Doing an MBA is like drinking from a firehose. You will have more opportunities- in terms of internships, jobs, classes, friendships and travel- come your way than you can imagine. The two years are a gift. But learning what options to ignore, and what to chase, is an art.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to study at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I’ve learned more in the past 18 months, professionally and personally, than I thought was possible. These are my key takeaways on making the most of the MBA program.
Focus: pick a topic, sector or question
Pick a brand- or rebrand professionally–particularly if you’re looking to change geographies, functions or industries. Use that lens to choose your classes, internships and club leadership experience. Once you’re known as the ‘fill in the blank’ person, you’ll start getting opportunities passed your way, without you having to do any of the ground work. Don’t underestimate how amazingly thoughtful + well connected your classmates are.
Don’t forget the professors
Invest in your coursework: this is your chance to build a relationship with some stellar thought leaders. Take your professors out for coffee or lunch: if you can, do a research project or write a paper with them. This gives you the incredible ability to to call up or meet whoever you want, in order to answer a question of your choosing. Doing an independent study on the rapidly evolving digital media landscape in India with Stanford’s ex-Dean was one of my most professionally meaningful experiences at the GSB.
Get some real-life work experience on the side
It’s hard to truly absorb everything you’re learning, no matter how phenomenal the classes or speakers, until you try and apply it yourself. I wouldn’t have gotten half as much as I did from the program, if I hadn’t worked on startups and done a second internship. Not only does this allow you to develop practical skills: this is an entirely risk-free time. You can be as experimental as you want with your side projects. I worked on two wildly different startups, with two wildly different teams*, and loved having the chance to learn from both.
See yourself from a distance
You will be given the chance to reflect, ask yourself what you truly want to do with your life, and develop self-awareness, through your classes, workshops and classmates. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Ask your peers for feedback regularly: they can often see your strengths and weaknesses more clearly than you can. I had the chance to deliver a TALK (a GSB institution, where every week, a classmate delivers a highly personal 30 minute reflection of the key events that have shaped them, to hundreds of other classmates). It was incredibly difficult to write and deliver, and painful at times, but the event will undoubtedly be one of the first things I will remember ten years down the line. This community will perhaps be the most supportive + collaborative one that you will ever experience. Let yourself fall: you will be caught.
Organize a trek, conference or trip
I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to organise a trip or conference, given all the administrative hassle associated with the process, until I Co-Chaired Stanford’s Future of Media Conference this year. The logistics were definitely as painful as I’d expected, but the upside, in terms of the lessons I learned around teamwork, branding, facilitation and operations was so much greater.
Travel, host dinners and go out
Make room for spontaneity, and to truly have fun. You don’t have to plan every day. Your classmates are the biggest gift of these two years. They will change the way you see the world, and yourself. You’ve no doubt already heard that you will make friends that will last lifetime. This is true. But don’t forget to take an interest, and be generous + kind to the people you don’t know too. Build the community you want to be a part of.
Don’t follow the herd
Ultimately, each one of your classmates will have a unique experience, based on the choices they make. You can’t escape FOMO, but stay true to yourself. Spend your time the way you want to. Invest in what you consider meaningful. No one has the answer, because there isn’t one.
*One team was focused on building a language learning platform for first-generation immigrants, in order to help them build their confidence and speak English more frequently. The other team’s goal was to build a non-invasive tool to help glaucoma patients measure their eye pressure, in order to proactively manage their condition, and prevent blindness.
Natasha Malpani is currently an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She was previously an Investment Director at Big Society Capital, a $1 billion impact investing firm in London. As one of the firm’s first employees, she built the company’s investment strategy and team. Natasha has also co-founded two ventures. She is currently exploring the future of the media industry, and spent the summer at Matter, an early-stage media investment firm in San Francisco, and Out There Media, an adtech firm in Athens.
DON’T MISS: WHAT I LEARNED IN MY FIRST YEAR AT STANFORD GSB