McIntire School of Commerce Murray Research Professor and Associate Professor of Information Technology
University of Arizona Ph.D., Management Information Systems
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What do students learn in your bachelor program, and jobs students get afterwards? Please also discuss about your graduate program(s), if you offer any.

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
Information technology, which is sort of like information systems, basically at the underground level and I would say that our IT concentrators, it's become one of the largest concentration in the school because I think you'll hear me say throughout is that it's a great time to be in a technology field right now. So we have these different personas for our concentrators, I would say that the personas are first and foremost business analytics is very big and so the business analyst role is very important. But then we also have technology consultants and then folks doing digital innovation and even now we're increasingly getting into cybersecurity and health IT so what ends up happening is we have this choose your own adventure philosophy where we offer courses related to these personas but ultimately it's up to the students to decide and pick and choose which courses they want to take related to that and then they end up, of course, pursuing careers related to the personas that they're interested in. At the grad level, we have a lot of programs as well. We have an MS in the Management of IT. We also have MS Commerce, which is a fifth-year program, which has a Business Analytics Track that I oversee, and I'm currently working with Darden, which is our other business school. We have to launch a joint MS and Business Analytics degree program this coming fall and that program is for experienced professionals and also half of it is going to be online, so it's kind of like two schools, two formats.

How would you encourage students to apply to your programs? Would you like to clear any misconceptions that discourage certain students from applying to your programs?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
So, first of all, I think it's a great time to be involved in technology as you heard me say earlier. I think technology has never been more central than it is now to industry to strategy so there are opportunities in the industry, but also, of course, in academia, we have a tremendous need for the next generation of educators and so a great time to come into this field. In terms of misconceptions, I think there is the biggest misconception that I see at least with our undergraduate, even grad students is regarding the prerequisite knowledge that they need. So some assume that to be a technologist, you have to already be a technologist before you enter a program, and that's not the case. I think the biggest thing we're looking for in a person is passion, we need people that are passionate about technology, love technology or love to be involved with data analytics or data science or whatever it is they want to do and then secondary to that is, of course, the skills, a lot of that we can teach. Now there is also another important misconception regarding diversity in technology fields. We're seeing all kinds of evidence around gender biases in tech companies and other things and those are obviously major concerns that we as a community, not just academia, but industry, the world really needs to look at. I would say that at least from what we've seen we have a very diverse student body at the University of Virginia and every year we actually give a technology achievement award, and I think, I might be off on this, but I believe the winner of that award for the last five years has been actually a female student. So I would argue and sorry fellas if there are men that are listening to this or watching this, I apologize for saying this ahead of time, but I can say that many of our best students are the most diverse from a gender and ethnicity perspective and yes, there are some concerns about the need for change in the industry but I think the best way to drive change is from the inside. So I would tell anyone who's interested in pursuing a career in these fields, whether it's academia, industry, that please don't shy away because of the negative stuff you're hearing. There's a lot of good that can be done in, and we need people like that in this field.

What are your research interests? Can you discuss major research projects you have worked on? What have been the key insights of your research?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
My work is for those of you who are not familiar with the information systems field, my work is really at the intersection of what's called Design Science and Data Science and what that means is Design Science is very much how to build IT artifacts. So we built a lot of systems, a lot of models, a lot of algorithms and Data Science is the type of work that I do, most of my work, my background is pretty much artificial intelligence so I do a lot of building machine learning methods. The nice thing is, a lot of my work has a lot of real-world applications to it. I tend to apply my methods to feels like health, cybersecurity and, of course, business being in a business school. I am most proud of the projects that get real-world attraction whether some broader impact or practical usage. I'm quite happy that I think at least five or six of my projects have resulted in large scale real-world usage that we've got a lot of systems being used by the government. We have systems being used by companies and in the health fields, security fields and that's really rewarding. In addition to the academic contribution, there's a strong practical contribution, and even when it's like 10 years later and you're still seeing that system being used and it's quite nice and gratifying.

How did you come across these ideas? How did you decide that these projects would be worth pursuing?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
Well, I'd love to say that everything I've tried has worked, but obviously that's not the case. So I think one of the things and I'll come back to a little bit later in response to your other questions. But fail fast is really a mantra that a lot of people live by and you try things and sometimes you have to learn by trying and learn by experience and learn through failure. But the other thing I will say is that, at least in academic research, we talk so much about rigor, I mean, how to do the technically correct research, and it's absolutely critical, you have to have rigor. I argue that the thing that sometimes we overlook a little bit is creativity. I think creativity is something that's hard to teach actually, it's almost innate to people. At least when I look at my role models, many of whom have already recorded for this mentoring website, other rock stars in the field, I think a common thread among them is that many of them for whatever reason, they're able to come up with good ideas and I think you can't measure that through GRE and GMAT so that's something from a mentoring standpoint that means we tend to overland what we can quantify and we can quantify rigor through math skills and econometric skills and machine learning skills but if you're out there and you're interested in pursuing careers and you feel like your best asset is creativity and your ability to come up with ideas, we need people like that and so please don't undervalue what you have a skill set.

What criteria do you use to evaluate papers while reviewing? What are common reasons for papers getting rejected? How can authors improve the chance of getting their papers accepted?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
I think I suspect if I will be able to give you a list, which I will it's probably similar to the list many others would have given you for this and there are I would encourage anyone interested in academia to read some of the really good editorials that some of our senior scholars have developed. For example, at MIS quarterly recently wrote one last year where he did a meta-analysis of about 1500 papers that were rejected at MIS Quarterly and came up with a really good list of five or six things. But from what I see as a senior editor and have been in AE for many years, top of mind four things come to mind. One would be and this is the biggest one, it's just barking up the wrong tree and what I mean by that is when someone is purportedly solving the problem and they haven't done the root cause analysis to find that the issue they're addressing is not the real problem, there's something else. So if you're not really solving the problem, you think you are, that's obviously a concern. Another one would be, of course, reinventing the wheel and so this is something that happens a lot, and I've danger of revealing my blinded AE reports a comment that I've often made is, we are not just reinventing the wheel, but often we're reinventing the wooden wheel in the era of rubber tires. People have done things that are far more interesting and what sometimes happening is sometimes we fall in love with an idea, we go down and start pursuing it without taking a step back to say, Are we really doing something that needs to be solved? Rigor, I don't want to understate rigor. I mentioned creativity and rigor is also very important in doing research in the right way. And so if you're doing behavioral research, we know there's a set of 15 or 20 types of steps we need to follow, designs or surveys and constructors, the same thing with the kind of econometrics research, there is a ton of robustness checks best practices and technical research and lastly novelty. I think up just because you're doing technically correct research and no one has done it before it is novel, it is interesting and I think people sometimes forget that there's a dichotomy between research and technical report generation. So research should have, I think, a little bit more of a pop to it, and that's where the novelty bar needs to be cleared.

What are some major research gaps that you believe needed to be addressed? Gaps could be in the field in general, or in your area of research.

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
I think and this is just my opinion obviously, unfortunately, there are many other better opinions on here that you get from people you're talking to. But I think grand societal challenges are things that we need to be looking at more. So by the grand societal challenges, I mean major things like health disparities, security, etcetera, and gender equality and so forth. I think technology IT has a lot to offer that in this vein, obviously, these are big problems that require research streams and research programs where individual papers can be done and I think that's where it seems a bit daunting because we live in a world of Publish or Perish and everyone needs to get jobs, and then you get tenure and so sometimes I don't think we're pursuing those things the way you should and the example I give when I'm talking to doctoral students, bit fortunate enough to give talks at least in 40-50 schools at this point and one of the things I tell doctoral students is, imagine you're on a plane and you're sitting next to a rock star heart surgeon, and obviously you're flying first class because heart surgeon is never going to fly economy or whatever. But you're flying next to this person and they're telling you about all the lives they've saved this last week and they ask you about your research, what are you going to tell them? Are you going to say I'm studying this website to see if this one construct increases visitation by 1% and it's about having perspective and not to diminish that 1% research or whatever that is, I just made that up here but the point is, what you're doing, does it pass the smell test in terms of people caring about it. For me personally, I think what this means right now I'm doing work, for example, which is, Omnichannel, Cross-device in this era of digital transformation, structured unstructured, primary and secondary data, psychometric, combining all these different things that are even putting me outside my comfort zone but I'm doing that because I feel they are important to provide a holistic view of a big problem.

What approaches have you found to be effective in working with industry for funding, getting data, and picking consultancy projects?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
We are fortunate to get funding both from federal agencies as well as companies and I would say the criteria differ a little bit so if you're looking at the federal agencies, it's pretty much you know intellectual merit and broader impact as they always say and for that, I would say that we are who we are so the topics that one is researching is going to be fifty percent of whether or not your research is liable for them is already been determined by what you study so that's half the battle but then beyond that, it's just about that impact. For companies, it is a little bit different obviously it's about providing business value to them and so in terms of the strategies, I think one of the important things is to just try to find that alignment and also be careful not to just chase money because I think early in my career it was like, wow, you can make me love a topic because there's an opportunity of funding but over time you realize that if the passion is not there then it could be an issue so I think try to do things that are aligned with one's core competencies that are going to provide value for the organization, should have societal impact and then being picky about what one works on.

What do you look for while accepting PhD students or postdocs? What kind of funding do they get and for how many years?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
So sadly our Ph.D. program is been a little bit dormant the last couple of years but we have postdocs and with postdocs, one of the things we do look for is just, it's not a single criteria, but we're looking for some of the things that I alluded to, we talked about rigor and creativity. We also look at personality a lot because we're trying to look for people that are fun to work with, but also interesting because one of I believe is, in academia, everyone is almost like is a brand. Every single person is sort of a sole proprietorship in some ways. So we're looking for those intangibles even with doctoral students or postdocs, something that is different and interesting.

How do you evaluate progress of PhD students or postdocs, and decide if they need to leave your program? What mistakes do you see them making in their initial years in the program?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
To be honest, I don't think it's one thing I think it really depends. First of all, I would say, at least at the University of Virginia, we really try to avoid it to the extent possible that we're really doing our due diligence upfront and ultimately it's about managing expectations. So there's a lot of reasons why things don't work out, and obviously, sometimes they don't work out, it could be fit, it could be motivation, it could be what not but I think, we really try to focus on making sure that we treat you as a relationship so I think it's also important to note usually, we wouldn't terminate a student, for example, because they made a mistake. I think that never happened. It's more about just mutually deciding that it's not a good fit, more properly, like they just don't want to do it or we just don't think they're a good fit for it, and ultimately it's about we want to put people in a position to be successful because Ph.D. and postdocs are major investments and so there's an opportunity cost for the person involved on both parties.

What advice would you give to PhD students, particularly who are searching for dissertation topic, and who are looking to enter the job market?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
So I think, first of all, for the topic, passion is very important, do what you love because many of us in this field will say that research cannot just be treated as work. I think, maybe Rajiv Kohli once said that the great thing about academia is you have so much job flexibility to work for 70 or 80 hours a week you want and what that means, of course, is that because we're working for so many know so many hours and it's not a typical 9 to 5 job so there has to be passion involved. The other thing I would say is, this goes back to that brand idea so, in academia, everyone's a brand. In fact, I think probably a large percentage of personalized web sites on the Internet are probably the professor's website. So we're basically a brand and that means a couple of things, that means you start thinking about what is your competitive advantage? What are you good at? That's important too, passion is great, but you want to be good at it. And secondly, I think differentiation and this goes back to the idea where there's a lot of hot trends, and that herding behavior idea is very attractive sometimes like, Look, I have a template here for a paper and I could do something there. And not to say that just because someone else is pursuing a topic one shouldn't. I mean, there's a lot of research to be done in a lot of areas, but I think one should think about how the brand is being impacted as well. It's not always just about getting the paper published, but thinking about how that paper is going to differentiate me and that's also going to have a bigger impact in terms of science.

What courses do you teach? How has your teaching philosophy changed over the years?

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
So now most of my teaching is grad, an exact level at this point that teaching our master's programs and IT. I run this enterprise IT management module. We work with folks that have 15 years of industry experience on the CIO track. I'm also teaching, co-directing our new Business Analytics Master's program, which is also for experienced professionals and I do a lot of executives. One of the things that I've realized is that as I'm getting older of that, it takes a village to learn and so I think co-creation of knowledge is the thing. I think I eat a big slice of a humble pie every time I'm in class and really think about how can I flip the classroom a little bit, such that I'm learning as much and I found students learn a lot from each other and so how do you make the learning process more dynamic? make it more of a crowdsourced kind of communal activity is one of the big things, and not just in the executive settings that I thought that it would just be okay because there are folks with a lot of experience, but I'm finding increasingly that even in our undergrads and intro classes, people have so much to offer with their experiences. And for years I look back, and I regret that I didn't happen to that potential and it makes the classroom experience more fun, too, because rather than just lecturing to a bunch of students and they're getting a perspective.

What are some of the memorable things that students said or wrote to you? Feel free to share stories behind these notes.

Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Thu Apr 16 2020
I have been very fortunate now to have students that keep in touch. I get invited to weddings and whatnot, which is really nice, but the most touching ones are former students that are pursuing PhDs, for example, and when they say that, that you inspired me to get a Ph.D. that means a lot to me because it's a significant investment, these are folks working in the industry and making good money and they want to answer to a higher calling being an educator, that's very rewarding and so I think I'm lucky, they just see something, I'm not sure what it is, but it's quite nice that happens. Many of my colleagues I talked to said the same thing that, it's incredibly rewarding that we are literally creating the next generation of educators.