Success in academia – Advice from 3 high achieving scholars

On the first day of the 2009 Academy of Management Conference, I attended a great panel discussion on the topic: “Success in Academia”. I might add “and Beyond”, as the advice given is also relevant to learning, personal productivity and career in general.

The participants were three Academy of Management Laureates, each of them with an academic career spanning over 40 years.
• Distinguished Professor Michael A. Hitt, from Texas A&M University
• Emeritus Professor Edwin A. Locke, from The University of Maryland, College Park
• Distinguished Professor Fred Luthans, from The University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The discussion focussed on the journey to become an independent scholar. I have structured their advice into 5 sections:

1. Learning through apprentiship

• Stage 1 – Learn to analyse data by analysing existing datasets. Research assistantship is a useful step in this direction. “Data analysis is not just a science, it is also an art.” Edwin Locke
• Stage 2 – Get involved in the design of studies.
• Stage 3 – Know how to write. The method and results sections are considered to be the easiest. The introduction is the most difficult to write. Reviewers have a hard time getting past the data.
• Stage 4 – Write the discussion section – the easiest to write.
• Stage 5 – Job search preparation. At The University of Maryland a job preparation seminar takes place several times a year, addressing the topic of what it is like to be a professor. All candidates are requested to try 2-3 times their job interview presentation.
• Stage 6 – Seek individual advice customised to personal values, interests. Doctoral students are very poor at introspection.

2. Guidance through mentoring

• Senior academics are interested to provide help with questions about ethics, strategies, getting citations, making tenure upon finishing with the dissertation, etc.
• Professor Michael A. Hitt supervised 85 doctoral students over 40 year career. His mentoring methods changed from early, mid to late stage in the career.
• PhD. students fall in two categories:
1. Irrational type – fixed idea, can’t get out of it.
2. Smart and creative – you can have a rational discussion with them.
Assistant Professors are more rigid.

3. Mistakes made by young researchers

• Junior faculty not getting involved in research soon/early enough. They are unlikely to get tenure as a result. Some don’t get it and some don’t want to.
How to avoid it: An option is to volunteer to review research and make comments.
• Research students lock in on a topic way too quickly after the first exposure to a seminar – topic.
How to avoid it: Take at least one year of review and thinking before locking in a PhD. research topic.
• Not a good idea to select a topic the supervisor has done work in.
How to avoid it: Instead the following rule should be used: pick a topic that interest you; if the supervisor has some knowledge or interest, will supervise.
• Researchers don’t do parallel research. They start one project and stick to that. The linear process is a disaster. The tunnel vision doesn’t work. The duration between design and acceptance extended from 1 to 5 years now due to reviews and reviewers. An assistant professor has about 6 years to make tenure.
How to avoid it: Need to hedge your risks, especially under time pressure. Always work on multiple projects. 5-7 projects at the same time.
• PhD. students shouldn’t be involved in reviewing papers for academic journals. An unexperienced reviewer has tunnel vision, often picks on one thing and expands on it, while missing the point of the article. There are many junior faculty members on the editorial boards of journals. One reviewer didn’t know what self-efficacy meant.

4. Personal research productivity. Personal habits that help being productive.

1. Productivity takes effort, time, concentration and motivation.
2. There is no substitute for hard work. Hard work trumps intellect.
3. To be a world class expert you need 10,000 hours of effort in that field.
4. Avoid procrastination , although it is common in any field around the world.
5. It helps to choose – when and where to work to be productive.
6. You need uninterrupted time to work on research.
7. Establishing rituals and goals works for research productivity. You have got to set up and customise rituals and routines – specific times and specific behaviours. We all use them in day to day life – from being an athlete to brushing teeth. Examples:
• 7-11pm every night in the office at home.
• Stay at home on a particular day: i.e. Thursday.
• Write early in the morning: 7-11am.
• University office time late in the afternoon.
• Rule – only work in the office.
• 5pg./day = x pages/year.
8. Once you have a ritual, feel good for doing it or feeling guilty for not going it.
9. Collaboration is also important. Working with others is important as you get a lot more done – division of labour helps. Need to be sure the uni tenure doesn’t penalise collaborative research.
10. Delegation. Data analysis can be delegated to others. There are new mantas – hierarchical linear regression. The method should reflect what you need.
11. Motivation. To be a good researcher for a long time you have to love it. The entire process – conceptualising, designing, writing , dealing with reviewers. You have to love writing and the process of discovery. You also need to be tenacious in the face of failure.
12. Develop ability to work fast.
13. Keep up to date with business news – Business Week, Fortune magazine.

5. Career Advice

• Career success comes from research – this is how you get distinguished professorship. A large portion of the pie for research. In the order of priority: 1. Research, 2. Teaching, 3. Committee work
• Goal in research – do good work. Not fame and popularity.
• Exposure from textbooks helps a lot for promotion and tenure.
• On teaching: not value in listing tools and listing theories. A better way to teach management is to teach principles. Write chapters around principles. Integrate knowledge into principles and sub principles.
• The data is not what you want.
• Need to be open in the approach to research.
• Pay attention to what is being done, not just doing it
• Insert a set of values in what you do.

2009 Academy of Management Meeting statistics


The 69th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management will take place between 7-11 August 2009 in Chicago, USA. The theme for this year’s edition is “Green Management Matters”, inspired by society’s increasing concern about responsible stewardship of the natural environment.

2009 AOM meeting in numbers

Over 10,000 attendees
8,380 people on program from 78 countries
1,672 sessions

Paper submission statistics

6,795 submissions evaluated by 5,456 volunteer reviewers
Highest number of submissions in the Business Processes & Strategy (741) and Organisational Behaviour (711) Divisions
Lowest number of submissions in the Management History (34), Management, Spirituality and Religion (50) and Management Consulting (61) Divisions.

Affiliations from outside of US with 30+ participants

Bocconi U, Italy
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
IESE Business School, Spain
INSEAD, France
National University of Singapore, Singapore
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands
University of St. Galen, Switzerland
University of Toronto, Canada
York University, Canada

Countries with the highest number of participants


Data sources:
Academy of Management Program
US Census Bureau

More interesting statistics are available on page 35 of the meeting program guide:
2009 Academy of Management Meeting statistics