Perspectives from ISB

In addition to teaching, faculty at ISB spend a significant amount of time (upwards of 40% of their time) doing research on various management topics. For those of you not familiar with academia, this is what academic research is about:

Methodology – Faculty come up with an idea or hypothesis in their areas of interest and start a Working Paper on it. They collect data by conducting experiments, running surveys, procuring large amounts of data from companies and organisations, conducting in-depth interviews with people who are in the know (like CXOs and decision makers in companies), etc. Then, they employ statistical models to study the data and identify patterns, test their hypotheses against real-world findings, refine their understanding, and validate the new understanding with more research. A working paper can go through several such iterations for months, getting ever closer to a final outcome.

During that time, feedback is sought from the academic world on the research they are undertaking – through presentations of intermediate findings at seminars and conferences, inviting peer reviews, collaborations, etc. The final version of a paper is submitted to top-tier management journals for publication. The journal then has it reviewed by peers and experts in the field, who thoroughly examine the research to ensure that the findings are accurate and irrefutable. If it passes the stringent review criteria of the journal and is deemed to be a significant finding, then the journal publishes the article and credits the authors. This is the final output of academic research. Depending on the topic, the process of publishing a single paper can take several months or even years – that is how rigorous academic research is. In addition to a published paper, faculty research work can also result in the publication of teaching cases, books, book chapters, industry reports, etc.

Significance of output – Faculty and schools invest in research to create and disseminating knowledge that benefits industry, government and society. Often times, research findings are adopted into industry practice – for example, pricing models of commodity derivatives like futures and options, efficient supply chains, airline revenue optimization, salary/compensation models, change management approaches, etc, were developed and refined in universities through research and later applied to industry. A lot of the research done by faculty is also used to advise government and influence public policy. Needless to say, academic research is an integral part of global development.

In academia, once a research paper is published, other researchers often utilise the findings to support their own work and build on it to improve the body of knowledge. It becomes a virtuous circle.

Benefits to students – At ISB, we place central importance on faculty research, and we were among the first Indian B-schools to follow the tenure track for faculty. But how do students benefit from the research that faculty undertake? In a nutshell, the quality of the research directly translates to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. Here are some of the ways that you, as students, can benefit:

  1. Given the rigour of the research, faculty exploring a certain area become experts on the matter and they share their insights with students. They are able to explain to you why things work the way they work. They can help you understand the theory by illustrating it with examples from their experience. Learning from faculty who are deeply, intellectually involved with a subject is by itself an experience as the depth of coverage of the subject is far superior.
  2. As mentioned before, while conducting research and publishing cases, faculty often work very closely with various organisations and companies, and have direct access to CXOs and decision makers. They get an inside look at what transpired behind the scenes and are able to understand the context in which difficult decisions were taken. When faculty use their own cases and research as teaching aids, classroom discussions become immensely richer and more insightful, and you are able to uncover nuances that you normally can’t get from just following text books.
  3. Faculty involved in research are excited about the areas they explore. They are constantly looking for new ideas and concepts. So they welcome questions and debates and like to be challenged by students in the classroom, since it often opens up new lines of thinking. As a student, your learning experience is more involved and enjoyable – very different from the hour-long one-way lectures you may have received in your school or undergraduate education.
  4. Of course, faculty research is almost always at the cutting edge. Being exposed to new and powerful ideas while in B-school, well before industry or peers from other schools have access to them, can give students a serious head start in career-related matters like the ability to hit the road running, bringing in unique ideas and insights, and overall improved performance at the workplace through a better grasp of new concepts.
  5. Given the nature of cutting-edge research, it is important that students have access to it quickly enough to reap the benefits. At ISB, since setting and modifying the course curricula is done internally by area leaders and programme leaders, the research is introduced into the curriculum while it is still fresh and relevant. This helps immensely in achieving your learning goals.

Those students who want to be part of the research process and get first-hand experience can work with faculty and assist them in their research. There is even a credit course called Faculty Initiated Research Project (FIRP) that facilitates this and counts towards the PGP credit requirement. And of course, there are always faculty-guided independent study projects that students can take up.

Now that you know more about the value that faculty’s research can add to your learning, you could do some research of your own to identify different faculty that are building expertise in areas of interest to you, and think about how you can benefit from interacting with them while in B-school. The ISB Faculty Directory is a useful tool in this regard, so I encourage you to explore it.

Next week, I will blog about another aspect of the ISB learning experience that many applicants and students are often excited about: Applied Learning projects.

All the best!

With inputs from Professor Abhijeet Vadera.