Oxford EMBA Module 2

This time the module looked more like a regular study session. We had two dominating subjects that took 80% of time every day: ‘Decision and Data Analytics’ (Robert Taylor) and ‘Leadership Fundamentals’ (this week – Sue Dobson).

However, the first thing that was interesting for me was our GOTO tutorial session, as after it I had my first mark. Well, they could have been better, both the session and the mark. The mark was B. I was good enough in the presentation, but missed the point of the question a little. I see that it will take more time to get used to the academic writing style. The session was to be a kind of ‘tutorial’, whatever that means, but in fact we just exchanged some ideas on the topic and broke up.  In this project, the bigger part of the work is on the Internet with the reading lists and research, and our next step will be a serious challenge: we have to find a person, who is an expert in Big Data, and record an interview with them. I am wondering if I can get to the Main Data Centre of Russian Railways, or even Deutsche Bahn, covering myself with the name of Oxford. It would be great, as I know a lot about the possible usage of data there, so I can prepare a good plot for the discussion.

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Formal dinner at Rhodes House. It was a little bit dark so I could not make a better photo.

By the way, social life now boils over. We have a group on Facebook, people plan trips for this year (it will be Tel Aviv and Moscow), and every evening something is planned, from tennis to speed dating clubs. Once per module we will have a formal college dinner, but this week I had two of them: another was in my college. A formal dinner is a very beautiful event with great food, but honestly, I cannot understand how they tolerate those dinners every day (we attend them only once a week, but for the fulltime students they are just regular dinners). For me they are too long, but here it is a lifestyle. Oxford has a very unusual mix of old formal rules and at the same time full freedom, and informal style in cases where I expected formality. In general it looks natural, but it is different from the things I have seen elsewhere.

Every day this week started with Decision and Data Analytics. We have finished with that course, and now we just have to prepare two assignments. One is for small groups, it is a case on multiply regression, and the second is individual and on decision trees. Though we had started from regular lectures, classes soon became a mix of lectures, seminars and group work. Surprisingly, the final tasks appeared to be much more complex than I expected. Step by step, we finished with the group assignment, so we do not need to do it distantly, but even with my experience in statistics I made many mistakes.

The DDE course was the first more or less clear case of group work. Only here I found how bad I am at group work. All that I did for the last 15 years was work with my employees, or clients, or partners. That is, I worked in groups with clear roles and hierarchy. However, in a group of six equal people without any role and with urgent necessity to organise our work, we were lost. It is one of the things I have to learn here.

Another major course of the week was much easier. Each session of Leadership Fundamentals consisted of some lecture materials, group discussion of a case and then discussion with the class. The only really hard part was to read the case, as they were about 20 pages each. The course was fun. I cannot say that we studied a lot during classes. Classical study was moved to our readings, and cases were something like a bridge between our life situations and theory. I finished this week’s part of the course without any idea what to do, but with some guidance for further study. I think it is expectable, taking into account the field of study.

In the middle of the week we had a session called “Asset Profitability in Practice”. It sounded like a financial course, but in fact it was a fun game with very important results. In this game, a half of the class (about 35 people) imitated work of a factory. Everybody had his or her roles and we ran through three cycles of work trying to organize it optimally. Of course, I understood that manufacturing processes can be optimised, but I did not expect the extent of optimisation. We got two times higher production volume in the third circle and finished 10 times more orders in time. It looked like a silly game, but all those situations, when you are trying to do your best, failing, then getting things done and being able to see what helps, make the base for the application of theory. This course was a warm-up before Indian module, where David Upton waits us with his cases and ‘Operations Management’ course.

This week I tried to use Oxford’s libraries. They are good as places for work, though The Sainsbury Library (business part of the main library, it occupies two stories of the central part of the SBS building) sometimes is quite noisy. The Keble’s library was beautiful and quite, but it is too far from the business school to be a place for work. I still have not grasped most of library resources. They are vast. In fact, it is possible to get access to any book, magazine, paper article or database in the world. We get all the necessary books from the business school, but it gives interesting possibilities for additional research.

GOTO project

I have finished the first assignment in the EMBA course. It was not from one of the basic subjects. Instead it related to a project that is a part of the programme. The project called GOTO, Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford. The idea is to study one actual trend of modern society and to do some standard analytical work on it. The project is managed through a special website, where we can see our tasks, reading list, other students’ papers and so on. The site is a little bit slow, as are all the other Oxford websites, but I like it.

Our topic is Big Data. The reading list for the first stage includes a book ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’ by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (he was our guest lecturer at Module 1) and a dozen of articles. However to write a good essay, I had to study many new technical things too. NoSQL, Hadoop, Node.js etc. The last one I knew and even tried to use before, but others were new concepts.

The assignment for the first stage was an essay, and the subtopic was ‘privacy and Big Data’. The next stage will end with an interview with some person who is an expert in Big Data, and at the last stage we will analyse the possible applications of Big Data in our companies.

It is very interesting to think about what I will get for the essay. I never tried writing one  before, at least I never wrote essays in English that would be graded.

Oxford EMBA Module 1

The first module has started at Oxford. The neverending autumn has just ended in Moscow and mid-January hard frost season has begun, so it was twice as pleasant to get from -20 to +10. The weather forecast promised 70% rain probability, but finally we got into the rest 30% on most of the days.

On Sunday we had ”day zero” of studying. There were a couple of events where we could come to know each other. The second one was quite simple, a lunch at the Ashmolean Museum: a beautiful place, good food, nice talks, but nothing special. And the starting event was quite unusual. It was called Oxford Pursuit and was created so that we could get to know each other and the city faster. All the people were divided into groups of four, got the questions (18 blocks 2 questions each) and had to find the answers to them within two hours. The blocks were made in a way that one question could be answered with the information from the Internet, but to answer another one we had to find a right building in the city and come there. For example, we had to find the text under a painting in a bar of a famous hotel, or sometimes just have a picture taken in front of the solution.

We lost. Chances to win were high; we had a person who had lived in Oxford and knew the city well, but we did not take the questions too seriously, purely guessing some last ones. But it was fun and made some difference in the flow of questions “Who are you? Where are you from?” typically following an attempt of 80 people to get to know each other and making one’s head swing.

Monday

Monday morning was allotted for organizational lectures and some more socializing. After lunch we had two more case-based classes.

David Upton started. I think he was the first on schedule to wake everyone up. He is a very emotional and lively teacher. The case was very difficult, or to be more precise, very detailed one, about 15 pages of description. Group discussions were immediately turned into common dispute. It was interesting not only from the problematic point of view, but also as an example of teacher’s work.

Tim Morris (Leadership course teacher) is a calmer person. The case was easier, but it led to even more active discussions. An interesting thing: he had the longest list of reading for the class, but the class itself did not touch theory at all. As far as I understand, it is the common style: everything that can be read is read, and no time is devoted to it at the lectures.

Tuesday

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Mornings begin here. It is the main hall, and for group discussions we either go to classrooms or sit at the tables in coffee breaks room.

Again the day started with several lectures not related to the main course. Mungo Wilson began with some kind of an announcement of what problems were in principle going to be discussed. He will be reading something serious in summer, and now it was sooner not a lecture, but an entertaining talk on certain economic research works. It is interesting that at the lecture we were discussing the name of the economist who took the Nobel Prize this year, and it was Robert Shiller. A year ago I tried to watch his lectures on financial markets on Yale website, but after John Merriman’s story and Ben Polak’s game theory I watched there, he seemed to be too boring. And he turned out to be a serious guy! Which does not make him a strong lecturer anyway.

Then organizational lectures followed: exams rules and regulations, plagiarism, working with library funds. I had an impression that they run lecturer preparing courses in some local theatre, as everyone who is going to talk has not only a vivid own style but the whole scenic image. It is especially pleasant when the topic is potentially dull, but in fact it turns into some funny stuff.

For the evening we had a long lecture on leadership and decision making with Owen Darbishire. There was a case again and this case turned into an educative story. Owen gave its name in the reading list, I had found it on the Internet, read it and already had a thoroughly thought decision handy. Others in the group (the discussions took place in groups of six) were reading on the spot and I had an obvious advantage in knowing the situation. But I have not guessed that I should have taken the initiative, and overestimated the measure I should be agreed to, so as a result we came to the hall without common decision. Next time I should think more seriously about argumentation of my opinion.

At the end of the day there was another preliminary lecture. There was a guest speaker, Victor Mayer-Schönberger, but all in all it was the announcement of GOTO project, one of thesis work types that we would have to do.

Wednesday. Colleges

The day began with Allan Morrison’s lecture on principles of forming markets regulating mechanisms in the context of how the role of investment banks was changing throughout the last 200-300 years (well, this is a significant trait of education here, the analysis for the past couple of centuries comes out from time to time). Also we discussed essay writing approaches and had a lecture on strategy by Mark Ventresca at the end of the day. It was not even on strategy in its classical representation, but on how this term can be broadened.

The main event of the day was visiting colleges. The thing is that the schedule is very tight, and not many people live right in college, so almost no one had a chance to visit it. And today the middle of the day was allotted especially for it, so everyone went there to get acquainted and register.

Well, my choice was not a mistake at all. It is even cooler inside than outside. There is a very nice inner yard, an awesome chapel, dining space, and library. The library is simply wonderful. At that MCR looks like a normal student dorm, with billiard and a bottle of vodka behind the fridge. By the way, surprisingly I see people buying vodka or beer in Oxford stores, but I saw no one buying whiskey or wine. Elegant looking girls coming out of Sainsbury’s with a bottle of vodka as the only purchase look charming (but they seem to usually mix it in cocktails here, instead of drinking it pure).

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This is what the college looks like

Here is an interesting detail. The student who arrives at college signs the obligation to follow its rules in a special book. So, this book was started in 1870 and contains the signatures of all students for the past 140 years.

Thursday. Matriculation and group work

Today a solemn ceremony of admission to university students (matriculation) took place. From the one hand, it is very unusual: special clothing, old-time procedures etc. From the other hand, the story will not be too interesting. It reminds a tourist excursion a little.

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Before the matriculation

The following events were much more unusual. If group work before implied only small tasks, today there were two really serious problems. Each looked like a game. The first one really was a game, another one was more serious and combined group work coordination and anti-crisis training. Personally for me it turned out to be really a complicated task where I failed a whole lot of elements, and all in all everything was highly educative. Now at last we have fixed working groups, so there still is an opportunity for learning to cooperate in this team.

In the evening, apparently as the continuation of matriculation there was a gala dinner at Trinity College. It was beautiful and tasty. One of the very pleasant impressions is always good food. As the dinner became the part of the whole process, the upshot is that I am submerged into ceaseless English speaking from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., or 14 hours a day. Now it is quite exhausting, but even after several days it eases off, so eventually it will pass.

Friday. Statistics and Excel

Almost all day on Friday was devoted to statistics and work in Excel. Both things have been my basic working instruments for many years, so I was mostly doing my own stuff, sometimes getting into action when the group was doing the exercises. But still statistics should be revised, as a part of terminology is different from the one I am used to, and a part of tests is required to be done in group. But all in all it was a boring day.

But it must be noted that that those for whom statistics was a new topic, were really happy with the teacher. It was the same person who was talking about the principles of carrying out the exams on Tuesday. One should try really hard to make a person who has, for example, legal education, not feel awful when within one day he is made to pass the way from understanding probability theory and statistical distribution to correlation and its application to economics. And make it in a way so that all the others do not fall asleep. But James Taylor succeeded. His manner of teaching is a bit theatrical (judging by my own experience, I can say that one should be somewhat brave for it) and is as a result easily perceived.

Saturday. Oxford Union

In the middle of the week we were told that Business School provided us with lifetime membership in Oxford Union, one of the oldest debate societies. On Saturday trial debates were organized for us, just in the team of student Business School and with quite a typical topic.

Debates take place between two groups, one is supporting the announced topic while the other is opposing. Each group has four speakers and a support team. I took the risk and enrolled as a speaker to one of the groups. As a result I was writing my speech half a night, then watched different speakers at ted.com, Amanda Palmer’s speech already known to me among them, decided that I did everything wrong and spent the second half of the night rewriting the text. It turned out to be quite good, but already while speaking I forgot or mixed a certain part of my ideas. It was a very interesting experience, especially for removing psychological barriers with giving talks in English.

Then the module was over. Everyone went home taking 6-7 kilograms of books we got at the course, the task for the first essay (within GOTO project) and a lot of small things to complete in order to integrate into online part of the training.

The study has started

Study in Oxford starts long before the first arrival to the university. Yesterday I received access to the intranet website with pre-course study and information. It will take a lot of work, as even the preliminary reading list counts about two dozen of articles and a couple of books, and not the lists are ready yet for all classes. I knew that the study will start from a course on general management, but now it looks like general management will be completely self-study, as there is no general management class in the timetable, but there is an announcement about some assessment for that course within Module 1. Also it is possible that general management classes do exist, but have other names. All lectures in the module have their own names, and it is not clear now how they relate to formal courses and exams. I expect to see that later, when the information about assessments is published.

I am afraid that, taking into account the current state of the timetable, this assessment can be held only in the night. The timetable for the first module looks as follows: it will start on Sunday, 19th of January, and end on Saturday, 25th.

On Sunday we have some social events that end with a dinner. The main part of the module lasts from Monday to Friday. Every day starts at 8:30 and is packed with classes and events until dinner at 19:00 or 19:30.

The plans for each day:

  • Monday:
    • Registration and welcome lecture from the dean
    • Students introduction
    • David Upton “Case based learning”
    • Introduction to IT services
    • Tim Morris “Leadership”
  • Tuesday:
  • Wednesday:
  • Thursday:
    • Jon Stokes “Personality at Work”
    • Matriculation Ceremony
    • Groups & Team Work
    • Mari Sako “Global Business”
  • Friday:
    • James Taylor “Decision & Data Analytics”
    • Hamish Magoffin “Excel Workshop”
  • Saturday:
    • Debate (Oxford Union)

 

Organisational process

After choosing a college, the process of preparation for study increases its pace sharply. In the last 10 days I have received a contract with the business school, application form for the college, contacts of my mentor in the business school, a letter for the embassy (to apply for a visa) and some other messages and requests. Most of those documents were just organisational steps, but a couple of facts are worth mentioning in detail.
Unfortunately, as the study is part-time, my visa will be of the ‘student visitor’ category. This type of visa does not give one the right to stay permanently or even work in the UK. I have no idea why I would do that, but it would be something like a new degree of freedom: one more country open for business, and I value such things per se, even without any plan to use them.
The other interesting step was my mentor, who appointed last week. Now, for the first time, I could ask him what mentors do in general. So now I can describe it here. The idea is that the mentor is a person who studied on the programme and can answer any of your questions: what should you think about, who is who among the faculty and subjects and other things on your study. Probably, when the study starts, I will have many other sources of information, but now it is a great chance, and I am in the process of creating a long list of questions.

Keble

I have just received the confirmation that Keble has offered me membership. It was the first college in my list, so I am completely happy with the state of things in this affairs.

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Keble College’s Liddon Quad, Photograph by Ani Kojoyan, copied from http://www.ox.ac.uk/

Though the role of colleges for Executive MBA students is still unclear. I tried to look for recommendations on choosing a college on the internet and asked people from faculty and alumni, but received contradictory advice. The main ideas were:

  1. Choose a college not far from the business school. This excluded several colleges from the list, but not many.
  2. Choose an old and beautiful college. It is not a part of your study, it is more a part of your feelings from the study, so why not making it memorable. It was the exact reason for my choice from a short list of colleges.
  3. Choose a college that offers the courses you are interested in. It is strange, but the college guide for MBA students does not include this information. However, it can be found on the Oxford’s website in the section for undergraduates.
  4. And the contradictory part:
      1. Choose a college having a lot of MBA students to be with ‘your’ kind of people in the college; or:
      2. Choose a college with majority of undergraduates. The explanations were always vague, but this idea was promoted by the most experienced people among those I asked, so I just have taken it on trust.

My choice was Keble. Old and beautiful; not next to the business school, but not too far; offers my courses; has majority of undergraduates and a couple of dozens of MBA students. Will see what it means in practice.

Acceptance Rate

A week ago, I visited an event of Said Business School for those applying for EMBA. A little bit late for me, as I had already been admitted, but at the meeting I could ask some questions. One of them was about the acceptance rate. The official version is that they have roughly 200 applications for 70 places, which means 35%. To be honest, I believe that the rate is overstated, and the real rate falls between 40 and 50%. The reason for the doubt is that the acceptance rate of 25-30% is typical for American business schools, and their European peers usually have a higher rate. Even so, Oxford is a fast growing school, and its EMBA programme has a good rating, so that result could be plausible.

The acceptance rate is usually published for the regular MBA in the US. It looks like the publications there are mandatory and audited, as all business schools participate in the process. However, even if the numbers are correct, their meaning can be misleading. To explain that, let’s compare the two cases that I know personally: the CFA exam and entering an MBA.

The person taking the CFA exam passes or gets nothing. There is no alternative result, and in that case for the 40% pass rate there are 60% who lose. The pass rate explains the difficulty rate of the exam for those, who expect to take the exam. In the case of an MBA, you can apply to 2, 5 or 10 business schools, the cost of each attempt is about $100 and one additional day of your time. The admission criteria are deliberately vague and nobody knows their chance, so why not try?

As a result, the average number of applications per student is somewhere between 3 and 5, and the acceptance rates must be multiplied by this number. The acceptance rate of 20% means that 60-100% of the applicants were accepted by one of the schools. Everyone is a winner in this case. Moreover, most applicants apply to at least one of the top business schools, even if they have almost no chance of being accepted. That boosts the visible competition in those schools beyond the clouds. Therefore, those beautiful numbers of acceptance rates less than 10% reflect the business school’s status, but not the level of real competition.