Research Journal #5

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What kind of scholar do I want to be?

This question has always been in my mind since I decided to pursue PhD. At that time, I was still an undergrad and had very limited interaction with scholars apart from taking classes. In the past several month I was fortunate to have the chance to interact with many world-class scholars in business academia. The experience is extremely inspiring, which prompts me to think deeper into the question. I would like to divide the question into two aspects including research and teaching.

Research

Since the majority of a scholar's time is spent on doing research, what kind of research you do largely defines what kind of scholar you are.

This should be my first principle of academic research. While research in basic science may not directly pursue practical relevance, business research in my mind is primarily serving the current needs of the modern economy.

There are two ways to satisfy the "important" criteria: (1) Research output can directly help industry practioners/policy makers improve their organizational outcome. (2) Research output can uncover some important mechansims which can extend one's understanding on the inner-working of modern economy. I feel research in areas such as operations management and marketing fit more nicely into the first bucket, while research in management or economics are closer to the second. Achieving either goal requires both analytical capacity and good research taste. The bottom line is that I should never try to publish for its own sake. Ideally, publishing is the by-product of this intellectual pursuit on solving imporant problems.

Many faculty members mentioned that the tools (methodologies) you use determine what kind of problems you can solve. The researcher I want to be is the one who is highly flexible in different methodologies. He won't restrict himself in the methodology he uses and refuses to learn new tools because it's too difficult or for other reasons. He can select the right tool according to the problem he wants to solve. But still, I agree that certain level of specialization is needed. The ideal situation is the "T-shaped" ability map where one is specialized in one tool, but also have basic fluency in other tools.

Karl Marx, David Ricardo, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Paul Samuelson... These great economists went beyond the definition of scholar. They are deep thinkers who can help the society understand the most pressing issues of its current age and figure out the solutions. They are the ones who extend human knowledge at great scale that have lasting impact on generations of people.

This is the goal I feel extremely excited about both from the perspective of intellectual achievement and positive impact on the society. But I'm also fully aware that I may never be able to achieve this in my life. I'm confident that through hard work and persistence, I can achieve the first two goals and become a scholar who can produce high quality research that can win the recognition of peers. But the last goal requires talents, extreme perserverance and luck that can be hard to control. On the other side, I'm already thankful that I have the chance to learn from these great thinkers, and follow their pursuit on social understanding.

Teaching

The concept of being a teacher used to be a bit initimidating for me since the teacher is considered as the authority in the subject. The style I would rather prefer to adopt is more as a tour guide where I have a high-level planning on the travel route, but would love to discover the sights in detail through mutual discovery with students.

No matter what subject I teach, the bottom line is that I must convey the practical knowledge efficiently. But I also hope to bring something beyond the practical knowledge from the perspective of a business professional. For example, if I am to teach a marketing strategy course, I would encourage students' to think about the social critisms on marketing; if I am to teach a operations management course, additional case study on how people a thousand years ago managed operations would bring interesting insights; for a business strategy course, transferring the analytical framework to one's personal career would be fun, too. I personally enjoy these extending thoughts when I am learning business, and I truly feel that they are helpful to enrich the understanding of business.

Besides, I'm also passionate about teaching a course in business history discussing how business influenced the world as a whole. People nowadays take companies as granted, but two hundred years ago very few people even have to get up and "go to work" in the morning. The economic organization changed significantly in the past centuries, which is indeed something new in human history that has brought profound impact on how people live, how nations are organized, and how society is formed.

In this course, we can discuss issues such as the changing role played by entrepreneurs in history. We can discuss the concept of "innovation". Why it becomes central in the modern economy, but not in ancient days? The concept of "growth" is also a new-born in the modern economy which can be fun to disucss. This course will be different from the business ethics or CSR courses commonly taught to business students. It focuses on bringing the historical context of mordern economy to students. Though right now I'm still farily ignorant in this subject as well, I feel it is highly interesting, and deeply important to have this discussion with students and even the broader public.

Concluding Remarks

When I saw the homeless people on the street, I always feel deeply empathetic about them and also realize how privileged I am to enjoy the life right now. I can study interesting things every day, interact with insightful scholars and ride my own intellectual journey without worrying where my next meal would come from. Man, you've got to make the most of the opportunity you have, push yourself to your limit, make the job worthwhile for your own and for people in the society who make this possible for you.

© Zhiwei (Berry) Wang.RSS