Tanja Ohlson


DPhil Programme in Management Studies




Corporate Communications


Started in 2015

By Tanja Ohlson

The numbers game of a business DPhil

At a top business school, numbers are very important. Rankings are ever-present, the GMAT or GRE score is a constant concern for applicants and once admitted, a number grade decides about passing or failing every course. Numbers then also play a key role in industry once we leave the academic world.

Why am I even thinking about all of this? Possibly because I had to deal with lots of numbers in the last few weeks and I am not a numbers person. My first class, Statistical Research Methods, ended recently with what is hopefully the only exam I have to sit here at Oxford. (All other courses are graded based on courseworks)

While playing around with lots of numbers in preparation for the exam, I realized a few things that go way beyond statistics.

1. I used to be ok with numbers as a kid. But my career before this DPhil was in communication and journalism. Some time during these years, when the main tools I used were words, numbers and maths got difficult. Numbers had become a weakness for me. Yet, when I put in the work, statistics was not that hard any more. I am pretty sure I passed the exam- and I am looking forward now to taking on new challenges and overcoming other weaknesses.

2. I am currently working on an analysis of texts with one of my supervisors- and the data we get from this analysis is numerical. I surprised myself when I noticed that I enjoy this work! Unlike in a high school maths class, numbers in management are never “just” numbers and statistics. They represent something- and during this research I cared about and knew exactly what they were all about. Thinking about numerical data in this complex context is great fun!

3. There was still a point during my work on the research project when I did not know how to continue. Thankfully, there are lots of people on my programme and in the wider business school that are incredibly smart and very helpful. I knew that I could ask them for advice. It is not necessary to know everything. Being aware of a weakness and knowing when to get help is a much better skill.

The most important lesson, though, has nothing to do with numbers. I know now that I don’t have to be a numbers person in order to be successful in a business school. My strengths are in other areas and that is not a bad thing. On my way to a DPhil I will have to decide which strengths to play to, which weaknesses to overcome and which limitations to accept.

That way, I will hopefully find my personal nook in the huge field of strategy management research. Thankfully, I can count on “strength in numbers” during that time: my supervisors, other faculty and staff of Said Business School and my fellow DPhil students will support me- at least if I ask for advice when I need it.



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