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Rankings Don’t Matter. Go Where You’ll Find the Conversations You Want to Have

My MBA journey: Eileen Chen, Oxford Saïd MBA, Class of 2019

Eileen Chen, Oxford Saïd MBA ’19, contributed this piece to Touch MBA. Eileen was previously a Consumer Insights Analyst at Keurig Canada. She got her Bachelors of Commerce in Marketing from McGill University. If you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

Why was attending the Oxford MBA the best decision of your life?

There are a thousand and one reasons why the year and a half of gruelling MBA applications culminated in the best year of my life. The number one overarching theme is an opening of the mind: like many MBAs, I had spent four years micro-focused in one industry, in one company, in one function, and in one country. Saïd Business School (part of Oxford University) opens the world to you in ways only an 800-year old university can. Having 300+ classmates from 62 countries has been a tremendous cultural experience. The convening power of Oxford can’t be underestimated either; I never thought I’d have the chance to hear from speakers like Hillary Clinton, Jude Law, the ex-President of South Africa, and a plethora of business leaders – all in the same year. Lastly and most importantly, Saïd Business School delivers on its promise of “tackling world-scale problems” through our Future of Energy project, a range of responsible business electives, and speakers and professors addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. I now feel like I know “something about everything,” and that my world view encapsulates so much more.

Also if you’re a Harry Potter fan, bonus points of studying here include wearing funny Harry Potter robes to exams and dinners, and studying in actual Harry Potter filming locations on a regular basis. Not exactly something I factored into school choice, but definitely not complaining.

You advise applicants to go where they’ll find the conversations they want to have. What were your favorite conversations at Oxford?

An Oxford MBA alum told me that when she was choosing between schools, she chose Oxford Saïd because she felt that the conversations she wanted to have were taking place here. A year later, I couldn’t agree more.

The unexpected conversations were the ones where I learned the most. For instance, I never thought I’d know so much about the future of Africa; after taking a mind-blowing international elective in Johannesburg with an incredibly knowledgeable professor, the stereotypes and assumptions my classmates and I had were shattered. More personally, the conversations I’ve had with people inside and outside the business school about communicating climate change have been major turning points in my career path. A popular topic and recurring theme at our business school is the future of capitalism; these conversations have been difficult, but inspiring as well.

As someone focused on building a career in sustainability, what should applicants know when they research and shortlist schools?

Research the environment and geography faculties at your university of choice and see what kind of events and opportunities exist there. I took advantage of the (way too) many events hosted by Oxford’s Martin School and School of Geography, as well as the student-led Oxford Climate Society. One of these led to my summer internship!

Also, it has been extremely helpful being one hour away from London, a hub with many startups, agencies, and companies at the forefront of sustainability. I’ve been truly grateful for the opportunity to pop in for coffee chats and to meet dream companies.

If anyone else is interested in this space, here are some podcasts and newsletters that were recommended to me which were helpful:

Generally, Scandinavian countries are also leading the way in terms of sustainability if London isn’t your thing! However, I have found that sustainability is present everywhere and anywhere, albeit in different forms. 

What’s the job search process like as an international student in the UK? 

To be honest, it’s quite tough. I came from a smaller city (Montreal) where it’s easier to get a job and where your networks are tighter. London is specifically a difficult market because it attracts many Europeans and international applicants at the same time (classic supply and demand). Also, not everyone knows what an MBA is, and therefore the value of it – but this is changing as MBAs become more commonplace.

Everything works out in the end though! I came into the MBA knowing I wanted to pursue the niche of marketing and sustainability, an industry which barely exists back in Canada. After many rejections and coffee chats, I’ve secured an internship, two projects and a full-time role in this space.

To give you an idea of how I arrived at this (lucky) position:

  • Internship: I’m currently interning as a Marketing intern for a local 15-person sustainability consultancy in Oxford, which I received after listening to one of the partners speak at anenvironmental conference in Oxford.
  • Two Projects: one project was conducted through the Circular Economy Lab with the London Waste and Recycling Board around communicating the circular economy, and the other was through an Executive MBA who wants help communicating the sustainability portion of her startup.
  • Full-time role: I’m extremely excited to start as Sustainability Communications Consultant for a marketing agency in London called Radley Yeldar in September. They have a growing sustainability practice consulting non-profits and corporations alike on communicating sustainability – I seriously could not have imagined a more perfect role for what I wanted to do. I cold contacted an employee after seeing this role open; luckily, he responded and was happy to talk. Couldnot be more thankful for his help and generosity!

It was immensely helpful that I started the MBA with a laser focus: it kept my priorities straight when there were 80 interesting events happening at a time. I’m not saying that you have to know exactly what you want to do, but coming in with an idea of paths to pursue and the impetus to prototype them is key to maximizing your precious time at the MBA.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that would help applicants? 

Rankings don’t matter. Saïd Business School was ranked #33 by the Financial Times when I applied, now it’s #13. Who knows what it’ll be in five years? The lifelong benefits I’m getting from this MBA have nothing to do with rankings; they’re the conversations you have, the people you meet, and the perspectives that change. I’ve learned so much in the way of soft skills by learning from my classmates; so really, when you visit schools, pay attention to the school culture and read between the lines.

For example, for one of the schools I interviewed at, I remember talking to students whowere “interested in social impact,” and yet none of them were aiming to work in the space after. Or, ask applicants about ways in which classmates have helped each other out, or how they’ve gotten to know people they wouldn’t have usually hung out with.

Since I’m here, I have to name drop some proof of how Oxford Saïd’s culture is inclusive:

  • 27 of us spend a few minutes every Sunday night creating a compiled calendar of all events to send to the cohort (and this is every Sunday for 9 months)
  • We hired two school buses to see three classmates participate in a televised Varsity rugby match between Cambridge and Oxford
  • A weekly “Blind Brunch” was organized to get to know MBAs in our cohort
  • Ladies created a dress-sharing platform for the many Oxford Balls
  • Thousands of coffee chats, tutorial sessions, company referrals, and more.

The “downside” is that we have to find venues around Oxford which can accommodate us traveling in large packs…

In all seriousness, even though we must soon leave our wonderful town, I’m certain this warm community will follow us wherever we go.

Side note: this community will quite literally follow us, since around 100 out of 300 Oxford MBAs tend to stay in London after graduation (regardless of Brexit). So, keep in mind that nearby cities are likely to be your recruitment focus post-MBA!  

Eileen Chen, Oxford Saïd MBA ’19, contributed this piece to Touch MBA. Eileen was previously a Consumer Insights Analyst at Keurig Canada. She got her Bachelors of Commerce in Marketing from McGill University. You can connect with her on LinkedInIf you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

Eileen and her classmates pre MBA Ball.

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