In search of research: My tryst with academia
This guest post is authored by PAVAN SONI – Author Bio is at the end of the post
We all are purpose maximizers. For a lucky few, the purpose is struck very early in their lives and for others, it remains elusive for years. I was fortunate to lie somewhere in between, for the calling in life came when I still have a few years to realize it. The ‘search’ for the calling in life or the purpose landed me to the field of ‘research’ and am I happy? Oh yes indeed. So here’s my little story of the transition from the corporate world to academics, and the intent remains to inspire a few readers to join the exciting world of academics.
Academia was never a stranger to me. I started teaching informally from the age of 15 and then formal teaching followed soon. Even while in the corporate arena, first with Titan and then with Wipro, I kept myself abreast with reading, writing and teaching. For almost last 7 years now, I have consistently been teaching over the weekends and that umbilical cord in many ways made the decision to shift to academia rather smooth. Now here at IIM Bangalore, looking back I can only ‘connect the dots’ as the great artist Steve Jobs quipped and be surprised that how life crafts itself. Here’re five insights that I gathered through my career in corporate and in academia, and I wish to share with a hope that these would resonate with you.
Grab half-chances: When I first entered a B-School as a teacher, I was 22 and most students, including the fellow teachers, didn’t take me seriously. But it was a half-chance bestowed on to me and by having taken that I could at least get started. The institute wasn’t the tier-1 or tier-2 category, nor did I have any formal experience of teaching MBA students. Thereafter, I sniffed opportunities where I could teach, mostly for free and then with some honorarium. Location was no bar, class-size was no bar, institute’s ranking was not bar; the only thing that mattered was that I had to sharpen my axe. From that one institute, today I have taught at over 25 MBA institutes across India and abroad, and can never ever relax on the virtue of taking those half-chances. Remember, opportunities don’t come your way wrapper. You need to unearth those.
Hone multiple affiliations: We are all worth more than what we do currently. Most of us tend to limit ourselves to the workplace and the chores that we are assigned. Our friends, our pastime or mannerisms and even thinking then get shaped by, if not limited by, the workplace. One early lesson I gathered while interacting with fellows from outside of India was the virtue of honing multiple affiliations. Affiliations here mean being actively associated with, or better still contribute to, multiple avenues in life. One of which could be the workplace, and then being associated with a social cause or teaching or writing or composing or painting or something where one would draw inspiration and insights from. Remembers, you weren’t ‘born’ to work in one organization! Life offers many more possibilities and capabilities, and let’s make the most of any given moment. For me it was reading, writing, and teaching.
Live a debt-free life: One of the plaques of the times we live in is the virus of EMIs. As soon as someone gets a job, the tendency is to live beyond means. Buying a car, booking a house and then swiping credit cards. The biggest challenge with taking loans and paying EMIs is that the risk taking propensity gets doused. Once having taken a loan, the person has to work just to repay the amount, no matter how much the person is enjoying the job or adding value to it. The decision to shun a corporate job and getting into a student’s life became easy with having no debt on my balance sheet. Not buying a home or car wasn’t a great loss and also I was saved from the potential risk of not able to shape my career. I can surely buy a better model of car or a bigger house perhaps four years from now, but by then it would perhaps be too late for me to do my PhD. Life is about living, not accumulating.
Balance rigor with relevance: The first realization that happened to me after coming down to IIM was the chasm that exists between theory and practice. Our doctoral students and teachers here possess significant body of knowledge on how firms should be best run, while our corporates learn by committing mistakes! If only the knowledge that lies in the academia be made accessible and amicable to be adopted by the world that runs the economy, the mutual purpose could be justified. Unlike physical sciences, the virtue of social sciences and management education is as good as its application. Having said that, one can’t compromise on rigor, for the work has to stand the scrutiny of peers and pass the test of time. So, regardless of whether you are in corporate or academia, the delicate balance of rigor and relevance in an imperative, more so in academia where it’s our responsibility to offer actionable insights.
Remember that your network is your net-worth: The bigger our ambition is, the greater is the realization that larger goals require even larger contributions. Solitary genius or lone inventors are only limited to the realms of tales or urban legends. In the world of management research and practice, collaboration is the key, and this comes with honing an active network. My network with academics helped me get into the domain of rigor and the network with practitioners and entrepreneurs would help me navigate back into relevance. I am not talking of count on the Facebook or LinkedIn, but the count that counts. One where novel ideas could be bounced and collaboration could happen to give shape to them. Nurture your network and prune it to a purpose, for your network is your net-worth.
The first year is over at the fellow program here at IIMB and in the last one year, I literally drank from the hose. There are at least three more years to go. I am working hard, but surprisingly am not feeling tired! As I am working for myself and am sure while doing so, would be able to contribute to the discipline of research, teaching and practice. Amen!
Pavan Soni is an Innovation Evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He is currently a Research Fellow at IIM Bangalore. More on him at www.pavansoni.net