A Day In The Life Of a Stanford MBA Student
At some schools, you’re taught out of a book. At Stanford, you’re taught by people who wrote the book. That’s the aura surrounding the Graduate School of Business. Talk about star power! Here, you can mingle with academic standouts like Bob Sutton, Jennifer Aaker or Jeff Pfeffer. Or, you can take an elective with former Federal secretaries like Condoleeza Rice and William Perry.
Indeed, you’ll find a certain type of student gravitates to Palo Alto, free-spirited and value-driven, yet level-headed and data-loving. In the shadow of Silicon Valley – and a five minute drive from Sand Hill’s heavy hitters – Stanford is the perfect spot to think big and test boundaries. And the school’s mild climate only braces the students’ laid back attitude. Forget the east coast’s harried pace and backbiting ways. The “West Coast Harvard” prizes freedom, balance, and collaboration. And the lives of its students reflect this philosophy.
Each year, Stanford GSB runs its “Week in the Life” series, featuring the daily schedules of some of its top students. And the lives of these high achievers range from the mundane (doing laundry on Sundays) to the insane (learning to code on the fly). As you might expect, these students live in a world where there’s always something to do. They may crash in bed at 1:30 after absorbing case-after-case, but they’re still able to rise at dawn to kick the bag or meditate at Soulcycle. On weekends, they can still squeeze in a tour of wine country or indulge their inner Pollock on a paintball field.
But Stanford is no respite from the real world. For the Class of 2016, it’s a time to step back, look at the big picture, and test out various paths. And Talal Alhammad, a native of Saudi Arabia who previously worked at McKinsey, is putting every minute to work. After a quick stop at Coupa Café – a mainstay among the GSB set – Alhammad heads to his first class at 8:00 a.m. And his classes don’t end until 5:00 p.m. Talk about a rough way to start a week! And he ends the week on the same schedule. Forget cushy electives. Alhammad, who plans to pursue operations and logistics at an ecommerce start-up, is taking brain busters like Advanced Marketing, Scaling Up Excellence, Corporate Financial Modeling, and Advanced Global Operations.
Of course, all work and no play makes student stale and sectarian. And Stanford students know how important it is to get out. Alhammad himself makes time for golf lessons on Wednesday afternoons. Michelle Honchariw, a San Francisco native with an artistic background, takes a 10-minute bike ride to campus to relish the fresh coastal air and tree-lined streets. Kudzi Chikumbu, who plans to work in the “intersection of entertainment and technology” after graduation, attends a music class on Wednesdays with (gasp!) undergrads.
So what are some hallmarks of the Stanford experience? Based on this student sample, “The GSB Show” may be the highlight of the year. It is described as a “great Broadway-style musical” by Daria Boldyreva, a Russian native who founded a booking agency and plans to take that entrepreneurial experience into the music industry. And Nadou S. Lawson, who previously worked in corporate finance at Kimberly-Clark and Google, was amazed by the show. “I was blown away by the talent of my fellow GSBers. The original plot, songs, and dances were hilarious.” And the show, which draws 1,200 people, is a means to bring the Stanford community closer together adds Honchariw. “It’s heartwarming to have this night together to laugh at our lives and appreciate how amazing it is to be here.”
Another big Stanford tradition is the “TALK.” While it isn’t as ominous as it sounds, TALK is a rite of passage. Honchariw describes it as a weekly event where two students each get 30 minutes to share the “experiences that have shaped us, the ways in which we are vulnerable, and the people and things that matter most to us.” How important is it? For starters, the lounge is packed with over 200 classmates. Lawson states that she can never do any work after one. And Honchariw confides that she was full of nerves before her TALK – an event so important that it requires intensive preparation (and even a coach).
In Honchariw’s case, the TALK went off without off with a hitch. She celebrated afterwards and felt a closer connection to her classmates. “The whole experience is a blur,” she admits. “But I do have a few special moments of looking out at the crowd and seeing them laugh with me or relate to some aspect of my story, and that is really cool.”
As with many business schools, small group dinners are another Stanford ritual. “Students host dinners for each other and are matched with guests through a lottery-based system,” explains Lea D. Poquerusse, a Parisian who previous worked as a consultant in Boston and Dubai. Many times, students cook meals from their home country, with Isabella Torres Maluf whipping up Brazilian delicacies like bolinha de queijo and empadinha. “It is a great way for us to get to know our peers in a more informal setting than the classroom and get to a deeper level of understanding,” Poquerusse muses.
So what is a day in the life of a Stanford MBA really like? Just look at the schedule of Vaibhav Agrawal, a New Delhi entrepreneur who hopes to increase healthcare access by “starting or investing in disruptive businesses.” Here is how his Mondays shape up:
7:00: Plays tennis with a classmate.
10:00: Takes a finance class with the “legendary” James Van Horne, who has taught at the program of a half century (minus two year stint as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Ford administration).
11:00: Meets with the leadership of the Health Care Club, where they discuss the speakers that they are bringing in for BBLs (Brown Bag Lunches).
12:00: Enjoys outdoor lunch with Merel Witteveen, a GSB classmate who won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
1:00: Races across campus for his biodesign class, where his team includes two engineers, a nuclear physicist, and a neurosurgeon.
5:00: After four hours, the biodesign team’s effort to produce an “easy-to-use” emergency room ultrasound fails. The team, however, regroups and brainstorms a new prototype idea that they intend to finish by the end of the week.
7:00: Attends a “TEACH” speech from Robert Pearl, CEO of the Permanente Medical Group.
8:00: Grabs dinner in Palo Alto with an aunt who is visiting from Beijing.
10:00: Closes out the day by doing homework and readings.
And so it goes for Stanford MBA students, where no day is ever the same.. They spend their days shuttling from rehearsing for their group projects to planning their global study trip to running their charity challenges. Like everyone else, they’re buried under a hundred emails and savor those few precious moments to unwind with their classmates, who have become both their sounding boards and support systems. “Good friends and chill days help offset the mile-a-minute life that is often characteristic of the GSB,” shares Honchariw.
To read the weekly schedules of nine Stanford GSB first years, click on the GSB link below.