Department of Communication and Culture

Faculty interview #3 Suzanne Van Gils

Suzanne van Gils, PhD, is an associate professor in management communication and ethics. She is the Associate Dean for the new MSc program in Digital Communication Management starting fall 2022.

What has been your career path leading up to your current position?

- I initially studied organizational and social psychology at the Free University in Amsterdam, before deciding to pursue a research masters in social psychology. Until that point I never thought I would be a researcher, I always thought I would work within HR. It was primarily my master thesis supervisor, prof. Caryl Rusbult, who was my main motivator for applying for a PhD. She was a very enthusiastic researcher, and suggested that I apply for a PhD position in leadership and ethics at Rotterdam School of Management. After finishing my PhD, I served as a postdoctoral fellow with my former PhD supervisor prof. Niels Van Quaquebeke at Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg for a year. Thereafter I moved to Maastricht where I worked as an Assistant Professor for five years at Maastricht University. In 2019 I moved to Norway to work as an Associate Professor here at BI. Throughout the years there has been a lot of traveling and moving around!


Could you tell us about your research?

- My main research interests are ethics, leadership, and communication. I currently work on different projects with international colleagues, as well as with colleagues within the Nordic Alliance for Communication & Management (#NORA) at BI. One of the research projects my colleagues at Maastricht University and I are working on looks at leadership communication and ethical behavior in digital teams. A part of this project is to examine how people behave and communicate towards each other when their reward depends on someone else’s effort. Another project I am working on is a collaboration with my PhD student who investigates thought processes behind corruption. Through this project we have found that corruption oftentimes is not done thoughtlessly, but instead involves deliberate information processing influenced by different aspects of the organization, such as the behavior of leaders and colleagues.

"I have always been interested in how we can make people work better"

Suzanne Van Gils

Associate professor in management communication and ethics

What makes your research meaningful to you?

- I have always been interested in how we can make people work better. When I first started my PhD there was not a lot of research out there on leadership and ethics, and many actually perceived this topic as redundant. Over time there has been an increased awareness on the importance of treating people well in organizations. Treating people badly is costly both for the individuals involved and the organization at large. If my research can help improve just one person's job experience, that would make me very happy.


What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome in your professional life?

- At conferences I am at times asked who my supervisor is, when in fact I am the one supervising the project. I oftentimes feel fairly young. I was done with my masters when I was 23, and I finished my PhD at 28. Because of this, I've sometimes felt like I have had to struggle a bit to make a career and be heard in a competitive academic world.


Could you tell us about your teaching?

- I teach “ORG3641 - Organizational Communication and Leadership”, a course in which we look at leadership communication and organizations from a lot of different angles. There's crisis communication, team communication and today we had a session on digital communication. I'm also the Associate Dean for the new master programme in Digital Communication Management. We hope for the masters to help students prepare for a digital future through teaching digital methods, relevant research, and collaborate closely with the industry.


Lastly, what is a fun fact about you?

- I think I´m not very typically Dutch. I don't like eating herring, and I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 10 years old. Usually Dutch children learn to bike at four!