsciously withdraw myself from a proper chance to pause and say my goodbyes to my heart’s content.

But then, when have goodbyes seemed enough and left you satisfied about leaving? In hindsight I am mildly relieved that I choose to leave hurriedly before reality smacks me on my face. That feels easier to deal with than the big emotional wreck I turn into, clinging on to the last shred of hope that it is not all over.

Today it has been two months since the course ended. I landed back to London from my internship in India two days before the end of course ceremony, and missed the Capstone entirely. My parents flew over too and I was glad to have them and my brother with me for the farewell. This has been a very special journey and it would’ve felt incomplete without my family by my side at the ceremony, for their constant support and unconditional faith in me shape the person that I am today.

The rigour of Oxford MBA, packed in a year of wanting to do more things than one has the capacity for, leaves with little time to sit back and reflect. For me, to now look back to the year that was, it feels like a time warp. We were transported in a safe cocoon, challenging our beliefs and ideas each day, learning to become better versions of ourselves, in a place more than thousand years old where countless faces came and went, each carving their own journey. The year feels as fresh as yesterday, but at the same time seems like a distant memory now.

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Farewell dinner, Oxford MBA 2015-16

 

So what next? Back to the real world, most of us are regularly asking and are being asked this question. While many peers have gone ahead to pursue their post-MBA goals, returned to their previous jobs, gone back to their home country, others have chosen to stay back in London and make their next move. With changing political and economic scenario in many countries, falling GBP, Brexit (and now USA elections), there is obviously a sense of uncertainty around in the batch that no one has definite solution to. The new batch has commenced their program <sniff> and are eager to know where we all land, prospective applicants have been approaching asking to share our experience. I hope to write more on that in future, and be more regular with updating this blog (now that being busy with academic rigour can no longer be blamed!).

For now, I have moved to my brother’s place in London and working on my ‘what next’ from here. I am evaluating the tradeoffs between finding the perfect role for myself and following my original plan of returning to India after MBA. Expect to read more on the employment scene in the coming weeks, and also on a few most commonly asked queries by applicants. So long!

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Back to the real life

I barely remember taking decent rest in the last 60 hours. It’s been relentless with submissions, birthday celebration, exams, vacating the flat, meeting people before leaving and of course the GTC ball – well all had to be accommodated and were non negotiable. 

Hopped on to the flight to Mumbai and finally managed to grab some sleep, interspersed with a couple of movies that were too tempting to resist catching up on! 

After a day at Mumbai for induction with 11 other interns from International B schools, I am now I’m Bangalore (what are the odds that I’ll be back to the same city!) to join Aditya Birla’s e commerce firm which was launched 10 months back. 


I’m excited and looking forward to the next two months of internship. However right now I’m still jet lagged and sleepy before a severe bout of Oxford withdrawal strikes me. 

Sigh. 

Hello, real life. 

Random admissions advice

I may have spoken to over 50+ Said applicants /admits over the course of my year, through various channels. I’ve been assigned as mentor to two incoming students. A few classmates and I volunteered to do a Q&A panel with new admits at the Experience Weekends and I also got involved with the admissions office this April to hold a meet up with incoming students at Bangalore when I was in India for our career trek. My classmates and I have been asked nearly the same queries every time, and having been in the same position a year back, the anticipation is understandable and expected.

For the benefit of others who may still are probably still seeking out advice, I am posting a few things which have been most commonly asked and a few more thrown in from the back of my head. Feel free to write in the comments or reach out to me over Facebook / LinkedIn / Email if you need help with anything specific:

  • College selection: Every admit gets a college, sooner or later. Do not sweat if you are rejected from the college of your first choice. I am told this year the procedure is a bit different from last time. My batchmates were approached for their next preference, with suggestions on which colleges had spots for MBAs still left. This year upon rejection from first preferred college, the University puts you in a common pool and assigns you a college on their own. I cannot think of a reason for this change, apart from making the process tad easier for them operationally. However, be assured that once you are admitted to the B School, there is no way you will not end up in one of the colleges.
  • Which college to go for: While colleges make up for an important part of the Oxford experience, in my personal view choosing a college is not as much a crucial factor as it is for the undergrads. For an MBA the involvement with their college varies individually and thus their motivation for choosing their college. While a few may have showed up at their college only for matriculation formalities, there are many in my batch who are part of their college rowing teams or their college MCR ( Middle Common Room, for the postgrads ) committee. For the rest of us colleges are a great way to interact with the wider Oxford community and get involved socially through formal dinners, bops, guest lectures etc.

Unless there is something absolutely specific you want out of your college, you cannot go wrong with your choice. If you fancy a Harry Potter / Tolkein -ish experience, choose one of the older colleges – Christ Church, Merton, Exeter, New College etc. GTC and St Hugh’s accept the maximum MBAs (120+ combined), while Regents Park has two MBAs this year. Go for Brasenose / St. Peters / Worchester or the like if you prefer a college closer to  the B School or GTC which has an off site accommodation ( RAC ) right across the school. I chose GTC as I wanted to stay at RAC, and I go to the college about once or twice a week for my Yoga classes, for formal dinners and to use their library. If you are still looking to make up your mind, have a look at this document , and this more from an undergrad pov.

  • Books: At the beginning of each term, the professor of each subject uploads the reading list on the Weblearn portal. There are recommended books in addition to the cases and papers that one needs to pre-read in preparation for a class (mandatory for CPA subjects but recommended to read nevertheless to benefit from the class discussions). Not all students end up buying or studying from the books and manage with course slides and notes or refer books in the libraries. However, towards the exam time it gets increasingly difficult to find a free book in the shelves. My college GTC’s library is well stocked up with management books and lends for three weeks ( Sainsbury library in the school lends for two days ). I had bought a few core books and used them occasionally over the year and for my assignments. Happy to sell them to an incoming student for a discount. Feel free to contact me if interested.
  • Private accommodation: Good time to start looking is towards later half of June / beginning of July. It is suggested to try and take a private tour of the place before signing the lease, or ask someone to do it on your behalf. Some times the accommodation turns out different from what is expected / appears in the pictures and description. Your college should help you in securing a letter for tax exemption from the council. For incoming batch of 2016/17 – make use of the Google doc prepared by my batch and reach out to people already living in private accommodations for specific advice.
  • No, we don’t wear formals to classes every day. Only during the first few days of the Launch to feel business-y enough upon arrival. And on days when there is a company presentation right after class. And then of course, certain days when we find ourselves up for some #ItsAnOxfordThing experience and decide to dress up fancy to the class with prosecco thrown in for everyone.
  • If you are targeting Banking or Management Consulting jobs, be prepared to apply soon after arriving here as their recruitment cycles are usually quite early on in the year. It is good to have a Plan B in case you do not make the cut. For your own good, have an idea of what do you want to do with your life and how do you plan to use your time here to achieve that. It is fine if you are clueless yet, a lot of students figure out their calling over the year or even change their post MBA plans they had initially made for themselves. Make good use of the time here to look within and understand what do you really want to do.
  • For the Indians – there are plenty of Indian restaurants with decent Indian food ( for better food go to London / Wembley / Southall ) and stores with Indian groceries. Nearly every thing is available in Oxford. Tell your moms to not panic. Perhaps carry a pressure cooker if you will. But really, do not come to Oxford only to look for Indian food all the time, defeats the purpose of immersing yourself in an international experience. Else befriend the guy from Currydoor and Dosa Park opposite SBS. Or better learn how to cook.
  • MBATs are fun. A lot of fun. Try not to miss.

I’ll write more soon. For now, I am off to bed before it dawns upon me that fourth last week of my MBA course is barely 6 hours away. Yikes.

 

 

Pause. Breathe. Resume.

6 weeks down Hilary and I am convinced why they call it Hell-ary. The term is a constant assault on the senses. As I write this post, my planner stares at me with reminders of  9 assignments that turn in the next four weeks. No longer can I use stunts from my undergrad days where I dunk in copious amount of caffeine a night before the deadline to pull an all nighter and manage to turn in my submissions on time.

We got our marks for three core courses from Michaelmas, including the GOTO module. Pleased to find out that I managed a distinction in two. Unless you’re someone who’s rigorously aiming for the Dean’s list, a reasonable amount of effort and preparation will ensure a decent performance in the subjects. Oxford average is around 62, and while reaching the distinction mark of 70 needs extra hard work, 50 or less means below the passing threshold. Keeping consistent with the course work and submissions is good enough to keep one afloat. One classmate put it brilliantly for me over dinner, this program is like a treadmill – you need to keep up with the pace else it doesn’t take much to fall off the grid.

The course is intense, the and there are just so many interesting events and activities happening all the time in the school and outside, that it is impossible not to fret on what you’re missing out on at any given moment. It is easy to slip into the abyss of being at a place and wanting to be at 5 other places that you’d rather be. FOMO is a real thing.

I often find myself in situations where it gets overwhelming for me to prioritise my tasks and plan my schedule. I have begun to relentlessly use a pocket dairy for jotting down every single thing that I need to do and calendar to block time for any activity that I know is happening around me. Going back to them every now and then helps me plan my day ahead and also reflect on what all I have done.

All said and done, it is essential to keep reminding oneself that there is much more to this one year at the city of dreaming spires than worrying about exams and assignments and jobs and unending social events. When the stress seems to be piling up and you see yourself slowly yielding to the pressure, pause and focus on the moment you are in and not the ones you’re missing. Realise that you cannot do everything and every one around you is scrambling through the same , if you look beyond their apparent comfortably floating selves.

I make it a point to take one hour out every Sunday for my yoga sessions, where I am able to switch off from all the chaos around me and declutter my head. It helps me to bring my focus back to the moment I am in and concentrate on breath, which is a liberating feeling.

Find that one activity, whatever it may be, that helps you to pause breathe and recharge before you get back for the next lecture….or assignment…..or a bop!

 

HT: Week 1 and 2

Hilary Term has only started and we can feel the heat already here at Said Business School. The two weeks have been packed with activities and submissions, giving a peek into what will follow for the next 10 weeks.

Week 1 kick started with an introductory lecture on Entrepreneurship at Nelson Mandela Lecture Hall. Professor Hellman ‘s lectures and sessions delightful to attend and this one was a good antidote of sort for us still hungover from post exam holiday. We were introduced to frameworks and tools that assist in devising an effective business plan and inculcate an entrepreneurial mindset.

As part of Hilary Term course we are required to do an Entrepreneurship Project (EP) in a group where we work on a business idea and prepare a complete business plan and market strategy. The plan will be pitched to a panel of venture capitalists and industry experts invited from outside the school towards the end of the term. My groupmates and I are excited about our idea and on our first round of presentations we received encouraging response from Oxford based startup incubator that offered to support us should we plan to pursue our idea later on! Many groups in the past have gone ahead with their EP and have started their own ventures, and while our primary objective from this project is to learn and assimilate the nuances of entrepreneurship, we are open to the idea of our project materialising to something more concrete in future.

On Monday we also had an award ceremony to acknowledge and celebrate top GOTO projects. Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford (GOTO) is an integrated module in our course where students work on complex global challenges being faced today and how we as business students can help address them. My group focused on the water draught problem in California and the impact it had on the almond farming in the region, which during the course of our project we unearthed was made far more complex due to various politico-economic factors and players in the entire ecosystem. I was delighted to find out that our project was recognised in the Top 10, for which we were awarded certificates of appreciation in the ceremony!

Week 1 and 2 also ascertained why I am grateful for being here – for having the opportunity to meet and interact with wonderful people from various backgrounds. Last Wednesday I attended a session on Self-Care and Leadership by Dr. Kurt April, where he talked about managing stress and maintaining a healthy mental and physical lifestyle which one tends to sideline in one’s daily race to always being on the top of things. I find these sessions extremely helpful during the MBA when one is inundated with multiple tasks and it is not unusual to often feel stressed out and overwhelmed. I also went for two formal dinners in each week, one at my own college GTC where I invited a classmate whom I had not spoken with much last term. We both were planning since last term to hang out for and finally took to the formal dinner for spending some good time. The other was with a good friend from the batch at Keble College and a mathematics DPhil scholar, also a third generation Indian. Interesting conversations ensued on politics, religion, Indian diaspora and philosophy.

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Keble College was established in 1870, originally constituted only for men until 1979 when it opened doors for women. The college’s distinctive red-bricked Neo-Gothic architecture is much talked about still, with the background story that its architect William Butterfield was heavily criticised for the presumably ‘ugly’ campus and non adherence to Oxford traditions. Hard to believe that a campus this magnificent was held controversial! Also a little note for the benefit of those interested- Keble dinner hall holds formal dinners all week long, while at my college GTC it is only twice a week which makes it comparatively harder to secure a reservation.

Week 2 came full force with lectures including 2 new electives, assignments, presentations and job interviews packed throughout the schedule. The two electives I chose for this term are Corporate Valuation and Strategy & Innovation. Both the courses, albeit demanding, are challenging and have excellent faculty teaching us. S&I had us reading 100+ pages and submitting our first assignment even before the first class, which was on how technologies emerge and evolve with growing markets. I am excited about this course and hope to keep pace with the extensive reading involved. The reason for taking Corporate Valuation was to get a deeper dive into Finance that I am rather petrified of. I hope that by the end of this term, I will be at a pedestal where I don’t dork around whenever drops the F bombs in conversations.

That’s all for now, I hope to write on this blog as and when I am able to steal some rare ‘me time’. Also I have been receiving a lot of requests from prospective applicants and new admits to write more on the admissions process, which I will cover in coming week. Off to a conference now at Pembroke College on Women in Boardroom and diversity at workplace!

New year, new term

Michaelmas term officially got over on the 18th, by when a lot of classmates had already taken off for their christmas vacation. I too headed off to Edinburgh for a few days before Christmas with a small group of batchmates. We had an exciting time exploring the city and the highlands, and decided to visit again over the year when the temperature is more friendly. Needless to say, it was a much needed break for me – I used this opportunity to switch off, reflect on what the past three months meant to me and what I hoped to expect from the coming year.

After ringing in the new year from various corners of the world (mine was relatively quieter with brother at London), the batch started pouring back into Oxford for the revision week. We were done with Analytics exam in MT Week 9, but Business Finance and Technology- Operations exams were due for HT Week 0. Still hungover from the vacation, it was a challenge to get around Cash Flows, Asset Pricing, Process optimizations, 3Ms and what not. I decided to study in a small group – locked in a room in the school – where we split topic among ourselves and brainstormed together on concepts and past exam papers. This strategy personally worked well for me as there was a lot to learn from each other’s experiences and also ensured none of us slacked off with our pace.

We all braved our way through the two exams – dressed in the traditional subfusc, pink carnations this time for luck, wading our way through in swarms to the examination halls. I am pretty satisfied with my performance, although in hindsight I feel I could have put more effort in Operations theory (was dreading Finance and spent most of my time on it).

On Friday, there Experience Weekend at Said for students with an admission offer for next batch. I along with 4 others from my batch got an opportunity to interact and share our experience with the offer holders, followed with one on one conversations in an informal setting. We were happy to talk to them about our experience and hopefully helped address most of their apprehensions about life after joining the program. I did not get to attend the Experience Weekend during my admission process due to work commitments, but I would highly encourage applicants to avail this opportunity to learn more about theschool and their people. Getting an MBA and choosing the school that is the right fit for one’s expectations from an MBA is a crucial decision, open days as these give a great chance to help make that informed selection.

HT Week 0 concluded with a formal dinner at Exeter College, with the dean, some members of the faculty and advisory along with potential incoming students and more batchmates. Formal dinners are an intrinsic part of the Oxford culture wherein members of the University dress up for attending dinner in a hall and masters cloaked in robes say grace (with an exception of few ‘non-religious colelges’) at the high table and others follow suit prior to eating. Dinners are great way to socialise outside of the business school and with the wider university community, something that makes studying at Oxford a unique experience.

A brief about Exeter – close to 800 years old, this is the fourth oldest college in the University and was an all-males institution until 1979. The college has one of the most beautifully designed chapel and also boasts of some of the most celebrated alumni, including the author J.R.R Tolkein and also J.K. Rowling as the honorary fellow. Each college is unique in its own way and has a distinct characteristic to it. The more I learn about these places, I feel priviledged and humbled to be walking down the same alleys that have centuries of history and grandeur to them.

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It’s late in the night and I should end my post here. The weather forecast hints at the possibility of mild snowfall tonight, I am excited!

Matriculation and Week 1.

Time is running at a lightening speed here. I now realize that when seniors said the year will go by really fast, they meant it quite literally. Each day is packed with a bagful of activities, all of which need to be fitted around the seven hours of classroom lectures. And the classes have only just begun!

340 of us from 2015-16 batch, with 31% female representation, come from 54 different nationalities. This diversity makes up for a very enriching experience in the class and I am enjoying getting to know others from up close. Last week we were divided into 4 sections, and I’m in section B which I must mention is an extremely dynamic and energectic bunch. Each section is further broken down into study groups of 5 students each. My study group has (apart from ofcourse me, a Techie from India), a Financial Analyst from Michigan US, a Copywriter from Canada, a Finance major from Kenya and an entrepreneur from Australia. That’s quite an impressive mix, and I think I am youngest in the group.

Apart from Technology and Operations which is for 1.5 hours, other lectures (Analytics, Strategy, Business Finance, Leadership) are 3.5 hours long with a 30 min break in between. This Week (MT W1*), we also had GOTO Design Thinking workshop where we outlined and discussed the water scarcity problem, which is the GOTO topic for us this year (read more about it here). I gather that Dean Tufano is quite passionate about GOTO and the aim for including this as a subject in the term is to get us thinking about adressing large scale problems concerning us globally.  I’ll confess that getting back to the classroom rigor after years is not an easy feat, I am absolutely relying on the coffee to make it through (bless them for giving 10 free drinks per week!).

The high point for the week for me was ofcourse the Matriculation ceremony yesterday. Matriculation refers to the ceremony which marks the formal induction to the University records. This is in contrast to India where the term loosely refers to completion of High School! It also got a bit funny after all the pictures from the ceremony put up on Facebook, where my friends back home confused it with graduation (“but you just went there, how come you’re wearing the graduation cap already?“).

Going by the ancient Oxford tradition, we are required to wear the academic dress for all our exams and other academic ceremonies. The attire is called the ‘sub-fusc’ – dark suit, white blouse, black skirt/ trousers, mortar board/ cap, black ribbon / bow tie, black socks and shoes – alongwith the graduate gown which is longer than the undergrad (commoner gown). By rule we are not supposed to wear our mortar boards on our heads until we have ‘earned the right’ to do so upon graduation.


 The matriculation ceremony in itself was no more than a 15 minute affair at the Sheldonian Theatre, where we were led to by Dr Gerald Myatt (the Dean of Degrees) from our college campus (Matriculation takes place with your college, not the entire MBA batch) after group and individual photographs. Till now we were affiliated to our colleges, by matriculating we became part of the University of Oxford. This goes back to the medieval tradition where Matriculation was an examination conducted for students to prove their worthiness for admission to the University. Those formally inducted had their details recorded in a register, which also tracked their progress over their courses. Over the years, once the colleges and departments began to conduct their own admission process and with external assessments, the examination was done away with but the Matriculation remained the formal University ceremony. It is mighty impressive to see a University so soaked in history and equally humbling to be a part of the same.

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My view of the Sheldonian

I found a video from 2012’s matriculation ceremony, which will give you an idea of what the ceremony is like.

What made this cermeony the most memorable and special for me is that my parents were around too, although they weren’t permitted to see the ceremony from the inside. And that my big brother also matriculated from Kellogg the same day (he studies masters in Computer Science)!. I couldn’t have been happier 🙂

ps: *MT W1 – Michaelmas Term Week 1.

Michaelmas, Hillary and Trinity terms here are more commonly reffered to as MT, HT and TT in Oxford lexicon.