Linda Rademaker thinks the research community has become so focused on control variables and large numbers of observations, that it sometimes forgets to address some fundamentally important questions.
BI BUSINESS REVIEW
Linda Rademaker has been an assistant professor at BI since 2015. Although she has always been ambitious, it wasn’t always clear that research would be her outlet.
“The last thing I ever saw myself becoming was a professor. I definitely never wanted to become a professor. When I was in high school I was interested in international business and development issues. But I really thought that I was going to become the CEO of a large multinational enterprise.”
While doing her bachelors, she learned about how multinational companies operate in different countries and the developmental implications it had. She remembers being especially intrigued by how the companies as well the policies regulating them, can make a big difference in the world.
Around the same time, she also discovered the power of statistics and learned that she was actually quite good at doing research. When she started her masters, she still had no intention of doing a PhD. But then just three weeks in of reading articles and getting down to the nitty gritty of research, she was convinced.
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Wanted to make a difference
“Even when starting my PhD, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to stay in Academia. But I quickly realised that I really, really liked doing research.”
Linda realised that the questions you can answer as an academic researcher are very different to the ones you would be able to answer as a practitioner – solving companies’ problems, but never getting to address the big questions that have implications for society at large.
“I’ve always been sort of ideologically driven. In order to have an impact, you need to get to a place where you are able to influence people. And that could be through education or by publishing research that is available to policy makers, managers and society.”
Not only did her career path take an unexpected turn, Norway and BI wasn’t the obvious choice for Linda either.
“It wasn’t until I interviewed with Randi and Amir at the Academy of Management I thought that maybe this actually is a great school for me. They have very good faculty, particularly in my area.”
She also really enjoyed the constructive feedback she got on her research during her flyout, so after getting several job offers, her gut feeling told her to go to BI.
Embracing the academic world
Looking back, a lot has changed since Linda’s first sparks of interest in business back in high school. Even after deciding on going into academia, she never thought she would enjoy the teaching part.
“Running into students two years later, and they say ‘hey your class had a really big impact on how I view the world. And I learned so much. Or: you really changed my perspective on a lot of aspects.’ I think that is extremely rewarding. Because that is actually making a difference.”
Most of all she enjoys teaching her students critical thinking, and admits she is quite tough on them when it comes to how they use sources and formulate their thoughts.
“Have your own opinions based on facts and not these two minute videos you see on Facebook with ‘top five things to do if you’re a manager’. That kind of nonsense. I force them to think about it, because it’s the most important skill I ever learned. Afterwards they are very happy about it. That is something I may even care about more than the stuff I teach them about managing companies.”
When it comes to research Linda enjoys the process itself, but also having the ability to engage in academic conversations and interact with colleagues around the world.
“And actually contribute, you know. With just a tiny bit of knowledge. Or just a little bit to our understanding of how things work in the world. I think that in itself is intrinsically very valuable.”
"I’ve always been sort of ideologically driven. In order to have an impact, you need to get to a place where you are able to influence people. And that could be through education or by publishing research that is available to policy makers, managers and society."
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.”
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