Friday, December 21, 2007

Stanford Statement of Purpose

This statement of purpose headlined an extensive application to
Stanford's Management Science & Engineering doctoral program
that's reported to accept half of all applicants and half of those
are international students.

I come from the lowest socioeconomic quartile and submitted
a 174 page master's thesis, several transcripts including a
3.60 overall MBA GPA as well as long VITA and published
article title The Hybrid Phenomenon!

In my gut, this application ranked in the top half of all
and definitely in the top quartile of American applicants
from the lower socioeconomic quartile that don't have
the resources to buy or attend test prep courses and
materials and have to work part time jobs while earning
GPAs that may appear lower than rival upper class applicants.

This is one of the best pieces I've written in 20 years,
full of passion, research, facts, qualifications and specific
doctoral research interests that fit the MS&E program.

Statement of Purpose by John Acheson

CarLab changed everything! We were still anxious about the thought of leaving the West Coast to continue my master’s research. Over a year ago, I had to decline an interview from McKinsey’s auto research group out of Chicago because my wife and I couldn’t relocate. Two months ago, after sending my thesis to the only Automotive Engineering PhD program in the United States, I was flattered and surprised to get an email back from the faculty at Clemson. “Please, go ahead and apply.” It was completely unexpected because I didn’t have an engineering degree…

After mulling it over, I politely declined due to geography and was about to put the three year doctoral search on the shelf again... But my wife urged, “Your thesis topic is in season right now!” She reminded me that I had gotten published this year and next year would be too late. She was right, and I continued to search for the right program…

There were only a few other labs in the country, mostly around motor city. But Detroit was still studying the century long run of the internal combustion engine, and most replies I got back from professors described research on improving yesteryear’s technologies. Who was studying the automobile’s future, particularly out West?

UC Davis pioneered plug-in hybrids but lacked any doctoral offering in management. I had heard about a UCLA professor doing a hybrid engine project, a master’s racing lab in Colorado and a teacher tinkering on hybrids in Washington but I couldn’t find any groundbreaking research here in the West. Research like Dr. Cui’s recent Lithium breakthrough that will revolutionize hybrid and electric car batteries! [[1]]

I had looked at both MS&E and the GSB a few years ago. But coming from the lowest socioeconomic quartile, I’ve always assumed Stanford was out of reach. When Stanford announced plans to build a “state-of-the-art facility for vehicle research on campus,” [[2]] I couldn’t believe it! I took another look, visited the campus again, and realized that the future was happening right now in the Bay Area. With CleanTech booming in the valley, it dawned on me that Stanford could help jump start the next-generation automobile. So I started digging and was pleasantly surprised to find several automotive and related research projects (see Why Stanford?). Wow! Here was a place for my master’s research and MS&E fit my MBA major and specialty.

That’s when the news about Terman announcing CarLab hit me! Like an epiphany, I felt like a first-time home buyer that walks into that perfect house: the one you dream about for years. For me, it was the address “Quonset Hut.” [[3]] Suddenly, it seemed like I had found a place. CarLab’s research mission tapped into my passion and changed my thoughts of Stanford from an ivory tower to friendly lab. SOE now felt like a dream home: world-class multidisciplinary research, perfect geography and a family home.

I’m writing this statement to apply to the doctoral program in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford’s Terman School. My areas of interest (automotive technology, entrepreneurship, strategy, energy economics) build on my master’s research. My thesis (see The Hybrid Phenomenon master’s project)[[4]] studied oil/fuels, environment, culture, markets, consumers, technology and global impact on the automotive industry.

Why Stanford?

Joining the Stanford automotive network and CleanTech community are the most important purposes. Terman brings together vibrant innovative research that studies the future. Collaboration with Volkswagen to form CarLab is a perfect example.

Stanford’s CarLab will be the only automotive research lab in an American university poised to lead the digital future of the automobile. There’s no competition. I’ve contacted research faculty at Clemson and several schools in Michigan. I’ve visited Claremont, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, Santa Clara and Cal; U.C. Davis has an excellent transportation program but lacks business, entrepreneurship, management and strategy. I’ve collected brochures from MIT, Yale and other East Coast doctoral programs, just in case I had to replace the automotive dream with a research name.

CarLab is both. Professor Chris Gerdes explains "The mission of CarLab is to radically rethink the automobile.” CarLab “will engage the Stanford community and generate research and teaching opportunities.”[[5]]

Dean Jim Plummer is looking “forward to the state-of-the-art facility for vehicle research, where students can help develop the next several generations of automotive transportation” with an “initial focus on vehicle safety and environmental performance.”[[6]]

Stanford’s long history of auto industry research backs up the CarLab mission:

· Volkswagen and CarLab are creating a $5.75 automotive research and teaching program[[7]]

· General Motors (GM) R&D established a major Collaborative Research Lab in Work Systems with Stanford University.[[8]] Along with the NSF, GM and MS&E’s Center for Work, Technology & Organization collaborate on auto industry research for two of MS&E’s main research projects & grants.[[9]] GM is also a partner of the SOE’s Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing[[10]] as well as being one of the current MS&E industry affiliates[[11]]

· GM, Honda R&D, Nissan and Toyota are members and supporters of the Stanford Global Supply Management Forum, another MS&E research group[[12]]

· BMW, Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Volvo have all been design affiliates and members of the ME Design Industrial Affiliates Teaching Program[[13]]

· Over 25 years ago, Toyota hired Stanford Research Institute for a feasibility study to look into building its first United States factory.[[14]] Today Toyota runs 15 factories in North America while investing $50 million into Stanford’s Global Climate & Energy Project[[15]]

I would like to join Stanford, Terman and MS&E to “radically rethink the automobile.” The desire to study how the auto industry and its global users can overcome a climate, economic and energy crisis defines my purpose.

Dissertation Interests

Conducting research at Stanford’s world-class auto network is an opportunity to study big interdisciplinary problems. As the impact of transportation challenges mankind on a global level across our largest systems, digital is the common theme. Stanford’s position in software and innovation makes Terman researchers poised to lead a potential CleanTech automotive revolution. I want to help model this scenario.

The auto industry is America’s largest manufacturing industry. The business hires more than 1 in 10 employees in our economy. Automakers spend more on R&D than any other company. Worldwide, the most powerful industrialized countries all rely on car-making for global economic success. Cars and trucks enable growth and success while driving the largest infrastructure man has ever built.[[16]]

But the impact of the fleet is massive. Millions are injured or die each year from accidents and smog related deaths alone. Running the fleet consumes more than half of the world’s oil and produces over 50% of the emissions in many large cities. Alternative fuels are exacerbating the demand for feed stocks. With billions of first time buyers coming online in the next decades, the fleet is projected to grow two or three times: straining economics, energy, health, infrastructure and the environment.[[17]]

Our global fleet (all the world’s cars & trucks) is accelerating towards the end of our non-renewable resources while increasing societal costs and global emissions.

I would like to learn how to model the fleet and some of its systems, to measure costs and impact, while studying the digitization of the automobile as the leading answer to this global challenge. I applaud CarLab’s mission to “radically rethink the automobile” and would immediately take this challenge to heart!

Research and Passion

My master’s culminating experience best summarizes my academic excellence and teaching potential (see CV), research potential (see thesis), intellectual independence and vitality (see thesis Preface), ability to communicate research (see The Hybrid Phenomenon article) and passion for automotive technology:

During a three year period that included moving four times, a 700 mile commute, a graduate assistantship, volunteering and more, my research abilities blossomed. I…

· drove, rode, attended, talked, watched, listened and participated

· analyzed, interviewed, read, researched, wrote and edited 1,000+ pages

· distilled a 174 page MBA research project that included 186 footnotes, 24 references, seven tables, 24 figures and four appendices that summarized events, captured ten primary interviews and listed hundreds of hybrids

· earned an A+ and co-published a derivative article after graduation

I also worked part-time, ran businesses, joined academic honor societies and gave back to my alma mater’s community. Driven by curiosity and passion, three years of multiple drafts changed me from grad student to researcher to writer.

My passion for mobility started on a Big Wheel; I’ve been interested in transportation technology every since. From trikes to bikes to go-karts to mini-bikes to motorcycles to automobiles to hybrids including life without a car, I’ve gone from driver to owner to thinker to researcher to concerned citizen about the impact of mobility on mankind.

Accepting my application to the doctoral program in Management Science and Engineering can let my master’s research bloom as Stanford’s CarLab takes root. There has never been a better time and place to learn the multidisciplinary research skills and technical knowledge required to study a “brighter future”[[18]] for the automobile at MS&E’s “interface of engineering, business and public policy.”[[19]]

[[1]] Stanford Report, “Stanford’s nanowire battery holds ten times the charge of existing ones,” Stanford News Service, December 18, 2007. Available:

[[2]] S. Keyes, Volkswagen to Contribute $5.75 million to Stanford University,” Volkswagen of America, Inc. Official Online Newsroom, November 15, 2007. Available:

[[3]] Stanford Report, “Stanford, Volkswagen team up to create automotive research lab,” Stanford News Service, November 28, 2007. Available:

[[4]] J. Acheson, “The Hybrid Phenomenon.” M.B.A. thesis San Francisco State University, 2006.

[[5]] See Footnote 1.

[[6]] See Footnote 1.

[[7]] See Footnote 1 and 3.

[[8]] Stanford University, “MS&E | about us: Graduate Student Handbook 2007 - 2008,” Department of Management Science & Engineering, pg. 7. Available:

[[9]] E. Pate-Cornell and Y. Ye, “MS&E | corporate: Industry Affiliates Program - PPT presentation,” Department of Management Science & Engineering. Available:

[[10]] Stanford University, “MS&E | Industry Partners,” Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing. Available:

[[11]] Stanford University, “MS&E | corporate,” Department of Management Science & Engineering. Available:

[[12]] Stanford University, “Global Supply Chain Management Forum - Members & Affiliates,” Graduate School of Business. Available:

[[13]] K. Burns, Design Industrial Affiliates Teaching Program - A Sampling of Design Affiliates, Past and Present,” Stanford University Department of Mechanical Engineering. Available:

[[14]] Sato, Masaaki, The Honda Myth, New York: Vertical, Inc., 2006, pg. 252.

[[15]] Stanford University, “About Us - Sponsors,” Global Climate and Energy Project. Available:

[[16]] See Footnote 2.

[[17]] See Footnote 2.

[[18]] Stanford University, “Stanford Engineering - Imagine a brighter future,” School of Engineering. Available:

[[19]] Stanford University, “MS&E | about us,” Department of Management Science & Engineering. Available:


Jer&Ady said...

I just came across your Statement of Purpose for Stanford and I am writing mine for Stanford! So..... did you complete your Ph.D there?

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nighthopper said...

Thanks for asking if John got into Stanford as the painful answer "no" still hurts today as a Google search for "CarLab Stanford" results shows no updates in the mission to radically rethink the automobile and shockingly this page ranks 5th on the search showing that there have been little findings to move my 3 1/2 year old post down... what kind of future is Stanford imagining?

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