Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Stanford Business, Entry 12: Midterms, Negotiations, and Sarah Palin

I’ve missed a week (or maybe two) in the blog because of two crazy busy weeks, which concluded this last weekend with our midterm exams and Halloween parties both on and off campus. Here are my top observations about the last two weeks:

Taking tests was both easier and harder than I thought it would be.

Our midterms were our first real academic challenge since we arrived at the Stanford Graduate School of Business program two months ago. This is no small point, given that many of us in the Sloan program have been out of school for more than 10 years (!).

I think it’s safe to say that many in our class were stressed out about the Finance exam. and preparing feverishly over the past week (when we had time to study, which was cut dramatically short by our Negotiations class – see point below).

While a few of our classmates worked in finance before (so the class is pretty easy for them), for many of us, the concepts are completely new. Some of us didn’t even know what selling stock short was a few short weeks ago. I can confess that I didn’t really grasp the differences between NPV, IRR, despite being exposed to both concepts in my career. And I have to confess that I knew very little about the CAPM (Capital Asset Pricing Model) or market-efficient portfolios when I arrived on campus just a few weeks ago. Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure that I buy into the CAPM or market efficient portfolios even now, but I hope like hell I got the questions right on the exam!

Conversely, many of our classmates did not seem so stressed out over our Economics exam. This was a surprise to me, since I find Econ to be a little bit subjective and was probably more stressed out over it than I was about finance.

Not surprisingly, no one seemed to be stressed out over our OB exam, which was either a 3-hour take-home exam or a final paper.

So, what’s it like to take an exam at Stanford GSB?

Since Stanford is one of the few Universities with a formal honor code, teachers don’t proctor exams in the classroom. No TA’s either. Just us chickens, er I mean students.
Our teacher, Professor F., after handing out the exam, wrote his office phone number on the board, told us to call him if we had any questions, and left for the day.

Really. There was no one monitoring the exam, and we are expected to keep our own time, not do anything that’s not allowed, and hand in the exam in to the appropriate location before the deadline has passed.

This means that there isn’t that much difference between an in-class exam and a take-home exam, especially since they’re both completely open book and open notes. The in-class exams had time limits of 1.5 hours, and the take home exam (which we had a whole week to complete) had an honor-code-bound time limit of 3 hours.

Oddly enough, this honor code thing probably made us more conscious about making sure we didn’t do anything wrong than a more traditional exam type of environment.

So how did I do? I don’t know – we haven’t gotten the results yet… so I’m rushing to get this blog entry up before we get the results.

Cramming in an extra class is both a good and a bad idea.

The one thing that complicated our exam schedule (OK it wasn’t the only thing, but the biggest thing) was that during the week before our midterms, we had an extra class. Not just an extra hour or two, but 15 hours of a normal ten session elective class, Negotiations, every night from 5 to 8 pm.

What was it like? We would show up to class and immediately get instructions on the negotiation exercise for the day. Before the lecture, We’d usually go out and conduct a fictional negotiation.
We’d work hard to try to get the best deal in the negotiations that we could (sometimes not reaching any agreement whatsoever), and then head back to the classroom where the teacher put up our scores in front of the whole group, so we could make fun of those of us who didn’t do so well. Haha, no just kidding about that last part. Actually the negotiations where one party didn’t do well were the ones where we learned the most.

In one week we did: a two-party negotiation where one person was trying to buy a plant from the other party and had to agree on a price; a three party-negotiation where each of us represented a company and we needed to figure out which two of the three were going to work together, or if all three were going to work together (this one was a bit of a mindbender, if you do the math, it naturally leads to all kinds of Machiavellian behavior); a multi-division group negotiation (where each of us was on a three-person team that had to negotiate with another three-person team – this one proved to be the most difficult believe it or not); and finally a six-party negotiation with representatives from six different organizations (this one kind of reminded me of the six-party talks between the US and North Korea, with everyone trying to get their little piece of the pie – it was about as successful too).

As I said in my last entry about OB, for some of my engineering friends, it might seem that we’re just playing parlor games . And OK, I have to admit, these exercises are a bit contrived, but the experience of going through them is, in my opinion, probably going to stay with us longer than the derivation of the CAPM from our class.

All Hallow’s Eve

It was Friday, and Exam week had come to an end. The students were dressing up as ghosts and ghouls and vampires. This is Halloween. This is Halloween. Halloween, Halloween! (honor code note, src: Tim Burton’s the Night Before Christmas).

Actually I was so tired of both negotiations and exams that I went to three Halloween parties this weekend – a Graduate Student Halloween Party on Friday (which was in Rains, a Stanford Graduate Dorm), a Sloan Fellow’s party on Saturday (which was for our class and partners, held at one of our colleague’s house in Palo Alto), and the MBA Halloween party (which was at a local nightclub in Palo Alto). This is the benefit of being on campus – honestly I don’t think I’ve even been to three Halloween parties over the past three years, let alone in one weekend.

For many of our international friends, this whole Halloween thing was a bit of a spectacle. Why were we dressing up in funny costumes? Why were we putting in so much effort to dress up in funny costumes? Did they have to wear costumes to come to a Halloween Party or could they go in normal clothes? If Halloween is supposed to be scary, why were there people walking around dressed as politicians?

Of the three parties that I went to, the Sloan Halloween party was by far the most fun. Which is funny because we definitely had the highest average age of the three parties. We had classmates dressed as everything from Arab Oil Sheiks to the Grim Reaper and the Incredible Hulk (actually we had two Hulks at our Sloan party alone, growling at each other every chance they got).

But what was the most popular costume on campus this Halloween? Without a doubt, it was Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin.

While I did see one Hillary, one Bill Clinton, one Barack Obama, and one John McCain. I counted at least 10 Sarah Palin’s. Most of them were dressed up in suits, with hair adorned like the veep candidate and matching glasses to boot. If that wasn’t enough, one of them was dressed in a bikini swimsuit with a beauty-contestant sash. And once I ran into two Sarah Palin’s travelling together who looked slightly different –one was Sarah when she was Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and the other was after her national makeover. Now that was scary.

Return to Normalcy

Even scarier? On Sunday night, I found myself suddenly without anything to do. No more exams. My take-home paper was done. My take-home exam was done. There were no more Halloween parties. No GSB events or Sloan activities to attend. No required Leadership workshops, prep sessions, or Seminars to dress up for. No last minute study group meetings for assignments due on Monday morning.

Wow. After two months of non-stop activity, I suddenly found myself not knowing what to do with myself. I tried hard to remember what it was like to be a normal person again.

Then I recalled that we had lots of reading to do for this upcoming week, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Since the OB class was over, we also had a new Strategy class that started at 8 am and there was no way I was going to make that unless I got some sleep this week. Somehow the large amount of reading (which I hadn’t done yet) and upcoming assignments (which I hadn’t started yet) hanging over my head had become comforting.

I found that a little bit disturbing. Instead of doing any reading that night, I rented a science fiction movie and watched it guilt-free.

SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: the opinions and experiences recounted in these blog entries about my year at Stanford Business School for the Sloan Program are my own personal observations and ranting. This blog is not endorsed by either the Stanford GSB and definately not by any of my fellow Fellows

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12:08 PM  

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