Thursday, October 31, 2013

NSF Grants Should Matter Even in Business Schools

Last Friday, I spoke at Texas A&M University and had a wonderful discussion at breakfast with several students from their  INFORMS Student Chapter who were wise beyond their years. Talking with speakers that they had brought to College Station every week had given them information and knowledge (and not just of the technical variety) as well as academic "street smarts."

So, they "picked my brain" about various topics and were especially interested in what I perceived as the differences between being a Professor at a business school versus an engineering school. These were doctoral students in engineering with a good background in Operations Research so they were trying to figure out, assuming that they would become academics, what kind of school would be a good "home" for them. Analytics talent is prized now in both business and engineering schools because of the demand in industry, government, and numerous other organizations, and this is great for all the quant types out there!

The students were aware that, in business schools, typically, the teaching load is higher, and that more emphasis is put on teaching. They noted a speaker (this surprised me) who told them  that the unhappiest 3 years of her life were those that she spent while a prof at a business school -- she is now at an engineering school. They also were aware (savvy, aren't they?!) that in business schools there is emphasis on publishing in what are referred to as "premier" journals whereas in engineering schools getting grants does matter and may be a necessary condition for promotion and tenure if not a sufficient one.  Let's admit it that starting salaries in business schools, which may be a bit discipline-dependent, are also higher, sometimes substantially higher, than those in engineering schools.

As a chaired professor at a business school (the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst) but one who also holds affiliated appointments in two different engineering departments at UMass Amherst, I clearly wear many "hats" and the interdisciplinary scope of my research and activities fuels my creativity and research. Also, since some of my support while a doctoral student at Brown University was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), given to my dissertation advisor at Brown, Dr. Stella Dafermos, I have always felt that getting grants, which are peer-reviewed,  is important to one's scientific recognition, plus, it allows you to do the following (of course, this depends on the size and type of grant):

1. Support additional doctoral students, which I have done and am presently doing under our NSF grant: NetS: Large-Scale: Collaborative Research: Network Innovation Through Choice project, in which we are working on envisioning and constructing a Future Internet Architecture known as ChoiceNet. This is truly an exciting project involving a multidisciplinary, multiuniversity  team of engineers, computer scientists,  and my doctoral students and me. The lead PI is my colleague, Professor Tilman Wolf of the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst. This is only one of several NSF grants that I have been so lucky to have received over my professional career. Without NSF support, I would not have started the Virtual Center for Supernetworks at UMass Amherst, nor would I have graduated as many successful PhDs as I have had, nor had amazing opportunities through its International Programs, its earlier Faculty Awards for Women Program and its Visiting Professorship for Women Program, under which I spent a great year at MIT in Engineering.

Plus, I have supported quite a few undergraduates at the Isenberg School through the NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.

2. Fund travel for students and others supported by the grant. Even though we may spend time in virtual worlds it is essential that we meet face to face at conferences, at workshops, and at other professional venues to exchange ideas. There is only so much $$$ in departmental travel budgets and chaired professor budgets for this activity so financial support from grants helps tremendously.

3. Supplies from the latest computers to even books can be purchased for students' and researchers' use as well as software and other materials.

4. Summer support can be acquired which allows sustained periods of time for focused research activity without distractions.

5. Recognition by one's peers that NSF support provides gives one confidence and, for a female, this is of tremendous value.  It never gets "easy" and there are always roadblocks put in your way and challenges and I say that as a chaired professor. I enjoyed the post on Nine Things Successful People Do Differently on the Harvard Business Review blog network, especially Point 6. Have grit. Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The good news is, if you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have. If that describes your own thinking …. well, there’s no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.

And let me celebrate that another colleague of mine in my Operations & Information Management Department at the Isenberg School, Professor Senay Solak, has also had an NSF grant with multiple universities since starting as an Assistant Professor just over 5 years ago. (Another colleague, Professor Ahmed Ghoniem, has been receiving funding from Qatar in terms of other grants, and, most recently, to work on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar for 2022 -- so cool!)

Plus, let us not forget that receipt of NSF grants enhances the stature, visibility, and reputation of your business school and your university!

Moreover, look at some of the fascinating projects that NSF has funded that were given to faculty at Business Schools: at the Eller School at the University of Arizona for ethics research (our Dean's alma mater), to a consortium, which includes Stanford and Haas at UC Berkeley for innovation, and even at Wharton for a workshop. Of course, the Sloan School at MIT has had many faculty receive NSF grants including the prestigious CAREER awards and even a PECASE award given to Professor Georgia Perkais, who is my academic sister, because her advisor at Brown was also Stella Dafermos, who, sadly, passed away while Georgia was her student and Professor Tom Magnanti, a good friend of Stella's, and of OR/MS renown,  took over as her advisor.