How time-consuming is the MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government?

One student’s documentation of how he spent his time at BSG.

Blavatnik School of Government MPP Class of 2015.

You’ve been accepted into the Master of Public Policy (MPP) programme at the Blavatnik School of Government (BSG). Congratulations! While you’re undoubtedly thrilled, you’re probably also craving for information.

I’ve met with several prospective and incoming MPP students. One question everyone has is: “How time consuming is the MPP?”

Will you have enough time to spend with your family, go to those famous-people-lectures, join your college boat club – AND survive the programme?

As an MPP student (2015-2016 cohort), I kept track of how much time I spent on various activities, to help myself stay focused and motivated. I share the information here. I hope it will give you a better idea of what to expect time-wise.

1. The MPP takes as much time as a full-time job

On average, I spent exactly 40 hours/week on all MPP commitments (during term). Chart 1 shows my weekly breakdown.

Chart 1. Total time spent on MPP commitments, by week. MT = Michaelmas Term (autumn term); HT = Hilary Term (winter term); TT = Trinity Term (spring term); W1 = Week 1, etc.

You may notice a slight downward trajectory in Chart 1 ­– Michaelmas term was more time consuming. This is probably because we had Core II – Economics for Public Policy in Michaelmas Term, which many students felt was a relatively time-consuming course. (Or maybe I was just extra-enthusiastic in Michaelmas.)

2. You can choose to commit more or less time – depending on how much reading you want to do

You’ll have four main MPP commitments: attending class, reading/studying, doing homework/assignments; and doing ‘other’ MPP activities (like figuring out your Summer Project and meeting your supervisor). Chart 2 shows how much time I spent on each commitment.

Chart 2. Time spent on MPP commitments, by term.

Class time is fixed, and you have to do the homework. But you can choose how much time to spend on the assigned readings and on studying. I spent 12 hours/week on the readings and studying.

Nonetheless, my advice is to spend as much time as you can on the assigned readings. I’d say a third of what I learnt at the MPP was just from doing the readings. If you want to get a head start (if you are what Malaysians/Singaporeans call ‘kiasu’), you can try emailing the course lecturers to ask for the reading list.

3. Yes, you will have time for other things

Much as you’ll be tempted to live in the BSG building, you’ll want to do other things at Oxford: attending a Michael Sandel (or whoever is in town that week) lecture in the Sheldonian Theatre, learning about your MCR-mates’ cutting edge (and oddly specific) research, attending Graduate High Table at your college – and so much more. You’ll want to spend time with family, whether at Oxford or remotely. And of course, you’ll want to meet people, and enjoy the company of your friends.

I managed to do a fair amount of non-MPP activities – shown in Chart 3. I was also fortunate to do some part-time research work in Hilary and Trinity terms.

Chart 3. Time spent on non-MPP activities.

Many of my classmates managed to do even more, like joining their college rowing team, representing Oxford at debate competitions, starting a student group, and making daily pilgrimages to The King’s Arm.

Notes about the information presented

  • The MPP syllabus (and possibly work-load) has evolved since 2015-2016.
  • The information I presented does not include holiday weeks, when you won’t have any MPP time commitments. It also doesn’t include Michaelmas Term Week -2 (arrival week), Trinity Term Week 0 (exam week), or Trinity Term Week 9 (when final assignments were due). I didn’t keep track of time those weeks.
  • I didn’t include information for Summer Term, when you will be doing your Summer Project. Most Summer Projects are like a full-time job.
  • I deducted any idle time (e.g. Facebooking or making coffee) from my hour-count – 1 hour of reading means 1 hour of reading!
  • The information reflects just my personal experience. To help you gauge how relevant it is to you, it may be useful to compare your background to mine. Briefly: my undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering and Economics, I’m fluent in English, and I worked in politics and the non-profit sector for five years prior to the MPP.

The year will be over before you know it. Put some thought into what you want to prioritise, and you can make the most of it – while still making it through the MPP. Incoming MPP students, feel free to contact and connect with me @renchung and on LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “How time-consuming is the MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government?

  1. Excellent Ren. One thing to add is that if you are “on leave” from a regular job, no matter what MPP says, your employer will expect you to do some work for them. And since you are going back to that job, you are inclined to. For example, I had a massive audit going on of a project I had managed. There was no way for me to say “I’m on leave”!! Audit turned out fine in the end, but it was hugely stressful balancing both. This may be a reality for mid-career students with full time careers. My “time chart” was that I was working about 15 hours a week on my job in addition to MPP homework and reading.

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