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What is business academia?

Business academia is split into numerous fields and subfields within which you must identify your particular interests. In general, business school research draws from a set of disciplines such as economics, sociology, psychology, and to a slightly lesser extent other fields such as history, statistics, and political science. Over time, business school researchers have developed their own fields such as organizational behavior, accounting, finance, and strategy. The best way to gain an understanding of these fields is to look at the types of academic articles that these researchers are publishing. It is important to have a general sense of the field of your interest and the types of questions that it does (and does not) cover.

What do professors do?

But what is it exactly that professors ‘research’? How do professors allocate their time? And what are the various duties expected of a professor? This section attempts to answer these questions. The first fact to consider is that research in the Social Sciences is somewhat different from research in the traditional sciences of say Physics or Chemistry. The job of Social Scientists is to comment upon the way things work in the world around us. Researchers in B-schools are particularly interested in questions that concern firms of various types. This could include thinking about how consumers react to user-generated content on the internet (Marketing or Information Systems), how retailers organize their supply-chains (Operations), how large firms might compete with rivals in a specific market (Strategy), how boards manage shareholder returns (Finance) or how organizations adopt practices that would make them more responsive to change (Organization Behavior). This is only an indicative list and there are two points to be considered. First, the classifications I list in parentheses are synthetic and it is not uncommon to find Strategy researchers working on issues in Corporate Finance or Information Systems researchers working on Supply Chains. While it is true that each of the above departments has its own ‘core’, a lot of exciting research happens at the boundaries of two or more departments. Second, the questions I list are often too broad for one particular research project. While it is generally true that a particular Corporate Finance researcher might think about issues concerning shareholders, a particular paper will often make a very nuanced argument that builds upon past research. In fact, it is important to understand that the nature of research is very much in Newton’s “stand upon the shoulders of giants” spirit than is commonly acknowledged. Given that we now understand the kinds of broad questions that business researchers might think about, the second fact to consider is the disciplinary and methodological foundations upon which such research is based. ‘Business’ (or ‘Marketing’ or ‘Finance’) relies heavily upon the basic disciplines to build its theory. The three most common disciplinary lenses used are Economics, Sociology and Psychology. However, one of the attractive features of research in business is the ability to draw upon a number of these disciplines to make theoretical and empirical claims; hence the term interdisciplinary is often used in conjunction with business research. Each of the basic disciplines has a theoretical core which is based upon certain assumptions. Economists for example, often assume perfect or near-perfect rationality and profit-maximization in their theoretical models. Business research will then apply disciplinary theories in a business context. Different researchers within Business will draw upon the basic disciplines in a variety of ways. For example, those studying Consumer Behavior (in Marketing) or Behavioral Finance might considerably draw upon Psychology while those in Strategy might use a combination of Economics and Sociology to meet their goals. Further, researchers often sort themselves into theoreticians or empiricists. A theoretical person in marketing might build game-theoretic models to explain a certain pattern of market interaction, while an empiricist will often gather and analyze real-world data from a variety of sources to build econometric models to test her theories. Different methods and disciplines require a widely varying level of mathematical sophistication (the standards for which vary considerably in different circles) and where one might sort oneself is largely a matter of taste. Increasingly, business research is empirical and a number of researchers are using econometric techniques to generate insights from large data-sets. Constructing these data-sets and running statistical tests on them can be quite challenging (and tedious!). While there are many types of academics and an equal number of tools that they employ, accomplished researchers are unified by their ability to identify important problems and write about them in a theoretically rigorous yet interesting way. Research methods, their classification and the philosophies that motivate them is a vast topic that is beyond the scope of this note, but a certain idea of their existence and their relevance to the field under consideration is important.