PhD Graduates Look Back Upon the GSB Experience
I decided to come to Stanford's GSB program because of the prestige and academic reputation that Stanford has. However, throughout my graduate career, I found that Stanford has something even more valuable to offer: an opportunity to interact with top caliber faculty and students. Throughout my 5 years at Stanford, I was able to work with established, well-known professors who benefited from years of experience that translated into comprehensive perspectives on the field. I was also able to work with young assistant professors who could identify with graduate student life, were highly motivated to publish and be productive, and were at the cutting edge of the field. Not many other programs provide such an opportunity to strike a balance between assistant and chaired professors, without having to sacrifice on intellectual rigor and reputation. Having the exposure to such a diverse and excellent faculty helped me to find the training and support that I needed.
Stanford is a wonderful place to both learn and play. The community of graduate students greatly contributed to my time as a graduate student as well—I forged lasting friendships, made valuable connections to others in the field, and feel that I am part of a network that extends to the top-tier business schools in the world.
The PhD program at the Stanford GSB is clearly one of the very best of its kind in the world. There are two main reasons for this. First, the faculty is both of exceptional quality and very eager to interact with the students. Second, the student body is extremely strong, which makes the learning and research processes considerably more exciting and successful.
Having expected these features, I chose to join Stanford rather than any other business school, and I never regretted my decision. Even now, five years later, I am still amazed by the amount of time my adviser, Darrell Duffie, an absolute leader in his field, has devoted to me. As for the students, I can only consider myself honored to have met and interacted closely with so many people who have already started to make their strong imprint on the academic world. Add to that the wonderful surroundings and, yes, weather, of Stanford, the rich cultural life of the area, the excellence of all the departments of the university, and the diversity of the community, and you obtain one of the most attractive academic centers of the world.
Each year graduates from GSB Economics take jobs at top economics departments and business schools. A lucky streak? I think not. There are several reasons why the GSB environment tends to produce outstanding scholars, two of which stand out in my mind as the most important. (1) There are more world-class professors here than there are students. Unlike most programs where the faculty are the scarce resource and students must compete for their attention, here the students are the scarce resource. Faculty actually get excited when a student drops by to talk. Also, you will be surprised to find that faculty you haven't even met know all about you. (2) The faculty adopt an "engaged hands-off policy" toward students. What does this mean? For one thing, students are forced to come up with their own ideas and make their own way. No one will hold your hand, tell you what classes to take, or hand you a research agenda. On the other hand, all the while the faculty pay very close attention and wait eagerly in the wings for you to come to them for help in pursuing your own research vision. This makes life very difficult in the second and third year but consistently produces original and creative approaches to important research problems.
These qualities make GSB Economics probably the best place in the world to be if you are a self-motivated individual with a clear research interest in theory or applied theory. What if your interests drift after you begin graduate school and you become less interested in theory? Even in this case, you will have full access to the faculty in the Economics Department (they know how strong our students are and welcome them) and to our diversifying faculty. Every couple years we have such a student who also usually does very well on the academic market.
The only serious drawback of the GSB program for some, in my opinion, is its greatest strength for others: the faculty force you to direct yourself. In a traditional program, you must digest a large body of knowledge ("comps") before beginning your own research. Here you must master important tools of theoretical and empirical analysis ("fields"), but you are required to "learn" very little. Some students flail in such an unstructured environment while others thrive.
This is an excellent place to become a scholar. Rigorous coursework certainly forms the foundation, but it is the interaction with exceptional students and faculty that really differentiate the GSB. Students form deep bonds with each other because they are pushed very hard. Whether grabbing a burrito with classmates after finishing a problem set or meeting alumni many years my senior at conferences, there is a real sense of camaraderie.
While the number of faculty in a group is low relative to departments in the social science, the depth of student faculty interaction is tremendous. During first year classes faculty expose students to the questions they are working on, not simply to teach what they find interesting, but to learn from the students. From the beginning, students are treated as colleagues (albeit lower income colleagues). As a result, many PE students have established productive co-authoring relationships with faculty members. Faculty members take their role as advisor/mentor very seriously. It is fair to say that the faculty's aspiration is to produce the best scholars of political economy.
I became interested in the GSB's PhD Program during Mitchell Polinsky's introductory economics course as a J.D. student at Stanford Law School. Coming from the law school, I was initially awed by my PhD classmates' mathematical acumen. How would a multidisciplinary hack like me fit in? The trick is to flesh out wide interests with periods of intense focus. In this regard, I owe a debt to my mentors, Maureen McNichols and Bill Beaver. They helped me get: (1) Jim Ohlson, a leading East Coast accounting theorist, as my dissertation advisor; (2) a Stanford law degree with GSB financial help; and (3) a masters degree in economics with a thesis titled "Common Law Evolution with Endogenous Punctuated Equilibria" - not traditional accounting fare. Beyond their research genius, Stanford faculty take teaching seriously. I continuously rely on ideas I first learned in the classrooms of Bill Beaver, Darrell Duffie, Roberto Fernandez, Maureen McNichols, Mitch Polinsky, John Roberts, Jeff Strnad, and Bob Wilson. Without exaggeration, Stanford GSB is the only place I could have written the dissertation that I did.
At the GSB, faculty treat the students as peers at a very early stage. The Program involves students in research right from the beginning, and gives them both freedom and resources. In my first year, I was a research assistant for Bob Wilson, but in the end it seemed more like I was in a private research seminar. In each of the next two years, faculty members organized small groups to read and discuss papers. To this day, my thesis advisor (John Roberts) reads my papers and gives me advice. The GSB is a place where the faculty truly care about the well-being of the students, and do everything they can to help the students make it through the challenging process of learning to become outstanding researchers.
Finally, I really appreciated being part of a doctoral program where every single field is first-rate. Four years later, I cannot visit a top business school without bumping into my former classmates. The energy, ambition and optimism of the students make the GSB a very exciting place to study.
There is a very entrepreneurial spirit at the GSB which allows one to get involved in research and find out what you really want to do. With the support of my advisor I worked with other faculty members on projects, doing collaborative research with three GSB faculty members and three faculty members from outside the GSB. Because of this, when the time came to do my dissertation I had a deep interest and knowledge of several research areas to draw from. It allowed me to carve a little niche of my own and ask questions that no one else, not even my advisors, could ask in quite the same way. I am glad I made the move to Stanford. This program has allowed me to "find myself" both as a person and as a researcher.
One of the things that I most remember about my days as a PhD student at the GSB was how hard everyone worked. It was very common to find fellow students in their offices at night and on weekends. I think this is part of the reason why students graduate so quickly, compared to students at other PhD programs. Yet the hard work was fun, and it helped develop friendships. To this day, some of my best friends are the ones I'd regularly join for late-night jaunts to Taco Bell and Carl's Jr. in between problem sets.
There is a very friendly atmosphere at the school, and perhaps especially in the Political Economics program. When the program began in 1987, all four members of faculty were products of small towns. Although the program has since picked up some more cosmopolitan types (thank God!), the Newton-Kansas and Kankakee-Illinois friendliness continues. Sometimes it manifests itself in wonderful ways. For instance, around the end of my first week as a student, Professor Jonathan Bendor sought me out and introduced himself. I realized that at that point every political economics faculty member had met every one of the political economics students—all within one week! Eleven years later, I became a faculty member in the program. One of my primary goals is to make sure that that norm continues today.
When I decided to attend the GSB, I knew that the PhD Program attracted highly qualified students who went on to achieve a stellar placement record at top universities. More recently, I have come to understand why graduating from Stanford opens so many doors. Three factors ensure the value of the degree: (1) selectivity, (2) rigor in the curriculum, and (3) close interaction with the top faculty. The School is selective both in its highly competitive admissions process and the field exam process that follows students' initial course work, creating highly qualified graduates. The rigorous curriculum is superbly taught and contributes to student success on many levels: by developing skills and knowledge for research, by encouraging discipline in work habits, and by illustrating superior teaching technique. My advisors, Haim Mendelson and Seenu Srinivasan, were always available. They cared about me as a student and were earnestly interested in my work.
Considering the quality of preparation the doctoral students receive and the attention they get from the faculty, the fact that hiring universities open many doors to GSB graduates should come as no surprise. And while the Program challenges even the most talented of PhD candidates, it also rewards one's efforts with superior job placement and the unique satisfaction that comes from scholarly achievement.
- Columbia University
- Harvard University
- INSEAD, France
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- New York University
- Northwestern University
- Stanford University
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of California, Los Angeles
- University of Chicago
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Southern California
- University of Texas, Austin
- University of Washington