Q&A with Second-Year Stanford MBA Students

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To get started, I just wanted to ask you both to introduce yourself. We are really fortunate today to have two second year students with us, Petra Weiss and Mike Ding. Thank you again for joining us.
Could both of you talk a little bit about your backgrounds? How did you come to the GSB? Why did decide to pursue an MBA and what were you doing before you came here? Sure, yeah, so I’ll, should I start?
>> Yeah, please.
>> Great. So I am Petra, for those of you who didn’t know, I’m Petra. And I worked at Google before business school. And while I was there, I realized that I had this gap in people management skills. And that was my reason for wanting to go back to business school. And so as I was looking at schools I was trying to find a school that aligned with that goal. So one that focused on coaching and interpersonal dynamics and really building out those people management skills. And as I learned more and more about the GSB I saw that that was almost a perfect match. And so I decided to go to business school after about three years in the working world to build out those skills. And to go back into a management role, post business school.
>> Great, thank you.

>> Mike, how about you?
>> Hi, everyone, my name is Mike Ding, I’m a second year MBA. Before Stanford, I worked in private equity and venture capital investing in technology companies in San Francisco. So in terms of coming to business school, I think one reason why I decided to come. Is my first job out of college, I actually had a manager who was a Stanford MBA grad. The place where I worked was not the most touchy feely sort of place.

>> People tended to be very aggressive, there wasn’t a lot of mentorship. The type of leadership was very different from what we’re taught at the GSB. One thing that really inspired me, in my first employer, was how this guy took a very active interest in my development. And he led in a way that was very motivational, inspiring, very empathetic. And I just really respected him, I admired the way that he managed. And I wanted to learn how to do that as well, and he actually encouraged me to apply to the GSB was actually one of my recommenders as well.
>> Awesome, that’s great, that actually brings up a question one of you is asking online about the Alumni Network. So you worked with someone in the GSB community pre MBA. How have you leveraged that network currently, and that goes for both of you, whether it’s through internships or general mentorship?

>> Do you want to take it?
>> Sure, I can talk a little bit about that. So I have worked at a number of firms that have been led by GSBers. The private equity firmed that I worked at before business school was founded by a GSBer. I worked at an investment firm in New York over the summer that was also founded by a GSBer. And in each case, when I receive an offer from these places, throughout the process I’d actually been able to contact these individuals. Because they were affiliated with the GSB, because they took an active interest in students. Who were interested in the GSB, or were currently attending the GSB. And in each case, I think the application process itself was already very much helped by the fact that I was a part of the GSB network. But even while I was there, I think because I came from Stanford, because the founders of these firms were Stanford grads. It enabled me to connect with them much more easily than someone who may not have had that shared background.

>> Yeah, and building on that, I think being at the GSB, I’ve used the Alumni Network a huge amount. So for those you who don’t know, we have a joint degree program in education and business. So while I knew I wanted to go back into people management after. I wasn’t sure exactly whether that would fall into the education space or the tech space. And so I have done probably about a hundred informational interviews with folks, both at the GSB on the staff, and also alumni who have gone into all sectors of education, so edtech, higher ed, and charter schools. And basically everything, and have used those informationals to really help me figure out where I belonged in those two fields. And so the alumni have been hugely helpful in getting me to where I am, and helping me figure out what’s next for me.
>> Yeah, that is huge, wow. So you talked a little bit about doing exploration in the MBA program, pivoting a little bit from where you were before. What was the cost benefit that you thought about coming into an MBA program? Was it hard to step out of the workplace? What were the opportunity costs that you thought about, and especially when it came to maybe family or significant others? Sure, yeah, I think there were a couple of big opportunity costs for me. The first, I would say, is that my trajectory at Google, where I was before school, was looking positive. So it was really hard for me to say if I do want to come back and be a manager in tech, why am I really taking this time out now? When it looks like I could get to where I want to get just by staying at Google. But a lot of my mentors, and a lot of actually folks at Google that I worked with had taken those two years and sort of reinforced the interpersonal and coaching skills that you simply can’t get, or invest in the same way while you’re working. And so, I figured for me, it was really important to go back early after three years. Before that opportunity cost got too high for me, to restart my career a little bit. And then again also I think because I wanted to explore education as well. It seemed like a good time to really decide, do I continue to invest in the tech space or not? So it seemed like an opportunity cost but when I stepped back, didn’t feel as much one where it seemed like going early would sort of reduce that. And then I would say the second big thing is my fiance lives in New York City. And so that was a big decision, because I had the opportunity to move with Google to New York City, and be with him. Or obviously come to Stanford and be apart. And so I think that was definitely a huge consideration. But the GSP has a fantastic, significant other network, and has really brought him in. He’s actually really good friends with Mike now through the GSB, so he’s been extremely welcomed into this community. And he actually has had lots of interviews with GSB alums that I’ve set up for him through the Alumni Network as well. I actually, quick story, emailed about ten people in real estate in New York City on his behalf, and all ten replied.

>> Wow.
>> So just another story about the power of the Alumni Network. And yes, it’s an opportunity cost, but I think we’ll be stronger for having had the exposure we’ve had while here.

>> That’s great, speaking of the exposure you’ve had while you’re here. I was wondering if each of you could talk a little bit about the academic experience. Mike, if you want to start with maybe a favorite class, or an experience that stands out to you specifically around the academics?
>> Sure, well as I mentioned before, one of the reasons why I came to business school was to really learn how to be this type of inspirational, motivational leader that my first manager was coming out of college. And I think the GSP does an incredible job of giving you real life experience. Quote unquote, real life, but experiential learning opportunities to do that. One class that I will remember as the most impactful class that I had was interpersonal dynamics, also known as touchy feely. Which is a class where you really explore kind of how you react to other people. But also how you come off to other people. And I would say, before the GSB, I was always very afraid to truly open up to people about how I felt, how they made me feel, what my impact was on them, what their impact was on me. But this is a sort of class that creates a safe space for people to really ask those tough questions of each other. And, give each other honest feedback about those impacts. And so, I would say that the experiential learning, especially through classes like Touchy Feely, has been the just most amazing part of the academic curriculum here.

>> Wow. Patrick, could you expand a little bit on that? What proportion would you say of classes kind of break down different teaching styles? How much time would you spend on cases versus lectures, versus experiential learning?
>> Sure.

>> And a little bit more on the tactical side, is it hard to get electives, or do you get to take the classes that you want?
>> Sure. Yeah, so I would say first year was more lecture and case based for me. And feel free to jump in if you disagree. But first year it was probably about half and half. So for some of my classes like Strategy, we were in a case based format. For others, like Accounting, it was a little bit more lecture based, although there were some cases that were done. And so the professors basically decided what would be the best way for folks to learn the material that we’re teaching and the most effective way. So that was mostly about half and half. For the elective second year, a lot more of them have been experiential for me because again, I have been focusing on coaching, and interpersonal dynamics, and part of a program called Aruckle Fellows. And so that shift second year has been mostly to experiential and then still some lecture and case base mixed in, but probably about 60% experiential and the rest case and lecture based.

>> Okay, great, so you mentioned Arbuckle Leadership Fellows. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what that is, and then both of you can also add on other extracurriculars that you’re involved with, and other commitments that you have outside of coursework and school. And also, how much time you actually do spend on homework and classes, relative to that.
>> Sure. Yeah so, Arbuckle Fellows is a coaching program that was started, I want to say about ten years now, but I’m not exactly sure if that’s the right date. And basically it allows the second year class to coach and lead the first years through what we call Leadership Labs, which is a first year required class in your first quarter. That allows you to think about what kind of leader you want to be if you’re the kind of leader you aren’t, how do you get there? Learning from other leadership styles that other students have that you can sort of learn from. So you as an Arbuckle Fellow, lead six students in that first quarter class and then you switch into one on one coaching for the winter term. And so you actually get assigned three coachees that you work with each week for an hour, working through all sorts of topics. So it ranges from leadership topics to how do I balance my life at the GSB, academics, and social, and career to just personal stuff that’s going on. So.

>> That’s been my most fulfilling activity at the GSB. A huge chunk of time.
>> Yeah. But a really great way to practice those leadership and coaching skills that I came here to work on.

>> Awesome. Mike, how do you spend your time outside of class? Are there particular clubs that you’re really involved with?
>> Yeah, yeah I can talk to that. So I spent a lot of my time actually helping TA classes.

>> Mm-hm.  At the GSB, especially in the second year.
>> Interesting, yeah. And, it’s actually one of the things that I’ve personally found, kind of most rewarding about the Stanford experience, which is that so much of the learning that happens here, happens because we have just incredible classmates who come from all types of different backgrounds. And so because I have a finance, investing background, I’ve spent a lot of my time,this year helping two of the finance professors here teach classes, TA classes, develop case material. And that’s sort of been my bug commitment outside of regular coursework. And it’s something that I do because, I think, one, it’s good practice in terms of learning how to be a leader, how to communicate, how to teach people. But at the same time it’s allowed me to give back to the community that I think has already given me a lot over the past two years. In terms of the split between time spent on different activities, I would say it varies pretty dramatically, so it’s very hard to say what the average is, because it’s very unrepresentative of the variants is very large. And so I would say that the great thing about the GSB, is that If you come there is no structure to which you have to adhere.

>> If you want to spend a lot of time on academics and I feel like I’ve probably indexed on that relatively more heavily than some of are classmates, then you can do that. If you want to spend more of your time on extra curriculars, more of your time on even social activities, that’s completely accepted and even encouraged at Stanford. I think it’s really hard to say what a typical GSB student looks like, because there is no typical GSB student. Like everyone has different priorities and all those priorities are welcomed by the community.
>> Yeah, choose your own adventure.

>> So we talked about learning in the classroom. Could each of talk about one of the global experiences or maybe multiple that you’ve been involved with and how that’s shaped your GSB experience?
>> Sure. Yeah, so I participated in a GST, so a Global Study Trip to Thailand last winter. And so the global study trips are led by second years. I was a first year at the time, so we were taken to Thailand by five second years who totally crafted the experience and chose to look at the country through food. So we studied the food supply chain in Thailand, we visited a local rice patty, but we also went and visited some of the largest conglomerates that are actually packaging and distributing all over the world. And so, we just had a chance to explore a new culture, meet with all sorts of people. Again, from someone running their own small shop to someone running a huge conglomerate. And we’re able to do it together. So it was definitely for me, I thought It allowed me to see the country in a whole new way, because we were very on the ground and seeing it from all these different angles. But also it really allowed me to forge incredible friendships through just by being a country in a totally new place with folks that I didn’t know super well before the trip. And so I think I left with a whole new appreciation for the country of Thailand, but also for a lot of my classmates who I may not have otherwise gotten to know. Okay.

>> Yeah, I had a similar experience. The trip that I remember most vividly is actually one that was organized by our classmates to India. And we spent about ten days there, met with everyone ranging from political leaders to small business owners. To executives at larger corporations, and learned a lot about India. And developed a new sense of appreciation for the amount of growth and potential in the country. I think that stuff is, you can get that stuff just by going to different countries and traveling on your own. What’s really unique about the trips that you take at the GSB to these countries, is that you’re going with classmates. I think something like 40% of our class is international students. And so, in all of these countries, the people who are leading you, the people who are showing you the country, are people from those places. Who either grew up there, went to school there, or worked there. And have incredible networks, and just an incredible depth of understanding of those places. I think that’s what’s really unique about these trips. It’s not the fact that you can go all over the world, it’s the fact that you can go with someone who knows those places intimately. That’s been the most meaningful part of the interactional experience for me at the GSB.
>> Yeah, our trip leader to Thailand actually was from Thailand. And so we had big family dinners with her family who all live over there. And got to meet leaders who we would not otherwise have had access to. So I think that’s really a good point about seeing the country through someone’s eyes who’s actually experienced it day to day.

>> Yeah, great, so some of the exploration happens through global experiences. I think a lot of self exploration also happens at the GSB. And when you think about exploring your career opportunities, have you used any specific resources at Stanford to help you navigate that exploration? I know you mentioned possibly doing a career change. So how has that been influenced by the GSB and opportunities through the MBA program?
>> Yeah, I would say for me, it was mostly those informational interviews that had shaped that, and again, access to the Alumni Network. Also, we have a fantastic career center. So, I basically took those informational interviews, had two buckets that I wanted to focus on for my summer internship and for longer term. And the career center pulled up a whole nother list of alums in those spaces, helped me think through a timeline. To actually think about trying different things during the year. And I’m actually doing an internship, so as I mentioned I’m a joint degree student in ed and in business. And I’m actually doing an internship with Stanford undergrads through the reslife department to fully explore that higher ed opportunity. So that’s possible, you get course credits through the GSB. So I’m actually getting credit for that internship. And so you don’t just have the summer experience to explore this career change, but you also have time throughout the year. I have classmates who have started companies. I have classmates who have done 390s, what we call 390s similar to this experience with res ed. And because we have access to Silicon Valley, a lot of folks are pitching VC’s and working there day to day. So I think those both, the Alumni Network, the Career Center and this internship day to day have really helped me. Solidify how to make that change, and whether I want to make that change.

>> Okay, you touched on something that we also have a question about, which is GSB location. And Mike, I don’t know if this has come into your thought process for recruiting, or the more formal channels of the GSB. Have you gotten a sense of how our location in Silicon Valley has either expanded opportunities. Or the challenges that might come with being on the west coast?
>> So I have a personal bias towards the west coast, I’ve been here for.

>> Almost ten years, and so that was actually a huge selling point for me. For those of you who may not have been here, the weather here is pretty awesome. I would say that certainly if you’re in Palo Alto, but your desired industry and company and firms are in New York City. There’s no question that that becomes logistically more difficult. Flying six hours out to New York, flying back, is more challenging than for students at some of our peer schools on the east coast. That doesn’t mean however, that those firms aren’t interested in GSB graduates. In fact, a lot of the demand, a lot of the job opportunities available through the CMC, are from New York employers. And so the down side to the geography is not limited access, it’s actually just logistical difficulty. And that’s something I found when I was interviewing in New York. I was interviewing with some investment firms. And just flying out there was the most painful part, but it wasn’t hard to get them to be interested in GSB grads. Obviously the benefit is if you’re interested in industries that are more centered around the Bay Area. Biotech, information technology, obviously, then there is, I think, the access and the logistical ease is pretty unparalleled. So, it really depends on what you want. But, I guess what I would emphasize, is that access is incredibly broad. And that the one committment you’d have to make is to undergo some more logistical challenges in flying back and forth.
>> Yeah, and building off that, I think, I did recruit on the east coast full time. And I think two things that actually helped in being out here, surprisingly. One is that we have really long breaks. So I would use those breaks to network with folks in New York. And really set up informational interviews and interviews during those periods. And you do have, yes, logistical nightmares during the school year. But if you’re really strategic and smart about how you use your time off. Stanford gives you a ton of time off to be able to fly to other places. And then the second thing is, recruiters are, I think, a little bit more surprised to get emails from folks on the west coast about east coast jobs. And jobs in Chicago, and jobs in Texas, and things like that. So I think you actually have, or I found that I actually had somewhat of an advantage, because they’re like, why would you want to leave California? And so I found myself actually recruiting with a smaller pool of people. And so I think yes, you do have the access if you want to stay in California. But if you don’t, I think the availability of breaks to network, and then also the fact that most people do choose to stay in California. You have your bit of an anomaly, you actually have some increased opportunity as a result.

>> And I think also the size of our program relatively, compared to the number of opportunities on the east coast. It’s just a supply and demand perspective there’s so few people I think relativly in the larger scheme. That it creates a supply demand advantage for our student body. And you brought up a really good example, even with your significant other working in real estate in New York having access to our alums. So I also think about networks more broadly than geography. I think a lot about networks in 2016 being informational networks, and access to people who really have deep expertise. And I think so much of that, of course you want contextual knowledge, but also learning about The access to information that you have through our alums can really cross borders and time zones pretty easily these days.
>> Yeah, for sure.

>> So, while logistics can be a challenge, we also have a question about challenges in general at Stanford. And someone’s asking us, what has been your most difficult experience at Stanford? It’s a head scratcher.
>> Sure.

>> I can tell you about mine. So, I’m actually at Stanford with my partner and we applied at the same time. We were both really fortunate to be admitted. And she’s also an MBA too. And the biggest challenge for us just on a personal level was just in the beginning, the GSB is so all consuming in terms of its demands on your time from the academics to the social scene. To, you’re thinking about jobs and internships and should I start a business etc., etc. And I think the biggest challenge for us and a source of friction in our relationship in those early days coming to GSB was how much time do we spend on spending time with each other versus on these other priorities that we have? Because we do want to go through the transformative experience that the GSB has to offer. And I think it generalizes to a broader point, for me, it manifested itself in my relationship with my significant other. I think for people who don’t have partners here, the generalization is that you have your personal life, you have your life that you led before the GSB and now you have these massive time commitments that are put on you by the GSB. And the question of how you balance those two can be fraught with uncertainty, and can cause frictions with your relationships with people, before you came. I think everyone I know has successfully worked through those, my partner and I, we’re able to find the right balance, but in the beginning that can be a really big challenge.
>> Yeah, and just building off of that I think, I think my biggest challenge was the transition fall quarter as well. For slightly different reasons, I think I came in knowing what I wanted to focus on. But the second you get here, you’re exposed to so much and you’re exposed to so many different classmates. And you hear about a company that someone’s been at and you’re like, wow, that sounds interesting, maybe I’ll add a third industry to look at. And so I think, for me, it was really figuring out, how do I learn to say no to things, and be comfortable getting out of the experience what I came here to get out? And so I would say the more clear you can be about what you want from business school, and the closer you can stick to that when you’re here, the easier that adjustment is. But I would say, yeah, that the first quarter at the GSB, there’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of opportunity, it’s really critical to focus on what you decide that you want to get out of the experience.

>> Yeah, that’s perfect, I really appreciate you adding some advice in there, because I was going to ask if you had any final tips, so that’s really great words to live by, not just for the application, but I think for life. Mike, any final thoughts on tips coming into either applying to or attending the GSB?
>> Yeah, absolutely. So my final word of advice for the guests who are watching over the internet, is that a lot of the admissions process, and even the GSB process itself, if you haven’t been a part of it, if you haven’t experienced it yet, it can seem contrived. It can seem like, what do they actually mean by being introspective and being reflective? Aren’t those just buzz-words, right?
>> Right, yeah.

>> And what I would say is, they can be, and they can be, that only happens if you don’t truly kind of buy in. If you don’t truly commit yourself to being reflective, right? To thinking about why have you made the decisions you did? Being honest about that. Being honest about where you’re from, who you are, what your goals are, instead of what you think that society or admissions officers want to see from you. Or, if you’re admitted, what you think your peers or your professors want to see from you. The only way you really get to experience the GSB’s benefits at a true level of depth is when you buy in, is when you say, I am going to do these things even though it feels kind of awkward and cheesy at first. I am going to reflect, I am going to think about my life as it’s been so far, and what I hope for it to be like in the future. So that would be my final word of advice, and the buzzword I would use to capture that is be authentic. Be authentic to yourself.
>> Those are great tips, both for the application and for life. I wanted to thank you both so much for taking the time. I know you always have 50 things you could be doing any half hour of the day. So I really appreciate it and you really brought the GSB to life. So, thank you so much. All of you that are joining us, I want to thank you for your time as well. Really appreciate you taking the time to learn more about the MBA program. As a reminder you can always learn more about the GSB on our website, and we’ll also be on the road this summer. So if you want to learn more about Stanford in person, you can take a look at our event calendar online.

About Post Author

Professor Cram

Professor Lawrence Cram is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University working in the Department of Applied Mathematics. His interests include astronomy, mathematics, engineering, computing, and physics. Due to his extensive expertise, professor Cram has worked as a Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney and as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at ANU during 2004-2012. In 2013, he retired as a Master, University House and Graduate House. In January 2014, he was appointed as an acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Charles Darwin University. Professor Cram is also a Fellow at the Royal Astronomical Society and the Australian Institute of Physics.
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