Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My impressions of Stanford.

In response to a friend's inquiry re: Stanford and the MBA program...

I haven't seen much of the MBA school, just of the students. Most of my impressions are formed through interactions with them. However, I have looked at the courses offered in the program and they seem fascinating. Too bad they don't allow attendance by non-MBA students...

MBA students are a mixed bag. A lot of them are interesting and engaging people. A lot of them also have no real skillsets -- it's a common joke among the engineers. (I'm sure they have plenty jokes about our kin, too.) They all have stunning resumes: leadership, management positions, entrepreneurship ventures, etc... They are also good at being charismatic, which to me can seem disingenuous.

Stanford itself is an amazing environment. I love it here. It makes my head explode and crushes my self-confidence at times, but the challenge is welcome. Every quarter I have at least one class that is a crucible -- from which I emerge, stunned that I'm still alive. You would be hard-pressed to find a more stimulating academic and professional environment. Their emphasis on interdisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, and sustainability has fully integrated into the culture. If anything, it's only frustrating to meet so many fascinating people and not have enough time to get to know them better. There are simply too many things to do on campus, so you have to choose how you want to cultivate your experience. I've certainly enjoyed it enough that I'm now pushing to stay in school and do research.

Students work really fucking hard here. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Most maintain some semblance of a balance, though I find that I need more space for relaxation and social time. Still, it's truly inspiring to be in the company of such intelligent, driven, capable individuals. So many people go beyond academics and actively pursue real-world ventures, get involved with organizations, etc. So it's not just people who get good grades -- it's people who get good grades and thrive in the professional world.

For living, it depends on where you land. I'm currently in an off-campus co-op, and happy as a clam. There's plenty decent grad housing on campus, but I found it to be isolating -- by my standards. Weather is amazing. Palo Alto (the adjacent town) is hella upper-class and often yuppy, but you can find gems of genuine goodness anywhere (e.g. my co-op). Dancing is fun, though there's no blues on campus -- except for the classes I teach. There's a fusion venue in the south bay. Lots of dancing in the city, but a 45-60min drive each way quickly discourages one from making regular excursions. I have sometimes considered moving to the city and commuting to school via train. Many people do it and find it enjoyable.

As far as what is unique... well, I think I've pretty much covered that. The students, the stimulating environment, the interdisciplinary focus, the countless opportunities, the professors, etc.

Hope that paints a better picture of life at Stanford. Feel free to ask me to elaborate if you want. At the end of the day, I'd strongly encourage you to apply. I love the school. I'm not crazy about MBA students generally, but maybe that's why I'm an engineer. ;)

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