Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Today's Hump Day Hmm asks, "What shift in thinking have you experienced that caused you to view others differently, and created a new way of thinking in yourself?"

When I was really young, I heard a lot of comments about teachers and professors that diminished their achievements. "Those who can't do, teach" would fit the general theme of these comments. I certainly encountered my share of teachers who seemed to fit that mold, though I would say the majority of my teachers in school did not. Yet somehow that mindset still stuck with me. In college, I ran across a few more who might have explained that mindset about professors, but again, I met more who didn't fit it. Still, I could not bring myself to just switch off that thought when it came to my own career choices, "I just can't be a teacher; I don't want to be thought of like that." So I set aside my desire to teach with the thought that "some day" I could go back and teach once I had "been there" or "knew something".

Along those lines, I also thought of research as one of the most boring, mundane things I could imagine. I imagined people stuck in a lab working with chemicals and running experiments or in a library combing over dusty tombs. Research was either science (which was fun to read about but not what I wanted to actually do) or history (which was a lot of fun to read about but absolutely not what I wanted to spend a lifetime on). I just knew it would be the "bitter pill" I would have to swallow if I did decide to become a professor, so that gave me even more reason to wait until I had accomplished "enough" that I wouldn't have to delve into such mundane tasks.

Then I went to graduate school. My professors were down to Earth people, but also extremely bright. Clearly they were accomplished, and in many cases paid better than many executives for their advice. The idea that these intelligent people could not "do" simply did not fit anymore. They had chosen the career that made them happy, and they were a joy to work with in most cases. So I knocked a few bricks out of my own mental wall that kept me from believing I could become a professor. Still, there was that "research" which had to be done. So I talked to a professor about getting a Ph.D. so I could teach. She immediately pointed out that one never gets a Ph.D. "to teach" but instead to pursue a career in research. I listened to her explanation, but it just sounded too much like "Don't plan on being a professor anytime soon" at the time.

My moment of Eureka did not come in a bath tub, and I definitely did not run naked down the street. It might not have even been one moment. But it finally clicked: research was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Research is where new ideas are formulated, tested, and retested. Then those ideas are put forth for others to consider and either use or challenge. Research brings forth cutting edge concepts that help the next generation of business leaders continue to innovate. I am sure these thoughts sound like a sales pitch to some, but it really clicked in my brain, especially after reading several research papers. I WANT to research. I can reach more students with that work (if other professors utilize my publications) than just those I teach in my classrooms. No longer is research the bitter pill for me, but instead it is something that excites me to become a part of. I look forward to a future filled with curiosity and intrigue. As several professors have said, "This is the greatest job in the world. I get to choose what I do every day, and I get to work on things that matter to me."

That was the awakening that came to me over the last few months that completely changed my thinking about myself and my future. Now I know why professors do what they do, and why research is such an important part of the equation on university campuses. Without new research, the same material would be taught over and over, dumbing down with each new regurgitation. Instead, classroom material is revitalized and renewed, innovations are encouraged and brought forth. Out with the old (if it is no longer valid) and in with the new (hopefully because it improves things). It's an entrepreneurial perspective on research and academic endeavors - and I love it.

-- Robert


Natasha said...

I think that sounds very exciting!! I love research and it sounds like a ton of fun. Looking forward to hearing what research you're working on.

I have heard that phrase before and my husband thinks it's generally true for law, that those who can't do, teach.

Robert said...

Yes, I've heard that from several of the lawyers I know. I have also heard it from most of the successful businessmen I know, even though they often are big benefactors at universities. I guess the irony is that they admire the schools "despite" their perspective of professors not "because" of how much they admire them.

The professors I met in graduate school and at the recent AOM conference definitely do not fit the "can't do" mindset. Many of them are successful entrepreneurs in addition to being professors. I think the dynamic has changed, basically. Some of what I want to research is in my previous posts, just so you're aware.