It’s my second Academy of Management conference. My first time attending in 2019 in Boston, I went to a lot of workshops but I didn’t really absorb a lot of the things. As a PhD student back then specializing in innovations in drug discovery, I didn’t really have a good mental map of what management was and where my place in it was. Now that I’m a postdoc, with a stronger idea of my academic identity, I have a better grasp of what’s happening. And, with this renewed lens, I have been learning a lot, especially with respect to career development and intellectual growth. I summarize here the lessons I’ve learned in the past few days:
Are you the bug or the windshield? Everyone wants to be unique. I, for one, want to think that my pharmaceutical background gives me a unique perspective on things. However, if you’re entering the field of, let’s say, entrepreneurship, scholars in that field wouldn’t really care about your unique background. All the field cares about is your contribution to their theory. If you are producing papers that are too different or that do not engage with prior literature, you just won’t have any success (ie. optimal distinctiveness, institutional theory). Don’t be the bug, the windshield will always win.
Research productivity = Project Count * Resilience * Success rate. The number of papers you have in top journals can be calculated using three factors: the number of projects you are working on, the number of times you are willing to resubmit a paper before giving up and your actual success rate. One trajectory then is to work on a lot of projects at a time (like 15 in 5 years), shop them to 4 journals, and hope to have a success rate of 5% to get 3 publications. Otherwise, you can focus on quality, just working on 5 projects, submitting them to 2 journals with a 25% success rate to get 3 publications.
Idea entrepreneurship – Academics are entrepreneurs, just of a different product. Our products are ideas. Similar to successful entrepreneurs, we have to create differentiated products that provide some value. Accordingly, as an academic, you should think about whether the papers you produce are catering to the correct audience and providing them some unique benefit. Otherwise, who will buy your product?
Read and re-write the top papers in top journals – One way to get better at writing papers is to literally just copy the top papers’ introductions word for word until you have internalized them. This exercise has two benefits: First, highly cited papers are generally written in a very compelling manner. Understanding these papers’ style and flow would inform your writing as well. Second, to write good papers, you have to be aware of all the interesting theories in your field. Writing these papers down can help in memorizing these theories so that you are able to quickly connect the ideas when you need to.
Always contribute to theory – in management academia, the focus is always your contribution to theory. Papers get rejected if they do not contribute to theory. It’s all about theory, theory and theory. This obsession is something that took me a long time to really internalize. Coming from the natural sciences, I tend to focus on the empirical context that I would forget to step back and look at how the insights there can be generalized to theory. For phenomenon-oriented research like those in technology management, the best way to contribute to theory is to treat your empirical context as a case that can inform the literature.