OIV Case Study 1 – Laura-Marie Toepfer

Two-month Overseas Institutional Visit to Stanford University, USA

My Visiting Fellowship at the Global Projects Centre (GPC), Stanford University, lasted from 1st October to 1st December 2015. The main purpose of this fellowship was to further develop my current research paper examining the ownership practices of institutional investors operating in China. Since the GPC is one of the world’s leading research centres on institutional investment, this provided a unique opportunity to connect with some of the sharpest minds in my field.

Throughout my time at Stanford, the goals I had set myself prior to my departure were not only met; they were exceeded. From the beginning of my fellowship, I was welcomed as a fully integrated member of the GPC’s community. I was able to meet with my host Dr Ashby Monk, Executive Director of the GPC, much more frequently than agreed prior to my arrival. Given Ashby’s busy schedule, this certainly surpassed my expectations. In my meetings with him, we brainstormed ideas together, sketched them on whiteboard and deconstructed underlying conceptual premises of my paper. Based on these discussions, Ashby then facilitated contact with relevant practitioners and researchers in and outside Stanford.

These personal interactions with cutting-edge scholars in my field have made three central contributions to the successful completion of my PhD and future career path: Firstly, the brainstorming sessions with Ashby Monk and other GPC researchers have been instrumental to fine-tune both the empirical and conceptual approach adopted in my key parts of my PhD project. Secondly, the networks developed throughout my stay at Stanford enabled me to return to the UK with promising new research collaborations and fresh ideas on how to best weave together my insights on China’s capital market development and the role that institutional investors may play in this process. Thirdly, I was also able to attend the Stanford Institutional Investor Forum, the GPC's signature event, which brings together over 100 institutional investors from all over the world. This provided a unique opportunity for building research networks and gaining access to investment organisations beyond Stanford’s academic community. The conversations with investment officers and trustees provided a useful reality check of my ongoing research and opened up new avenues for further research, by forging relationships with practitioners.

Overall, the value added of my fellowship at Stanford therefore stretches far beyond the specific academic contributions I had anticipated. Living and working in the heart of Silicon Valley has made it possible to exchange ideas with leading technologists, investors and Silicon Valley’s most disruptive entrepreneurs - the buzzing innovation ecosystem this creates and the range of ideas and experiences it brings together has not only provided me with an important resource for personal development; it has also allowed me to develop a better understanding of how my research impacts other communities outside academia.

Without hesitation, I would recommend the OIV scheme to other ESRC students who are eligible for this funding opportunity. It provides a unique opportunity to stretch one’s mind, by engaging with ideas in a different institutional setting and building networks of both academic and practical importance beyond Oxford’s research community. My advice to others: Preparing the visit well in advance, setting realistic goals and devising a clear work agenda in co-consultation with the host institution are key to manage expectations and get the most out of the OIV.