What has the most impact?
Although academics have their own discourse, Linda doesn’t really see them as much different from other people, but rather just having different training.
“I think academia is a great place for all kinds of strange personalities to come together. A lot of strong-willed people with very particular characters. But I think a lot of it is just training. It’s not about being the smartest in the room, necessarily. It’s about the desire to actually have the skills to understand problems that exist in the world.”
It doesn’t help much if you are smart, but not open to different perspectives, she explains. Because if you aren’t able to get your papers published, you will not be able to influence anyone. On the other hand, she is worried that too many shy away from certain questions because they cannot get it published in good journals. Either the data isn’t good enough, or it’s hard to do rigorous research on these issues.
“I hope that the younger generation of academics, of which I am a part, can help to change academia a little bit, to answer more relevant questions. Questions that are important to society. This is something that I care about. And I see a lot of young scholars care about this. The way incentives are organised in the academic world are not such that we necessarily value research because it’s interesting, but we want rigorous research. Which is great, but at the same time, there are research questions that are much harder to answer, for instance, but that are really, really important to society.”
Linda explains this trend as a consequence of a tendency in academia to be a bit ‘snobby’ with regards to the importance given to really good quality publications. The result is that even the best scholars tend to focus on what will get you published, rather than needs in society.
“I think we can do better there. We are already starting to see some changes in journals in my field, but I hope we can make some bigger strides there. I really hope that the younger generations can change that also in the top journal, we take these issues very seriously. We really should be a bit more ambitious as academics.”
A true global scholar
With already having lived in China and the United States as a visiting scholar, coming to Norway to work as an assistant professor was hardly the biggest transition Linda had experienced. Her time at Wharton School and Peking University has given her a knack for navigating in new cultures. One thing she has learned from living in different countries, is that no place is perfect.
“It teaches you about yourself and gives you a better understanding about societies. We tend to see our own societies as perfect. But then you realise there are advantages to in example not asking everyone’s opinion. Democracy also allows the Trumps of the worlds to come to power. You also see the downsides and challenges of the western world.”
The job itself has been similar in each place, but the work environment has been very different. In both China and in the U.S., the workplace was much more hierarchical than what she is used nowadays at BI.
“You tend to operate in international networks anyway. But it really helps to have an open and collaborative environment in the workplace. For instance, if you are working on a paper and you encounter a problem you don’t know how to deal with, you can just go to the office next door, and say ‘hey I’ struggling with this.’ And for it to not matter whether these people are very senior or not so senior. That is very helpful.”
Another thing she has noticed about Norway, is the work-life balance. There is a propensity in academia to be a little obsessed about work, and in some of the countries she has lived in, taking well needed time off wasn’t really accepted, either.
“There are a lot of people that drive themselves absolutely insane by just continuing to work and work and work. And of course sometimes you have deadlines and there’s nothing you can do about that. But having the flexibility to say ‘ok there is something else besides academia. I have a personal life too and other things that are very important to me’. I think that is very valuable. You don’t see that a lot at very good schools. “
In the short term, Linda’s main focus in her job is to get tenure. She also sees herself becoming a full professor in the future and having a developed pipeline. With regards to her overarching ambitions, it is clear that they are still very much in line with why she started out in academia in the first place:
“I have to get my research out. Not only trying to get it published in the top academic journals, but also trying to connect with the business world and policy makers. I think that is a key challenge. To make sure that the research is not only academically relevant, but that it can make an impact in society.”