Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why Do You Teach?

I am back in Sweden for less than 24 hours and am sitting in my office at the School of Business, Economics and Law on a beautiful, crisp Saturday morning.

It is GREAT to be back and even the journey from Amherst to Boston Logan Airport and then on Delta to Amsterdam Schiphol, followed by KLM to Gothenburg, Sweden was wonderful! I was anxious since the weather forecast was not good - thunderstorms and high winds, and I met a gentleman at Logan, whose KLM flight the evening before had been cancelled. However, everything has to be kept in perspective, given the tornado disaster in Oklahoma, for example.

Thanks to Delta for such great service, despite there not being a single empty seat on the flight. Thanks also for my great seat assignment --aisle seat  - in the group of 4 rather than 2, as is usually my preference - but  next to a female MD and PhD, who works at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She was doing (and returning from) conducting collaborative research with a Harvard professor on autoimmune diseases and had also had a job interview at NYU. Her mother is a Full Professor of Medical Science at Karolinska so we talked about being females conducting research, the curiosity and passion that drives us, being part of a team, and even challenges (still) faced by female scientists today. She is presently on the interview circuit for a postdoc and I wish her well. She has 3 interviews at Oxford University this week with different research groups.

After landing, and being driven to my new apt., which is close to Chalmers University, with a gorgeous view of flowering trees and a pond, a shower and a short nap, I walked for miles, retracing a few of my favorite haunts in this second largest city in Sweden, which I have grown to love and which has become my second home.

I picked up the Friday issue of  The Global Edition of The New York Times (The International Herald Tribune), and, while having a meal at my favorite Indian restaurant here, read the OpEd by Professor Gary Gutting of the University of Notre Dame.

His Oped, Why Do I Teach?, is a must read for any educator at the college level and, after the end of the academic year, it is a great time to reflect on what we do. (The academic year is still in full swing here in Sweden and I am looking forward to many events and to giving my commencement speech here next month.)

Beautiful statements from Professor Gutting's OpEd:

College education is a proliferation of such possibilities (new possibilities for intellectual and aesthetic fulfillment): the beauty of mathematical discovery, the thrill of scientific understanding, the fascination of historical narrative, the mystery of theological speculation. We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students' souls.

The fruits of college teaching should be measured not by tests but by the popularity of museums, classical concerts, art film houses and book discussions, and publications like Scientific American, the New York Review of Books, The Economist and The Atlantic, to cite just a few. These are the places where our students reap benefits of their education.

Coincidentally,  for my flights, I had packed up not only a New York Times but also (saved up) two issues of The Economist, one of which I shared with my traveling companion, Dr. Dr. Susanna of Stockholm (since she has an MD and a PhD I believe the Dr. Dr. is merited.). She was very grateful, since she had been working so hard at Harvard that she had not packed up any reading material.

And, yesterday, while doing a quick check of my email I found out from one of my doctoral students, Dong "Michelle" Li, that our latest paper, which we had revised just prior to my departure for Sweden,. "Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Networks with Outsourcing Under Price and Quality Competition," was accepted in the International Transactions in Operational Research. I could feel her excitement across the miles in the email message.

 I also received a message from a former undergraduate student, who had majored at the Isenberg School of Management in Operations Management, and who was a huge fan of our UMass Amherstr INFORMS Speakers Series, which I supported for 14 semesters. He is now interested in applying for an MBA and is looking into online programs since he is a full-time employee. It is the continual intellectual curiosity and sense of wonder of the world around us and discovering new ways of seeing and thinking, as Professor Gutting so eloquently stated,  that are what makes for an education as well as good employees.

Yes, technical knowledge learned in school and maintained and developed through use in our chosen professions, including business, engineering, medicine, and others, is essential but true creativity, whether in the humanities or in scientific discoveries or business innovations, comes from questioning assumptions, and challenging existing dogma. And, when they do happen, there is a distinctive pleasure of intellectual understanding and satisfaction attained.

Thanks, Professor Gutting, for sparking the conversation surrounding why we teach.

And, although I am on sabbatical this year, I have still managed to contribute to teaching here in Sweden, on Operations Management and Supply Chain Network Theory, in Austria by teaching a course at the Vienna University of Economics and Business on Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare, and next week I will be taking part in a PhD Workshop on How to Publish.

My doctoral students (present, past, and, hopefully, future ones)  in Management Science will continue to educate others and to inspire and this gives me great satisfaction.