A PhD’s Summer “Break”

Once again this year, I'm starting this column in a European city; this time: Barcelona. Once again, I had to leave home for a few days to share with fellow researchers the results of my investigations. This time, I have presented a study that states –with statistical support from data-- that inter-departmental collaboration within a firm is very important for the company's innovativeness. In a nutshell, my research found that, when the Human Resources and the Information Systems departments have a positive relationship and the latter is at least partially responsible for the organization's IT governance, the company will have greater intensity of information technologies for HR purposes.

Having spent several months reviewing the literature, choosing data collection strategies, actually collecting the data, analyzing the databases, writing and re-writing the report, and finally getting a refereed opportunity to present it to the research community, when I read the sentences above it almost feels silly! Shouldn’t it be obvious that greater collaboration between these departments should lead to more technologies? Still, finding statistically significant support for such an assertion is more difficult than meets the eye! Especially when I need to get referees’ approval!

In fact, I had developed a total of five hypotheses for this paper, and only three received statistical support! All of these hypotheses looked quite logical -heck, some would say almost trivial!--but two of them simply did not cut the mustard! If my job was measured in terms of the percentage of hypotheses that receive support, that’s only a .600!

Such is academic life... As a computer engineer about two decades ago –or even a few years later, as an MBA—before becoming a full-time academic, I would have thought that an effectiveness rate of 60% was poor, but I have since realized that this is more than enough to get your work presented in an exotic location such as beautiful Barcelona.

Well, when you think about it, there are sports players that make ten or fifteen times as much as I make (and some players might make 100 times as much!) for having an effectiveness rate that's half of what I am reporting here! Life is not so bad... They exercise and depend on their bodies for a living; I (and my colleagues) exercise and depend on our minds instead.

The paragraphs above are a partial response to Jorge Hughes, from Dallas, TX who asked “What is the life of a PhD like?” and also, “At the end of the day, what makes (or should make) PhD happy with himself?” As you can see, the paragraphs above show a bit of what my summer “break” has been like. Hectic!! I have worked in three major cities (Barcelona, Chicago, and Pittsburgh) in less than three weeks, and I still have to work on several articles that will hopefully be printed before the end of the year. I have to do this before the end of the break or I will be so swamped with classes that no research will get done!

Therein rests a major characteristic of a PhD’s life: this summer break has been hectic for me mostly due to my own choices. I didn’t have to present in all of these conferences or volunteer for all the things I am doing. But I personally feel an obligation to give back to the community through my work, and often it seems that I overdo it. I am sure that this is not the case for many of my fellow PhDs. Then, a succinct response to Jorge’s first question is: “as busy as the PhD wants to make it!”

And for the second question, I can mostly respond from a personal perspective. At the end of the day, it makes me happy to see that I have the power to make a small difference in somebody’s life. In my teaching, I can hardly describe how fulfilling it is to realize that a group of students are more knowledgeable on business-related issues at the end of a semester than they were when we started. In my research, seeing that I can give organizations or individuals some answers to make their work easier, faster, more fulfilling, or more effective, is also a wonderful feeling that makes me go back to my office even when the weather is finally enjoyable in Pennsylvania…

I really appreciate your messages. I feel like apologizing for not being able to respond all the questions I receive, but I know I have to resist the urge. I trust you will understand that I cannot immediately answer all of them but your notes really make this column interactive (as originally envisioned by NSHMBA) and a joy for me to write.

As always, the invitation stands for you to send me your thoughts on this topic by emailing me, faxing (+1.814.393.1910), or posting a comment on this blog (click on the hyperlink below). Enjoy your summer!!!