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Tips and Advice for Working in a Business School

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a business school? SPSP asked five members who are doing just that to share how their day-to-day experience differs from that of a psychology faculty member. The common themes included a focus on application among faculty and students, more hands-on expectations for teaching and conducting research with students, and more interdisciplinary collaboration. 

A shared theme for how members began working in a business school was that they realized they could continue to focus on their research interests, while also being able to hone in on practical applications.

For Spike Lee, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Toronto, the decision flowed organically.

“I thought about what my interests were at the time, and they were judgment and decision-making, mind-body relations, and unconscious processes, and also the goal to apply some very theoretical ideas into real-life context,” he said. “I realized that the business school environment was quite conducive to these things.”

For others, like Randall Peterson, the application of research was appealing.

“I realized I could research the same things, but be able to talk about applications with practicing executives – so people would come out of my classroom and try things I recommended, which was very appealing,” said Randall, a professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School.

There are many differences between working in a management or organizational behavior department or a marketing department, as compared with working in a psychology department. For example, teaching in a business school is more hands-on, and plays a greater role in hiring decisions.

“Teaching in a B school is very interactive, often involving exercises that require debriefing or case discussions. So you need to enjoy interactive teaching, to be capable of answering challenging questions and involving students in the discussion. Also, hiring is often done around teaching demands and needs, so having research that connects to teaching can be helpful (e.g., leadership, power, ethics, negotiations, decision making)” said Adam Galinsky, chair of the management division and Vikram S. Pandit professor of business at Columbia University.

The focus on teaching is partly a result of the types of students who enroll in business school programs.

“MBA teaching is much more application focused, and MBAs will not hesitate to give you a hard time if they don't immediately appreciate how they can use what you are teaching them. That being said, if they are engaged with the material, they will push you further in interesting directions than undergraduates. Ultimately, while they are more challenging, teaching them can also be more satisfying, in my opinion,” said Rosalind Chow, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University.

Adam echoed Rosalind’s sentiment about the focus on application.

“Business schools value theory, but they also put an emphasis on the practical implications of that theoretical work. Your MBA students will want to know how they can implement a research finding into their own life or their future business experience,” he said.

Rosalind also spoke to the organizational differences between how psychology department faculty and business school faculty interact with students. Psychology departments rely on a lab system, and business schools do not.

“Psychology department faculty generally accept students into a lab, and the students ‘belong’ to that faculty member. Students at business schools ‘belong’ to the program. This means that to find advisors, students are constantly 'pitching' ideas to faculty, and there is more ‘crafting’ that occurs between student and faculty member to create projects that are of mutual interest,” she said.

Many interviewees mentioned that working alongside colleagues from multiple disciplines was one of their favorite things about working in a business school setting.

“I love the interdisciplinary nature of business schools – in my department are psychologists and sociologists, and then down the hall are economist and decision scientists. I am constantly challenged to think about my research problems in new and different ways,” Randall said.

“I am working on topics around creativity and innovation with a professor of Innovation Management. I also work on decision making research together with a professor of accountancy. Expertise in behavioral research is greatly valued by many of these disciplines, and that I feel that I have something to offer,” said Bernard Nijstad, professor of human resource management and organizational behavior at the University of Groningen.

And for social-personality psychologists wishing to transition to a business school setting?

“Go to major conferences that are relevant to b-school faculty members. And present whatever you’re currently working on, and see if it resonates with people. At your own university, have conversations with people who have gone through the process that you may be signing up for. The earlier you start this process, the more well-prepared you can be when you’re on the job market,” Spike advised.

“Behavioral expertise is valued, and most colleagues are also genuinely interested in certain psychological phenomena. Use and sell your expertise,” said Bernard.

Thank you to Spike, Randall, Adam, Rosalind, and Bernard for sharing their insights! 

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