College of Business Professor Smita Jain Oxford was recently interviewed by junior business major, Arfa Vasim, as part of a new interview series entitled Coffee Talk. Professor Oxford currently teaches business communication and negotiation.
Where did you go to college? Why did you choose that place?
I went to Wellesley College. I chose it because they gave me a great aid package; it was closer to home; and it had a strong academic reputation.
What was your major? How did you decide on it?
I was a double-major in philosophy and sociology. I liked those two subjects, and since I knew I was going to graduate school, I was fine with studying something I enjoyed and not necessarily something I wanted to get a job in.
How is working in corporate sector different than academia?
Lots of things are different. There is more variety in the corporate sector, and there’s also a lot more stress. I worked in investment banking and operations consulting and was working 100 hours a week for many years. It was exciting and involved a lot of travel, all of which was good at that time in my life. Now, in academia, I have a more flexible schedule, and I get to bring all of my corporate experience into the classroom and use it in my teaching. I think COB students like hearing real-life examples, examples of how they will be using what they learn in class in even bigger ways.
Why did you decide to become a professor?
My senior thesis in sociology asked that very question! What I found was that the professors at Wellesley had three primary reasons for choosing this profession: 1. flexibility of schedule; 2. ability to do advanced study in their field; and 3. desire to impart that knowledge to future generations. I think my reasons are exactly the same!
What is the hardest part of your job as professor?
The grading load.
What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements? Why?
My kids. They are super great people.
What would you consider your career highs and lows?
My career highs involve knowing I’ve made a positive difference – for example, when alumni contact me, even years later, and tell me that they are still using something they learned in one of my classes or that something I taught them contributed to their success. Or, when I worked as a turnaround specialist and was able to keep a company from closing its doors and costing all the employees their jobs. I don’t really believe in lows; I’m a firm believer in “Things happen for the best,” even if you don’t know what that best is at the moment.
What are some of your hobbies?
My kids are my biggest hobbies. I love spending time with them doing anything. I also like working out, traveling, my cats, my friends and family, shopping, meditating, and reading. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but these are a lot of how I spend my time.
What motivates you to do your best?
It’s just fun. It’s fun to do your best.
How do you have so much confidence?
I generally follow my intuition, and I don’t worry about getting it wrong. My advice to students who want to grow their confidence is to challenge your beliefs. It may sound scary, but question what you think you know and let that open you up to new perspectives. Confidence comes from knowing there are so many options; you just have to let yourself see them.
What specific skills and talents do you think a Mary Wash undergraduate should possess while looking for a job and internship?
Of course, the ability to communicate. Also, to be able to think beyond what they’ve learned. College of Business students get lots and lots of practical application as part of their studies. Our discipline is rooted in practical application. Their “job” is to take that knowledge and grow it in new ways.
What advice would you give to a younger you?
First, don’t worry. Most of the things you worry about never happen. Second, know what you want – not what you need – and find a path to it. Third, live in the present.
What advice can you offer me as an undergraduate?
Take the opportunities that are presented to you, because you don’t know where they might lead.
If you could require me to read one thing before I graduate what would it be and why?
My current reading list is Shawn Achor (happiness), Norman Rosenthal (meditation), and Peter Bregman (time management). I’d recommend any of them, but really, I’d say read what interests you.
What’s next for you?
To write a book — about what, I haven’t decided.
Favorite book: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Favorite quote: I’ll see it when I believe it.
Favorite place to travel: India
What do you love most about living in VA: Weather
What do you love most about teaching at Mary Wash: Students
Favorite food: Chocolate
Dogs or cats: Both, but I have cats.
Memorable work stories: Way too many. All of them involve people, though, and not just activities or accomplishments.
Favorite thing in the office and why: The personal mementos, because they really are a microcosm of what makes me happy.