BY KEVIN MOE
Conducting research should be easy. You think up a problem, dig up a little background information, conduct an experiment or two, analyze your findings, and type up your results. Pad your bibliography, and you’re done, right?
Wrong. Professor Andrew Van de Ven knows better. And as a researcher with decades of experience and more than 100 published articles, he tries to diffuse his knowledge among students in MGMT 8101: Theory Building and Research Design.
Proper research begins with finding the right initial question. “The saying goes ‘chance favors the prepared mind.’ But what is a prepared mind?” Van de Ven says. “In our case, it’s a person who is an expert in a subject area like leadership, organizational strategy, or entrepreneurship and reads and knows what research has been done on that subject.” And when that knowledgeable person comes across something in the field that is not consistent with her knowledge of the subject, that’s when the wheels start to turn.
“It’s that anomaly. That surprise. That’s the spark from which new ideas emerge,” he says. “In a way, new ideas are often shocks on the side of the head. So it’s not only chance favoring the prepared mind, but the mind being exposed to different things. Reading broadly across different journals increases the chances of running into surprises.”
Van de Ven says the whole point is to stay active in scholarship and research and making sure you stay engaged. “I often use the analogy of a wood-burning fire,” he says. “Have you noticed the logs that die out are those that roll away from the fire? The logs that are close together, they have the energy and they have the flame. For us, we have to think of staying active and burning rather than falling away from the fire. Researchers or professionals who are disengaged are those who unfortunately become the dead wood, literally.”
The second and third steps of proper research directly follow the first step—developing alternative models or proposals that answer the research question and collecting the data to examine, compare, and test these alternative models. A well-stated problem goes a long way in keeping these two steps in check and lets a good researcher know just how far to take them. Van de Ven does offer one tip: “You need to engage others. Most of us focus on ideas, problems, and questions bigger than ourselves,” he says. “We have to talk to people different than ourselves to understand different dimensions of the issues being studied.”
The last step in research is just as important as the first, but often neglected, Van de Ven says. And that is communicating the findings so that the research is used. “The vast majority of research is not used for advancing theory or practice because most researchers do not engage in two-way communications with their audience; instead they only engage in one-way communications by writing a paper for some journal,” he says. “It’s amazing how much research has become careerist rather than focusing on the advancement of knowledge. One of the things I try to do in my course is instill the quest for knowledge rather than getting promoted in the job. It’s the wrong kind of motivation to do good research.”
Suitable for Publication
Now that your research is done, it’s ready to be published. Merely submit it to an appropriate journal and wait for the presses to start rolling, right?
Wrong. “About 80 percent get rejected,” Van de Ven says.
Those who submit work to a journal usually go through two or three revisions, so it is at least two years from the time of initial submission to when your paper can get published. “It’s not unusual for a paper to take four years. Two years is the ideal,” Van de Ven says. “The part that takes the most time is this, by far. Because of the hoops you have to go through.”
The first round of revisions, based on points raised by peer reviewers, usually take four to six months. Subsequent revisions about three to four. “You have to sit there and respond to each of these points, along with revising the paper,” Van de Ven says.
Sometimes you may find that the reviewers are adjusting your meaning. “They will ask us to do things that weren’t our intention, so our message reflects their interpretations and interests,” he says. Other times, you may find yourself scooped. “When you start to do these rewrites and submits, there is bound to be a similar paper in the pipeline, so in that sense you are getting scooped. So you’ll be asked to cite this other paper,” he says.
Even worse, after all the tweaking and rewrites, the journal may end up rejecting your paper anyway. Then, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over. “People normally send a paper to a top journal. If you get rejected, you go to the second journal, then go to the third journal, and so forth,” Van de Ven says.
But the bottom line is that most everyone, including professors, hates to be criticized. “There is a natural tendency to emotionalize this,” Van de Ven says. “You like to say this is dispassionate—it is simply a good argumentation. But you put your heart and soul into a paper. When you start receiving criticism, it hurts. I think that is true in most every occupation. I don’t think everyone likes receiving negative feedback. But it’s feedback in order to learn.”
BY KEVIN MOE
Undergraduate students in the University Honors Program get a rigorous introduction to the complexities and hard work of research as they complete their degree. To graduate with Latin Honors, students must conduct an Honors Thesis project, which is a student-led research project, which they write up by the end of their senior year in the form of a thesis. To graduate summa cum laude, students must give a presentation on their thesis as well.
Thesis development is covered in two Honors Thesis Seminar classes. In the first class, students define their project. The second class is devoted to data organization, analysis, and writing the thesis. Throughout the journey, students receive feedback from a host of sources—faculty members, librarians, and their fellow classmates. “It’s really a complex process,” says Professor Colleen Manchester, the course instructor, adding that these classes give the students’ critical thinking and project management skills a real workout. “But these students represent the best and brightest at the Carlson School. They are high-caliber students.”
Daunting as the classes might be, they are increasing in popularity. Thirty students signed up this year, an increase of almost 50 percent over last year.
The Confidence Gap in the Workplace
One such student is Avery Moe (left in photo), who will be graduating in May with a summa cum laude designation as a finance major. She has landed a job at 3M as an internal auditor. Moe was drawn to the class because of the support she receives from her fellow thesis writers. “Writing a thesis is a very large commitment and can be overwhelming at times,” she says. “It is incredibly valuable to work through this process with other students and to have a place to share my ideas and concerns with people who are going through the same process.”
Moe’s thesis, being supervised by Manchester, looks at women’s confidence levels in the workplace. “Existing research demonstrates that women tend to have less confidence than men, and this ‘confidence gap’ can lend itself to greater gender inequalities in the workplace,” Moe says. “Additional research shows that firms with greater numbers of women in upper management tend to have greater numbers of women in middle management and a lower wage gap between men and women throughout the firm. I wanted to explore whether these two ideas are connected—are women more confident when they have female bosses or mentors?”
Moe designed an experiment where participants are randomly assigned to receive instructions for simple tasks from either a man or a woman. They were then asked to rank their levels of self-confidence. Moe thought that women will feel more confident in their ability to complete a task if they receive the instructions from another woman rather than from a man. The findings have been inconclusive.
“So far, I have not found any results in support of my hypotheses that are considered statistically significant. However, I am still in the process of analyzing my data,” Moe says. “It can be difficult to put forth so much effort into developing hypotheses that are justified by existing literature and then go through the effort of collecting and analyzing data, only to realize that the results you’ve obtained don’t match your initial expectations. Research can be exciting at times, but also frustrating.”
How Socioeconomic Status Affects Consumer Preferences
Paige Thorburn is a senior marketing major set to graduate summa cum laude in May. In August, she will start work as a business analyst at Target in Minneapolis. She has much praise for the Honors Thesis Seminar class and the experience.
“This class helps me stay focused and provides a sense of accountability. Professor Manchester is really good at giving us structure and pointing us in the right direction,” she says. “It’s also great to be able to see what my peers are working on and learn from that.”
Thorburn’s project focuses on how socioeconomic status (SES) affects consumers’ preferences for luxury products and attempts to uncover the underlying motivations that explain it. Her project supervisor is Marketing Professor Deborah John. Thorburn’s original hypotheses were that people of higher SES would prefer “quieter,” or less conspicuously branded, luxury products in order to fulfill value expressive motivations, and those of lower SES would want “louder,” or more conspicuous, products for social acceptance motivations.
“I’m finding that this isn’t the case, or at least not within my survey data. I’m finding little or no correlation between SES and product preferences or motivations,” she says. “However, I have found other little things, like a correlation between value expressive motivations and both feelings of power as well as the need for uniqueness.”
Thorburn is finding that data analysis is a real journey. “I had kind of assumed that once I put out my survey and collected the responses, I’d just throw them into Excel and get a nice little regression that would tie everything together,” she says. “As it turns out, there are a lot of steps involved, and I’m having to explore different avenues that I hadn’t anticipated because my results aren’t what I had expected.” One major surprise she notes is finding a lot of “bad data.” Some respondents just clicked the first response to every question in her electronic survey in order to finish more quickly.
Despite some setbacks, she is really enjoying the level of autonomy that research gives her. “It’s exciting and rewarding to be working on a project that is completely of my own design and to have the chance to work on something that really interests me,” she says. “I’ve always been intrigued by retail and fashion, as well as the more sociological side of marketing, so being able to explore that more deeply is great. Additionally, I’ve really appreciated being able to work with faculty. We have such talented people working here and being able to learn from them one-on-one has been extremely helpful.”