With our Class of 2013 Stanford Sloan program went from 10 to full 12 months for the first time by introducing the 2-month Summer quarter. This change has been definitely good: we’ve had a nice gradual start of the year and gotten 13 units worth of core classes out of the way. Getting into the rhythm of academic life feels great, especially coming from work life full of meetings, travel and rare luxury of time to read anything more than diagonally. Thoughtfully reading and writing stuff yourself for a change, not by delegating is gratifying. The pace has been busy, but not shocking.
All-in-all, I don’t envy the past Sloan classes sitting there in their first weeks only in September and seeing all the amazing GSB elective options swoosh by with zero room on calendar to fit them into. There is still far more on the menu than one could eat, but we have many more reasons to be happy looking at the rest of the year.
Thanks to this head start, we also get to feel a bit more like returning 2nd year MBAs on campus, as opposed to our MBA1 friends who are wandering the busy courtyard today, clueless about where the building they need is or that there is the daily taco truck in the parking lot at 13:15 with delicious $5 burritos. Funny how just a few extra weeks can create a group dynamic that let’s people self-identify as somewhat “elders”.
Regarding the academics of Summer quarter, a very critical reviewer’s feelings could be a bit more mixed, but this simple man here is happy. For sure, I learned a lot and those learnings were well in the overall direction I have hoped this year to be – bringing empirical research, frameworks and abstractions on top of the practical experiences me and fellow Sloans have accumulated from working life. We had a good mix of classes with more theoretical, past literature-driven approach such as Ethics and others with utterly hands-on & practical application centric like Negotiations.
And, of course, as expected from US universities, there is a lot of case-centric discussion in between. To those who have asked what’s behind the reading volumes I’ve shared along the weekly study notes, this is how a typical class has worked: you have a syllabus for each course which introduces the overall scope and expectations and then goes on to outlines in detail the time and topic of each session per quarter (in case of accelerated courses – this could 5 x 90-180 minutes over two weeks and with full quarter courses typically 90 minute classes twice per each of the 9 weeks). For almost each of the sessions you have assigned reading before the class (as opposed the reading assignments often given only at the end of a class as a follow-up I’ve seen in Europe). This reading typically composes of a textbook (say, a 40 page chapter), some supporting academic articles or “letters” from the professor. And often there is a 15-20 page case to boot, which includes review questions that aim to make you apply the theoretical readings on real life situations.
When you get to class you are expected to have done the pre read and the answers. It is not uncommon that a slide 1 in the second minute of the class starts with a cold call on a (semi)random person to share their views. How hard or soft some topic is of course changes a smart person’s ability to invent some answers on the spot, but some syllabi explicitly state that if you haven’t done the pre read, you should not come in.
The depth of knowledge and authority of the professors has been truly Stanford-worthy, with the little caveat that when you make a guru teach a very basic, introductory course – they might not necessarily be too passionate about that. And of course, with our total of “almost 1000 years in business” collective work experience among the 81 Sloan Fellows, the class discussions have brought many more valuable viewpoints to the table.
We did have a few classes where a truly “win-win-win” (e.g likewise for the students, professor as well as the degree requirements) result seemed to be just… to get it over with. I am not saying at all that these (often quite foundational) topics should be excluded from the curriculum – just onserving that you can immediately sense the change in the level of participants’ passion in the overall ambiance and experience in class.
To my personal “below expectations” category I would bucket the co-curricular sessions. Beyond the quite smooth early kickoff on how to make study groups work effectively, further sessions on topics such as having difficult conversations or managing cross-cultural conflicts have often underestimated the maturity of the audience and diversity of the real-life experiences in the room. Fortunately it feels that there is a clear feedback loop on this and the program staff is taking it seriously to improve this part.
As a remarkable (and also initially very American-feeling) component in those feedback loops are the class officials elected, either for every quarter (such as the President, Academic chairs to interface with teaching staff, Social chairs to set up the at least weekly TGIF events, but who have done vastly more to bring people together, etc) and yearly roles such as the Treasurer. Even though almost all of us come from varying levels of management and leadership experience, these roles have proven to be very demanding. It is basically volunteer work with minimum budgets, no real chain of command, just your own capacity to inspire and bring along your equal peers from vastly different interests and cultural backgrounds to put in some more volunteer effort of their own for overall good of the group. I have to say, this micro-society democracy model with campaigns and candidacies and speeches felt a bit foreign, but my respect for the people who have performed so well in and around those tricky roles has only grown.
Another test for getting stuff done in peer structures have been the study groups. On which I have actually very little intriguing to say, as it has worked out perfectly (thanks guys), people delivering what they promised, complementing skills coming smoothly together for projects, etc.
All said, it feels that the honeymoon (or as stated in one of the class president elections speeches in July: “the butt-sniffing period”) is over, the 81 Sloan Fellows and university staff have learned quite a bit about each-others’ vast strengths and human weaknesses, there is a good balance of professional respect and lighthearted fun, and are ready for the remaining 3/4 of this year.
Just one thing, remind me again, why on Earth did I have “get out school in one year” as such a high criteria when choosing a program? This experience would be worth many more years of my life.
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