Santiago Iniguez, Dean of IE Business School.
Traditionally, success as an academic has been tantamount to excellence in research, period. Universities have selected, promoted, tenured and rewarded scholars that comply with certain requirements related to research activity and output. Other facets of academic life such as teaching, the spreading of knowledge, education management or interacting with the world outside universities have been considered as activities mainly secondary for an academic career, sometimes even improper.
Nobody could reasonably deny the centripetal value that research should play in scholarly careers. At the same time, considering research as an end in itself, or the only pure academic activity, entails a myopic and incomplete version of the academic vocation, of what is really a full academic life. Revealingly, an article recently published in The New York Times tells that a Harvard team formed by nine prominent professors of the university and supported by its interim president, Derek Bok, is leading an effort to foster the culture of undergraduate teaching and learning: “the group has issued a report calling for sweeping institutional change, including continuing evaluation and assessment of teaching and learning, and a proposal that teaching be weighed equally with contributions to research in annual salary adjustments” says the mentioned article.
The need of complementing research with teaching and practical work becomes particularly relevant for business school academics. I have sometimes explained that management education requires a special sort of scholars, professionals that can combine many different facets, from a solid research background, to the ability of performing effectively in class and interfacing top managers. Business schools need not only “gurus”, wise sages who originate new thought, but rather “kangaroos”, i.e., academics able to jump from their research tasks to teaching, and from there to consultancy or an interview with a journalist. Kangaroos of this type are not born, but trained, and it normally requires a wide career span to exploit the necessary synergies between those different, apparently contradictory, activities.
It is commonly believed that the career of a business academic has several natural cycles or stages. The first one, the “post-doc” (after obtaining the PhD degree), a time of creativity, is intended to boost and capitalise the research skills acquired during the doctoral years. A second period of maturity comes when the scholar develops teaching skills and becomes a respected master in class by the students. The third stage, seniority, is achieved when the solid docent and researcher becomes the academic partner and advisor of managers, or even engages in management positions related to education. There are no time specifications for the fulfilment of each of those stages and the pace depends on the interests –personal and professional- of the incumbent.
The market of kangaroos is scarce and most business schools look for them. If you are one of them, do not hesitate to contact this blog.