Future Stars – Ben Collier

Year of the PhD program:

I am a few months away from finishing my second year of the PhD program at Carnegie Mellon. I am at the Tepper School of Business, and my emphasis is in Organizational Behavior and Information Systems.

Explain your background which has led you to the PhD program.

During my undergraduate years in Wisconsin a few Professors were very influential in my life and encouraged me to go on to graduate school. I after spending some time as a software developer I decided I enjoyed the academic lifestyle of learning and research more than writing code. I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin for an MBA, and connected with faculty there and was able to work as a research assistant and conduct my own independent study guided by Professor Sung Kim. He encouraged me to apply to a number of good behavioral information systems PhD programs, and I was accepted into Carnegie Mellon in the Spring of 2007.

What research areas are you interested in?

My primary interests lie in online communities and computer-mediated communication. I’m currently working on projects examining promotion/selection in online communities. The first examines Wikipedia Administrators and the second explores superusers in Intuit’s Live Community. I also am working on learning and innovation in open source software teams, and lastly on collective reputation systems in online lending communities. I work primarily with a wonderful adviser, Bob Kraut who has a long history of research in this area and many others.

What do you like to do for fun?

Some days it is hard to remember what I used to do for fun =) I enjoy biking around the city of Pittsburgh, and running with my very energetic English Springer Spaniel. My wife and I are also movie enthusiasts and enjoy spending time with friends at our favorite local pubs. Lastly, we are expecting a baby girl in March, so we have many fun years with her ahead of us!

Just curious – how often do you blog?

Since we found out we were pregnant we’ve been blogging about that journey. We probably blog once a week or so to keep friend and family across the country updated with what’s happening in our lives. Other than blogging, I often keep up with long-distance friends over Facebook.

Mention some things that you are currently doing which are helping to make your PhD career successful.

While I think it is yet to be determined whether my PhD career is “successful”, I think a few things have helped me along the way. The first is that I learned early on that working in groups on research projects is much more beneficial than solo research endeavors. Many accomplished professors and fellow students have taught me some of the more tacit skills of research just by regularly being in meetings with them and learning how they think about problems and weigh solutions. Another thing that has been valuable is meeting regularly to hear about other work-in-progress research in my area of interest and be with like minds. The group here in Pittsburgh (with partners in Minnesota & Michigan) that I’ve enjoyed being a part of is the Community Lab.

Discuss some challenges that you’ve encountered in your PhD career and how are you working to overcome them.

I guess everyone probably know the PhD career is full of challenges, I’ll pick a couple reoccurring ones that seem to plague my path. Since starting my program I have found it very difficult to balance my research projects with my coursework. Classes seem to have immediate deadlines for reading, homework, and papers, while research often takes a back seat to the more immediate needs of classes. I’ve tried to balance this by using my personal research projects as class projects (analyzing data from my projects for statistics and methods courses, etc.), and by setting weekly meeting deadlines on what I will have done for group research projects. Of course, this is still an ongoing struggle.

As many others probably have found, I also have a difficult time balancing the pressures of academic life with having an outside life with friends and family. I think one of the wonderful things about academic life is the flexibility to work at any time from any location, but knowing when to stop working and feel a sense of peace about it is always challenging. Planning times to be done working (whether I feel like I should be done or not) has been very helpful, and taking a day off each week I feel has also helped me to be both more sane and more productive, although I find myself often breaking this pattern.

What are some issues that you would like to discuss/ask fellow OCIS members (i.e. some opinions on particular research areas, the PhD program, the job search, etc.)?

I just finished comprehensive exams last month, so my next major hurdle will thinking about my dissertation committee, proposing, and all the details involved in the dissertation process. I would love to hear about what has helped others in the dissertation process, both glory and horror stories are welcome. Also, I would love to hear about strategies for picking your dissertation committee, do you go for diversity, depth, and what weight should the personalities of the committee members come into the decision making?

Please make additional comments here:

I’m looking forward to getting to know other members of the OCIS community, and hearing about their experiences in “future stars” sections yet to come! Feel free to contact me especially with any research related discussions or questions.


3 Responses

  1. It’s nice getting to know more about you. Congrats on your wife’s pregnancy! 🙂 I hope the delivery goes smoothly.

  2. Ben, nice to see the profile here and to meet you at the CIRT conference yesterday at CMU. Hope the chat on data for open source was useful, please don’t hesitate to ask about more abotu the data and see you on ossmole-discuss.

    Now I have to find out more about this communitylab thing 🙂


  3. Hi Ben,

    Nice to know more about you!



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