Joe Hooper






Public Administration


Sep 2016 - May 2018

By Joe Hooper

Of Poets and Quants

One of the many valuable aspects of Oxford University is the sheer number and diversity of groups and communities you can (or must) be involved with and/or belong to. There are study groups, working groups for assignments, communities that form around your occupation, sporting, or personal interests, those available through your College, and of course the Saïd Business School community and its alumni.

But even beyond these, there is a broader community you belong to without perhaps knowing it immediately, namely you are either a ‘Poet’ (meaning you have a liberal arts background) or a ‘Quant’ (business, financial, engineering or other numerically savvy individuals). This is not unique to Oxford, but as I learned in Module 2, it does affect your time in the EMBA programme.

Full disclosure, I am probably more of a ‘poet’ than most ‘Poets’ who have come through the doors of Saïd, for I actually did study poetry (the compelling song and verse of Leonard Cohen) in my MA. This involved a significant amount of time sitting around dressed in black drinking strong coffee, smoking bad cigarettes, and moodily discussing the true meaning of Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ and others.

But more to the point, this meant as I came to Module 2 on Analytics that I had very little (an overstatement if there was one) background in statistics, which was a point of concern given there were two marked assignments due shortly after the Module ended. Indeed this had weighed heavily on me even in the application process to the EMBA, though the immortal words of Kathy Harvey “Don’t panic!” did came to mind.

But this is where belonging to many communities and groups in Oxford comes to the fore. There is help everywhere in Oxford, within your class, within the faculty, within the Colleges, and beyond. Online resources ahead of the module and helpful websites were provided to help make shallower the steep learning curve. Dolores Romero spent seemingly endless hours after class to assist all fellow ‘Poets’ in making sense of the formulas. My fellow Balliol college students showed such patience as they walked me through the methods and approaches, and my colleague for the group assignment was graceful in his response to my pointed – if not off the mark – questions.

And so today as the first assignment of the EMBA class was submitted involving regression analysis, scatter plots, and more, I can look back and say that even the truest of Poet’s can don temporarily the guise of a Quant. And that as “99 percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story,” the other 51% requires a little bit of poetry from us all.

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  • mattstainer

    I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed in the last paragraph. When I started work as an buy side investment analyst after the certainties of an academic hard science training (well Chemistry with a bit of quantum mechanics thrown in!) I suddenly realised that business was generally a matter of opinion. The maths could help one plan and in some cases even help predict the future. However convincing non quants of the efficacy of one’s case was at least as important and if truth be told rather more important – particularly in the context of personal success.