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It all went by so quickly. Reflecting on the many experiences that made up Michaelmas term 2004, the overriding feeling was just how rapidly 11 weeks had passed. The reality is though, that on a one-year MBA there is no time to waste.
The weekly workload is tough and, honestly, at times one wonders whether it’s all worth it – approximately 21 hours of classes, two or three assignments to prepare and or submit and more than 500 pages of preparatory reading – all this before any revision.
With this level of intensity, which I had underestimated at the outset of the course, one day simply blends into the next. It’s all unbelievably exciting and stimulating, running on adrenalin, but at the same time absolutely physically exhausting to the point where five to six hours of sleep per night is the norm for most of the Oxford MBAs. All that said and notwithstanding the challenges, I have loved every minute of it.
A key influence during Michaelmas term was my study group.
At Oxford, most of the assessed practical work is completed in groups and everyone is allocated to a group of four or five students.
My group was made up of me, a Korean venture capitalist, a Greek telecommunications expert, a South African geologist and an Indian consultant.
On paper we looked great but, as the old saying goes: “A team of champions does not make a champion team.”
We successfully completed all of our assigned tasks but getting to this point was often very inefficient and painful for all of us; the result – enhanced stress levels for all.
I have, however, learned a number of important lessons about managing conflict amongst peers and making peer group teamwork more effective.
This will benefit me as not only as I move forward with my studies but also upon my return to professional life.
The final week of Michaelmas term found us all again in the formal dress known at Oxford as subfusc and presenting ourselves for three days of assessment at the examination schools.
Seated in a magnificent hall, giant portraits of great men from past centuries looked down on us as we all tried our best to demonstrate the knowledge acquired over those weeks of learning.
For me the experience was initially quite overwhelming. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t done an exam for almost 10 years.
Maybe it was the whole Oxford exam experience.
Maybe I was just too tired and simply trying to hard.
Whatever the reason, it certainly affected me early on in the process and we’ll just have to wait and see what the results show in mid-February.
My wife Deborah and two year old son Michael have been a tremendous support to me even though we do not see as much of each other as we would all like.
A programme of this nature is very tough on relationships and families. All my colleagues with partners and families appear to have been affected by the intensity and huge time commitment during the term.
Even the weekends have been a challenge for me in successfully managing the workload and actually making valuable time for, and contributing meaningfully to, my family.
The thought of weekend breaks in the UK or Europe went out the window very early on.
It was interesting to note that there was as much relief on the faces of partners of MBA students as on the faces of the students themselves, come the end of exams.
In fact, one of the great things about the Oxford MBA class is that the bonds between accompanying partners are almost as strong as those between the students themselves.
Michael has taken well to his first term of nursery school and has discovered rugby so any free time I get is now spent with him in the park or in the yard throwing the ball around. Deborah is using her limited free time trying to keep fit with a new exercise regime.
We bought a cheap car and this has allowed Deborah and Michael to get around and see some more of Oxfordshire and bordering counties during term time and for all of us to get out and about as a family during the Christmas vacation.
The break has given us a chance to spend a few quality weeks together and although we were all a little homesick on Christmas Day, January 2005 marks the beginning of a steady stream of visitors from home, both family and friends, for the duration of our time in Oxford.
From a personal perspective, I bought the bike I was considering when I wrote my last diary in October.
I am now cycling around Oxford, six miles a day to and from the business school. While this is certainly more invigorating than the bus it is definitely not as dry.
I did start rowing with Keble College, however Deborah put her foot down about the 5.30 a.m. starts four days a week – I was never going to be able to do this for long, so I had a short-lived career as an Oxford college oarsman.
In fact, while I was twice as old as my crew mates – most were 18 – I think that I was the most technically proficient, so that is at least something to take away.
I have managed to drag myself away from the books every now and then. I particularly enjoyed being one of two Australians (wearing the colours) in a packed pub in late November watching Australia beat England at rugby at Twickenham.
I actually managed to visit this home of English rugby the following week for the 123rd Varsity Match, where I relished the convincing Oxford victory.
Now, as I write, it’s all about to begin again – 11 packed and extremely challenging weeks. I can hardly wait.