As I began to outline how I do my research and think about my career, several themes emerged in how my research system is structured. Broadly speaking, 18 broad categories represent the major topics relevant to a junior research scholar. Below, I list these 18 areas and provide descriptions of each subcomponent I will cover for them.
CHAPTER 1: GETTING INTO AND OUT OF A PHD PROGRAM
I will first begin by discussing the Ph.D. admission process. Obviously, many schools are very different from each other in terms of their criteria.
CHAPTER 2: THE RESEARCH SYSTEM
The next topic will be to set up the research system technologically. Here I will talk about some of the software I used to conduct my research. Some are now cloud-based, others are free, and others are expensive. It may be worth investing in. After discussing the research system, I will begin talking about setting up a research project.
CHAPTER 3: WRITING
After setting up your research system, we will begin our journey into the writing process. I am by no means the best writer. I strive only to be a competent one. My tips on writing primarily focus on the writing system I have developed to improve myself little by little. To make fewer mistakes than I would in a less constrained system.
While many people will use Microsoft Word to write the research, the tool is not built for researchers. A research-specific writing tool may be the most helpful. I will describe how I use latex, specifically the overleaf cloud-based latex writing software, to do my research writing. Beyond the technology, I will focus on breaking down the research paper into small manageable parts that will allow you to take what is ultimately a daunting task — writing a high-quality research paper fit for publication the top journal — and break it down into small parts and lick them together in a meaningful way.
CHAPTER 4: DATA ANALYSIS
After developing our writing system will focus on developing our data analysis system. In modern empirical strategy, research being a competent data analyst is an important skill set necessary to succeed in a challenging publishing environment. Much has changed over the years, and how weak think about data analysis and how we present our findings and share our data-analytic work with our audiences, both before and after the publication process. While there have been many methodological improvements over the years: including new ways to estimate treatment effects, the use of machine learning in strategy research, as well as improved tests for certain types of specifications, such as the standard differences in differences specification, the most significant change has been the increasing demand for openness in the scientific publication process. This includes decreasing demand for high-quality code shared with journals, well-organized data made available in repositories, preregistration plans, and the like for experimental research.
I’ll begin by discussing some basic hardware needs you might have as a data analyst. Followed by a discussion of what a compelling data section/result section of a strategy paper may look like. Then follow up with a brief overview of the quote, scratch that “standard model” of strategy or organizational research. The standard model is just that, a basic empirical framework that is useful in framing strategy research. However, it should not be a full-on constraint for how one organizes the research. Also, in discussing issues of causality, I will try to explain causality in the simplest way that I know how, though there are more nuanced treatments and philosophical treatises on this topic that may be more useful for those who are interested in understanding what it means to estimate the causal effect or what causality is in the context of the social sciences. I am interested in framing the causal inference problem as it applies to everyday applied research or in our field. We will also talk about writing code in a replicable way using the R programming language and the Stata software.
We will then discuss creating publication-ready tables, graphs, and nuances about making your tables as readable and standalone as possible.
What makes good data? And how do we get it? I will discuss the taxonomy I developed to assess whether data will likely lead to a top-tier publication. There is no formula per se. However, there are features of good data versus insufficient data. I will then talk to you about several examples of ways to get research data that may meet these criteria. There’s obviously a balance between what each data set can accomplish and what it is not.
CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH IDEAS
Chapter 5 will focus on the more creative part of the research. Here we will talk about research ideas — the nugget of insights that allows you to build a research paper and share your knowledge with others. There are broadly five different types of research ideas and questions. We will focus on the essentials of writing down a research question that stems from an idea about how the world works. After describing the taxonomy of research ideas, we will focus on developing a clear checklist for evaluating whether your idea has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the academic literature. Here, you will learn to assess things like whether your ideas clearly explain, whether the question is essential and exciting and whether your attempt at answering it is ambitious — and ambition can be thought of in a variety of different ways in terms of the scale at which you answer your questions, the use of a new method, or cackling a question that has been otherwise too hard to structure in a meaningful way. Once a research question has been defined in the theory generated about why you should expect things to work the way you do, you should specify a null hypothesis.
Next, we will talk about why papers cannot do everything. You have to pick your battles. I will describe a little framework I learned from my advisor called the GAS framework for assessing what type of theory you are going for. The letter G stands for generalizable, the letter A stands for accurate, in the letter S stands for simple. A theory can only meet the criteria at one time. Next, we will talk about the different types of theories there are. In recent years “theory” has become a buzzword and means different things to different people; sometimes, people don’t know what it means. This includes editors and reviewers. I will tell you what I think theory means most simply. It may mean different things to different people, and you should figure out what it means to the community you would like to speak to. Finally, we will talk about taste. Different papers look different. Different readers like different types of papers. You can see this in different journals, different subfields, and across different fields within the social sciences. The state may relate to how the authors have written their papers, how studies are designed and run, the types of data people find convincing, and how results are presented. There is no accounting for taste. This is the factor that determines whether your paper gets into a particular Journal or not. It’s important to know what audience you are aiming for so you can account for their taste in your write-up.
CHAPTER 6: LITERATURE REVIEWS
In chapter 6, we will focus on the humble literature review. While it seems that the length of the literature cited by an academic article has increased over the years, especially in specific fields such as sociology and management, it is probably likely that people have time to read less and less these days especially given the fact that many of us spend hours of our day on social media or trying to write our own papers. Google Scholar has also made searching so much easier than before. Still, it needs to be clarified that it has helped us write better papers that were genuinely built on the shoulder of a giant. I will put forth a way to dramatically simplify your literature review using data. Especially when you are waiting for new literature. I would talk about how to organize a literature review technically within the overleaf system using BibTeX. Next, I will provide tools to help you think about your literature review more systematically — to reduce your search costs in finding relevant papers to read and understand before starting your work.
The environment for conducting research has changed considerably over the last several decades. I will be discussing topics such as IRB review and what it entails. This is particularly important for individuals who do human subject research, including surveys, experiments, etc. We will also talk about the reproducibility and replicability of research. Finally, we will talk about preregistration, and I will provide some resources that have helped me think about these issues in more nuance than I have in the past.
CHAPTER 7: HABITS
This is my favorite chapter to write. I have been a tenure-track academic for 12 years and a Ph.D. student for four more. So a better part of the last two decades of my life has been in the environment of academia. I met hundreds of students, faculty, and some luminaries, as well as those who have tremendous potential but have burned out. I’ve tried to make sense of what leads some people to be wildly successful and others not. I begin by thinking about the nature of the academic career and what counts as excellence. I will then focus on the research system and how this relates to the idea of habits – the little things that go together to produce excellence. Also, follow up about the idea of 1% better on a hundred inventions and propose a checklist that could, if followed to the T, help you produce a refined manuscript that you could be proud of. Also, talk about little things that may help improve your papers on the margin.
Finally, I will talk about scaling and delegation. This is where I have yet to succeed. Still, I have been thinking about how some people have been able to turn individual research careers into a team effort that not only helps their careers but helps make other people’s careers as well.
CHAPTER 8: PUBLISHING
In chapter 9, we will cover the publishing process. The primary interface that determines the success or failure of an academic tenure track. Publish or perish. There’s a lot of truth to this. It becomes even more challenging if you’re aiming to be a professor at a top-tier university. You had to publish in the very best journals. In this chapter, I will talk about topics such as setting goals and managing your time to ensure that you progress on research every day, even a little. We’ll talk about creating a research tracker for yourself, nothing complicated, a latex file that helps you keep track of all the activities in your research portfolio to understand better whether you are moving forward and where the hiccups are in your publishing process. I also want to help you build intuition about managing a resort portfolio. I developed a simulation that is strikingly accurate in terms of describing how our curriculum vitae and how many publications researchers can expect to have over their careers with a certain level of flow in their own pipeline. We’ll talk about choosing a journal, audiences within journals, how to submit a paper and choose reviewers and associate editors, and how to write cover letters. We will provide you a template.
The section would only be meaningful with a discussion about rejection. Rejection is substantially more common than acceptance. In fact, many of the top journals have sub 10%, now in some cases sub 5%, acceptance rate. This means there is an over 95% chance that your paper will be rejected if you’re the median academic from a given Journal. How do you deal with rejection, how do you reduce your chance of rejection, how do you respond to the rejected manuscript, and what the real frictions are for turning the paper back around and getting it out again?
If you’re lucky, you will get a revise and resubmitted decision on your manuscript. This happens rarely, so celebrate. We will talk about how to execute a revision. How to create a response memo and use it as a to-do list. How to tag different concerns and prioritize those so that you can effectively move forward. And get your pepper back out.
We will then switch perspectives and talk about reviewing papers. What is a good review? What is the purpose of the review? How do you help others create excellent papers without also destroying your time?
CHAPTER 9: PRESENTING
Academics are often asked: what is your job? The typical response is, “I do research and teach.” Over the years, I believe that our only job is to teach. Most conventionally, we teach our students. We construct syllabi based on the most robust evidence to explain how the world works and transmit that information to our students. Our second job is to teach ourselves. It is teaching ourselves new methods and new things about how the world works through our original research. We then write what we learn — and teach ourselves — into research papers. Finally, we teach our peers. This happens in two ways. The first is to write up our results and findings and tell others about them by publishing our work in journals that our peers read and hopefully learn from and build on. The other way we teach our peers is through research presentations. There’s something fundamentally different about reading a paper and listening to an author talk about what they did and what they’ve learned. Part of this is the types of information that can be conveyed much more readily in an in-person verbal exchange but also through the back-and-forth question-and-answer session that is just not possible in the process of reading a paper.
In chapter 9, I will focus on three aspects of presenting. I will talk about academic presentation and what structure it usually follows. I will discuss its purposes and the best way to prepare an exciting and convincing presentation.
The second part of the presentation chapter will focus on how to think about the seminar. What is a seminar trying to achieve? This will, of course, depend on who your audience is. Is your audience of the same intellectual background as you? From a different field? Are they generally accommodating or combative? Regardless, most audiences are trying to a) figure out what you’re doing, b) determine whether it is necessary or exciting, c) determine whether they believe what you’re saying, and d) give you feedback to help make it a more convincing presentation. Many questions will come up during the seminar if you have a good audience paying attention to what you’re doing rather than just scrolling through more exciting content on Twitter. I will talk through this back-and-forth seminar, the typical questions and kinds of questions I will come up with, and give some insights about what are more or less convincing answers. The best presentations are the ones that are necessarily well-done with airtight empirical analyses. Instead, they are the ones that are good but also spark conversation about deeper insights into how the world works.
CHAPTER 10: THE CAREER
In chapter 10, we will turn our attention to the academic career. I will begin with the more practical side of the academic career: the materials you will need as you go on the job market and what each of these materials is trying to convey about you as an academic. We’ll discuss how creating a job market paper is important, engaging, and ambitious. We will then turn our attention to where your job market paper fits into your research pipeline. The research pipeline consists of the papers you’ve already done that may be published, on the way to being published, and in the works. The job market paper conveys a sense of this pipeline and where you’re headed. We will then focus on writing a compelling research statement. This document is sometimes required by hiring committees, but to be honest, most people need to read them more carefully. The primary purpose of the research statement is to help you clarify who you are and what you are trying to achieve as a researcher. We’ll talk about a teaching statement. This is similar but less detailed or as long as a research statement. We’ll talk about how teaching fits into the overall portfolio of academic and business goals. While schools vary in how much they emphasize teaching versus research, teaching is integral to the academic job. Most schools, even those that emphasize research more than anybody else, want competent teachers and want to know that you can teach both well and broadly as the needs of the department change due to what students want.
Finally, we’ll talk about creating a personal research website. Being visible is an essential variable in many things that matter in academia. Clearly, the most important thing is to have research published in excellent journals of the highest quality. (I may reverse this). However, that research will have much more impact if people can readily access your work and know who you are. Please work in a broader context of the problems you are trying to solve. It’s straightforward these days to make a website. You do not need to know HTML like in the old days.
Your career is obviously more than just your materials. In this chapter, I’ll provide some insight into how academic hiring works – at least in the places I have served on hiring committees (Stanford and Duke). I am often surprised by how little people know about the academic career, even assistant professors. No one in my family before me was academic. My career was a fog. I spent a lot of time early in my career trying to make sense of what the academic career looks like and what each transition point needed for success.
Next, we will talk about getting a job. Much of this will revolve around you making a case to hiring committees to invest millions of dollars. Hopefully, you will make a significant breakthrough. The early state hiring process is all about potential. To take the words of my colleague, committees are trying to figure out: 1) whether you are any good, 2)whether you make the group better, 3) and whether the group can make you better. The latter two are particularly important because they undergird the basis of what many call “fit,” or as my economist colleagues call, “joint surplus.”
Hopefully, you will have more than one offer. If you don’t, it’s okay; one is good enough. You only need one job. But if you get two, maybe three offers or more, you should think more systematically about which offer you choose. Some people emphasize location, others prestige, others their sense of belonging that they ascertain from the interview that they fit within the group, others are optimizing to body problems, and lots goes into determining where to go. I have a vague insight about what matters to you, but I’ll talk through the different things you might want to consider as you make your decision. Some are apparent criteria, and others are more subtle ones. The real difference when deciding between offers is thinking about your first job as your last job versus thinking about your first job as just that, the beginning of your career that may take you to faraway places and lead to unexpected transitions.
Next, I’ll walk you through the steps of the academic career. Followed by what I see as goals, systems, and milestones that are important at each step. For instance, we can talk about the job of assistant professors and business schools. There are titles: untenured associate professor, tenured associate professor, and finally, the full and chaired professors. We’ll talk about how schools vary with the consider “the latter” and how these may affect your career.
Next, we’ll talk about the most crucial career transition you will experience in the tenure process. It’s an obscure process that varies dramatically from school to school, discipline to discipline, and department to department. Still, it has some shared features that have only come to realize and appreciated over the last few years. I’ll share what I know.
Finally, we’ll talk about citations. In addition to your publication record, this is the second most observable aspect of who you are and your performance as an academic. Like the publication process getting citations is often outside of your control. I have a vague theory of getting citations. In fact, I’m trying to figure it out myself. However, I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years about how this process works. Obviously, the quality of your research matters a lot. But just as important is visibility. I began to think about citations as a two-part function: the first is value, which is the value you create for others trying to build on your research. Think about the incentives of others citing your work. The second is visibility. Do they know this work exists and that it plugs into what they are trying to achieve?
CHAPTER 11: PERSONAL FINANCE
In this chapter, we will talk about the personal side of your career. One of the extraordinary things about being an academic is that many of us will have long stable careers – something that most people will likely not have. While academics move somewhat during their first 10 years, maybe 15 years, after tenure and especially after promotion to full professor, most of us settle down. And since tenure increases the likelihood that you get to decide when you want to step back and retire, you will likely have a substantial amount of stability. For instance, the typical business school professor probably gets tenure at 38 or 39. This is a rough estimate. I imagine some people are superstars and get earlier, and some of us have later starts and get tenure sometime in our 40s. Typically the average retirement age for academics is probably higher than the average American, about 66 years old. This means after tenure and academics have a quarter-century of potential work and breakthroughs with relative stability. How do you maximize it?
I will talk about how I have thought about the trade-off between money and time in my own career. Much of it is based on the first letter of my microeconomics class with Lowell Taylor at Carnegie Mellon University and his advice to me when I started my first job at Stanford University. He said: live close to work. I took that feedback to heart and developed a spreadsheet I will share and walk you through it to think about how you might want to structure where you live in the various trade-offs with money and time. It is one of the most consequential decisions you will make in your academic career. Time is the rarest of all commodities, perhaps the most important thing for a young scholar. You will begin your career perhaps without children, and then with young children, and then with children that have lots of obligations. Minimizing commute times is one of the most important things you can do, and figuring out how to free up time to do high-quality research collaboratively with your co-authors is how you want to think about time.
Next, I will talk about personal finance and the fantastic benefits most universities give faculty. The greatest is stability, even in the early stage of your career. I’m often surprised when I hear many people don’t take advantage of these things: such as retirement matches, excellent health insurance, as well as a host of benefits for tuition and other opportunities for growth for both yourself, your spouse, as well as your children. I will walk through simple calculations that might help you think through some of the opportunities to create further stability — and more time — to do the best creative work of your life. Money should be something that you want to think about too much. Academics have tremendous resources: time and freedom to do what they find meaningful. I found that many people squander this time. I noticed that most people I know with real jobs neither have time nor freedom: we have these in abundance. Putting a do with them?
I will also link to some financial blogs that may be helpful for budding young academic or Ph.D. students. While I only follow some of the financial advice, there are often nuggets of wisdom, some hard-fought, others obvious but not apparent to most people.
CHAPTER 12: CREATING A COMMUNITY
So far, the discussion has focused on the idea that you, alone, are responsible for your productivity. But as an academic, you are embedded in the larger community that can be a source of your success.
I will begin this chapter very talking about co-authoring. Research suggests that scientific teams across a range of disciplines are growing larger and larger. The reasons for this are many. Research is getting more challenging because the easy stuff is already done. A single person usually needs to gain the skill set to produce a world-class paper. The writing standards have gotten higher, and the data analysis standards as well, so I can make great tables, think through causality, and then communicate to a highly specialized audience. To enable success in an environment such as this, we need specialists working together. Co-authoring is the mechanism through which this happens. Indeed, across all of our journals and strategy, a co-authored paper is much more typical than a single-authored one. The number I counted for the top journals are: organization science, administrative science quarterly, strategic management Journal, and management science. I will talk about what it means to co-author well, how to optimize productivity in distributed teams, and how to hold each other accountable to make things move faster. The model I use is friction: how to set up a distributed system that makes it easy for everyone to get their work done. This means dividing and delegating. When there is friction that something can’t be done, was too hard. Think about how it can be broken up into smaller pieces and get done faster.
We will then talk about sharing working papers. The publication process takes a long time. You want to ensure that your results — especially if they are new and vital — are out there so people can read them. Indeed, one thing that I really appreciate about the field of economics is a working paper culture. In strategy and management, there is less of this culture. In fact, many young scholars don’t even put the titles of their working papers online because they fear that someone will discover who the author is in the review process and reject them. To be honest, I think this is silly. Get your work out there and have people reading it giving you feedback making it better. In fact, many individuals have papers only in working paper form that garnered more citations than their published work in top-tier journals. When you think about your work as a unit of knowledge that helps others achieve what they are trying, we should not let the journals be the final arbiter. The delicate balance between when you should make a paper available online versus holding you back from getting more comments. But having working papers is critical, mainly because it is what creates a dialogue about the knowledge and insights, rather than just bean counting your publications.
We will then talk about conferences. They’re both big and small conferences, each serving a different purpose. Conferences serve two purposes: a coordination mechanism for people to gather together and network and a way to learn about new knowledge. Large conferences like the Academy of Management annual meetings and the Strategic Management Society conference are valuable for getting a large, diverse contingent of people together in one place. Informal interactions are the most critical part of these conferences, where knowledge is shared, trust is built, and the business of the Academy gets done. Smaller conferences, many of which are organized by a handful of individuals or small communities focused on a specific niche topic within the broader fields of management and strategy, are intellectually much more exciting and engaging. This is where ideas get pushed forward. The coauthorship sketch is attached after a discussion over the paper at dinner. Think about your area’s big and small conferences and how you might benefit from attending these. There’s nothing like an in-person conference. Soon, you’ll find your friends and community and feel like you belong.
Next, we will talk about organizing conferences. This is easier than it seems. I’ve organized two conferences in my career – the junior organization theory conference (put pictures here) and the Field Experiments in Strategy. You just need a group of fun people you enjoy working with, find some space (if you work in a university, this is a piece of cake), and get a small budget for food that doesn’t have to be that big. I will work through step-by-step how to organize a conference. Each of these conferences that I have previously organized has been pretty low-budget. But they all had great people and great conversations. That’s what makes a conference awesome.
Finally, we’ll discuss #AcademicTwitter and being part of an online community. Academic Twitter is a thing. While I have my own opinions about academic Twitter, many people find a lot of value in being a part of this online community. Two elements are: finding out about new papers early, relative to people not part of these online communities, and getting visibility for yourself and your work. Some research suggests that people posting their working papers on Twitter get more citations. I suspect this may be true. However, there’s also a trade-off with academic Twitter: your time. When my colleagues at Stanford once said: “Sharique, there are readers, and there are writers. What do you want to be?” adding the updated version for our world today is: “There are tweeters, and there are writers. Which one do you want to be?” I was inspired by Donald Knuth, who got rid of his Email on January 1, 1990. He had used Email since 1975 and felt that 15 years was plenty for a lifetime. I agree with that. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten the guts to delete my Email. But I love this quote; he says: “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” I like this philosophy. I want time. The day I found out I was going to get tenure, I deleted every bit of my social media. No Twitter. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. Nothing. And guess what? I can take it. In fact, I realize the only thing he was bringing me was unsolicited emails, distractions, and sometimes even jealousy. Being in an online community should be a deliberate, thoughtful decision, not one you should make automatically because everyone is doing it.
CHAPTER 13: TOPICS AND IDEAS IN STRATEGY AND OT
This chapter will focus on developing a dictionary for that strategy and organization theory literature. A common challenge faced by new doctoral students and even experienced researchers is figuring out the relationship between words and their meanings for specific academic literature. In this section, you will find an extensive list of specialized terms commonly used in the academic literature and strategy and organization theory for the past several decades. The goal of this dictionary is to make it easier for new students to understand basic concepts from this work so they can apply them to their own.
The academic literature on strategy and organization theory poses a daunting challenge for new researchers. This section consists of a syllabus for the first course in strategic management. Will focus on both critical canonical papers in this literature, tie them to broad research areas, and then connect them to new research papers that build on this canonical work.
I will also share a literature review of the most cited papers one should read in the organization theory field. We will break organization theory into subdisciplines and highlight some of the most important topics in these areas.
Since I have been doing field experiments, I will share material that consists of a course on field experiments in strategy research. I will begin by describing the nature of an experiment in strategy, followed by a broad template to think about how to design and execute an experiment. Next, I will discuss several papers that fall into these broad research designs. We will also consider issues such as treatment design and measurement design, as well as issues related to the analysis of the experiment.
In this chapter, I will share my course on social network analysis for both Masters and Ph.D. students. This course was developed over the years at Stanford University. The material covers topics ranging from simple descriptions of what networks are, followed by some theories used in the management and strategy literature on the formation and impact of networks on organizational and market outcomes. This course is separate from some of the more deep-dive courses on social networks offered by others. The hope is to provide a rapid introduction to a topical area that may be useful to strategy scholars.
This chapter consists of a syllabus for the economics and management of entrepreneurship. I taught this course at Duke University for several years, focusing on topics ranging from entrepreneurial entry to the behavioral economics of entrepreneurship to newer research on the entrepreneurial process. I will emphasize the emerging research on the entrepreneurial process with field experiments conducted by various scholars worldwide.
CHAPTER 14: MBA STUDENTS
Last but not least, I will spend some time talking about teaching MBA students. I’ll walk through the syllabus for two classes I have taught frequently: the core course in Strategic Management (at Duke) and an Elective on Social Networks. Where I am able to, I will share the material I have created for these courses.