Studying at Oxford through a pandemic

Studying at Oxford through a pandemic

Skoll Scholar and MBA alumna, Shiemaa Ahmed decided to take a year and study during a global pandemic. With a mass of uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic brought, Shiemaa still managed to make the most of her time at Oxford.

What made you decide to do an MBA during the pandemic?

I applied for the MBA in January 2020, before the pandemic. In the beginning, I didn’t know what I signed up for, but I did my Skoll Scholarship interview in the middle of lockdown at a time where my country, Sudan, was going through a political transition. At a time of two disrupting events in my life, it seemed like the perfect time to be a part of an institution thinking about and exploring global challenges and systems change.

At the time, we all didn’t know how to react to this new virus, countries’ policies were all over the place, some countries decided to go for a complete lockdown and others went for herd immunity approaches. It was a learning experience that resembled my own personal journey, we make decisions that we learn from and improve.

What were your preconceptions coming in?

I had visited Oxford for a conference in 2017, and I remember how vibrant it was, how it was possible to a college for lunch and sit with a future Noble price winner or a researcher who is publishing a book. Coming in during the pandemic, I was worried that I might not have this experience, I would not be able to connect to people and have spontaneous interactions or have the full ‘Oxford experience’. One of the main reasons I applied to Oxford is the depth of study in every area. I was hoping to be able to attend sessions and seminars at other colleges and departments. Thankfully, many of these were available online, and some were available for the first time because they were able to go online.

What surprised you most?

I was surprised by the resilience of Oxford as an institution and how adaptive it was. When we all read the news that Oxford researchers were working on a Covid-19 vaccine, I felt immense pride to be part of Oxford and be here during this year. The resilience of my MBA class and our willingness to create the most innovative way to create a semi-normal experience for people to meet and know each other, to collaborate on thinking about challenges, and to support each other really surprised me. I think our MBA class grew closer and stronger with every lockdown.

How has the year shaped your journey after the MBA?

I took the year as a learning opportunity. I wanted to tap into areas and fields I was less familiar with and challenge concepts. This helped me grow so much both academically and professionally, and because of hybrid working, I was able to tap into more of what Oxford had to offer and attend courses within other departments. On the personal side, I formed great long-lasting friendships and had support whenever I needed it. The Oxford MBA is the most diverse MBA, I felt like I traveled to, and studied in, 67 countries just by being in Oxford for one year! I had endless conversations with my friends about their work in various areas and came to the realisation that when it comes to social impact, there is no one size fits all solution, there are many approaches to work with local communities to develop innovative ways to solve global challenges.


Shiemaa is now working with a start-up in London and trying to understand how the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UK operates. She is also working with the University of Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government helping to analyse companies and countries’ Net Zero targets. She has also recently developed a guide for business investors in Sudan.