Interview with Varun Grover

Varun GroverWe recently had a chance to ask Varun Grover a few questions. Dr. Grover is the William S. Lee (Duke Energy) Distinguished Professor of IS at Clemson University. He has published extensively in the information systems field, with over 160 publications in refereed journals. Six recent articles have ranked him in the top three researchers in the field, based on publications in the top Information Systems journals over the past decade. His current areas of interest are creating IS value in organizations and business process change. His work has appeared in journals such as ISR, MISQ, JMIS, CACM, Decision Sciences, IEEE Transactions, California Management Review, among others. Currently, Varun is serving as the Senior Editor of the MIS Quarterly, Journal of the Association of Information Systems, and Database: Advances in IS; and Associate or Advisory Editor of nine other journals including JMIS, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Journal of Business Process Management.

Why have you taken a special interest in doctoral student education?

Working with doctoral students has a special place in my academic life. Perhaps it is because this work incorporates many of the reasons I joined academia. It truly integrates the pedagogy with research. On the pedagogical aspect, there is the joy of nurturing and developing a student that manifests itself over the course of years (not a single class) – so you can watch them grow – not only within the home institution but also in their careers. There is the research aspect where you can truly practice “learning by doing” and watch projects reach fruition through interactions. Also, for me there is the human interaction – I enjoy engaging in abstract thinking with doctoral students. It’s a level of discourse that can be both exhilarating and exhausting.

We noticed that you have written several articles in Decision Line concerning doctoral student education. What led you to write these articles?

My interactions with PhD students have been diverse, enriching and fraught with different experiences, most good but some that were not so good. Each of these experiences have given me the opportunity to observe things that I’ve done that work, mistakes that students make and behaviors that have resulted in satisfaction and success. Decision Line was just used as a channel to try and codify some of my experiences in a form that others might be able to benefit from. Perhaps one day I’ll get the chance to pull them all together into a book.

What are some of the frustrations you experience working with doctoral students?

I’ve always maintained that a good doctoral student could be a tremendous asset to a faculty member. What is a “good” doctoral student? In my mind there are three aspects – competence, motivation and the ability to manage the program well. Of these three, we only do a good job with the first one at the input stage. We can assess competence based on test scores, prior schooling and the personal interview. We try – but we can’t really assess the last two. It is tough to truly understand the frustrations of doctoral education and whether you “really want it that much” – without going through it. My frustrations with doctoral students have been limited, but often revolve around the motivational and management aspects. When students don’t prioritize well, or submit work that is clearly below their competence level or exhibit avoidance behavior – that could get difficult to handle. On the other hand, students that are motivated and try their best to deliver have my utmost respect. I love going above and beyond for such students, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many of them.

What are some of the joys you experience working with doctoral students?

I don’t think you have enough space for a full answer to this. In a nutshell, I enjoy seeing people develop. I enjoy seeing ideas develop. I enjoy seeing documents develop. Doctoral students are not rigid and inflexible. They have not developed fixed ideas. They are malleable and open to debate and development. This is what makes it fun.

There has been substantial discussion lately regarding the current and future state of the IS field (e.g., plummeting enrollments of IS majors). What is your outlook on the future state of the IS field?

I’m bullish about the IS field. The issues we deal with – using information and IT to make organizations more effective – are not going away. On the contrary, they are only going to become more important. So, as a field we will always have opportunities to do valuable research. I think the doom and gloom scenarios painted by many of the senior members of our field do us a disservice, spawn vicious negative cycles, and drain energy from people. We need to couch our discourse in well placed optimism and look beyond short term structural problems for opportunities to add value to our stakeholders. We can only do this if we start looking forward instead of looking down.

Do you have any reactions to or thoughts on Professor Grover’s remarks? If so post them below!

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