Interview with Bob Galliers 2/3

9351871Marco: That’s a very hard job.
Galliers: It’s a hard job and it does take a little bit of handling in terms of time management. I’m fortunate in that I have quite a lot of energy. While I might be tired from an overseas trip, I don’t really get jetlag. I suppose I’m so used to travelling that somehow I can recover from a long journey. I was in the UK last week. I flew out in the morning and got here in the afternoon. I was in the office by the afternoon, having spent some time on the plane writing a report of an accreditation of another business institution.
On Thursday, I fly out back to the UK and will be visiting Queen Mary College University of London to talk about the role of the arts and sciences in business education; a kind of experiment that we’ve been working on here at Bentley because Queen Mary have a transdisciplinary ethos, which is somewhat similar to ours. And then on Monday, we’ll be at Warwick talking about a new handbook in the Oxford University Press series. It will be called The Oxford Handbook on Management Information Systems that I will be editing with Wendy Curry who’s a professor at Warwick. Then on Tuesday, we’ll be giving a talk to MBA students at Brunel Business School in London about doing applied research projects as part of their MBA qualification. I’m a visiting professor at Brunel and at the London School of Economics and at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Again, one interacting with colleagues in different parts of the world, and students who are taking masters or doctoral programs is interesting and fascinating. It adds another dimension to your life, but on the other hand, it gives you the ability to test out ideas and to see whether those ideas actually work.
Marco: I think you know pretty well the PHD programs in Europe and the United States. Many PHD students don’t know exactly if they need to get a PHD in the U.S. if they want to work in a U.S. university, because, for example, in Europe PHD programs are sometimes 3-year programs, while here they are usually 4 or 5-year programs. So do you think that there is a huge difference in terms of what I can offer to a university? Whether they will hire me if I don’t get a PHD in the United States? Are there other requirements that are more important such as annual publications? What do you think about this?
Galliers: Well, I think there are a number of issues than that for the individual PHD student. I think the most important thing is to get their PHD. But in so doing, they can be publishing as well. Then I think that puts them on a really firm footing to get a better chance of getting a position at any university in the world. In my field of information systems, if they have published in one or more of the major journals, if they’ve been able to represent at one of the major international conferences in the world, then they’re demonstrating that they’re able to publish, on the one hand, that their work has been assessed by international referees. But, two, they are building up an opportunity of making something of a network. They are becoming known in the Academy.
When I did my PHD, I was fortunate enough to have, I think, something like 13 publications as a result of doing my PHD studies. Now, I did my PHD later in life. I’d previously not been an academic, so it was very important for me to be able to publish and to get my PHD almost at the same time. But the technique that I adopted was, in a sense, to work out what the research was all about, what my dissertation would look like, and then write articles which could then be edited into a dissertation.
Marco: And then put them together.
Galliers: Rather than writing a dissertation and then trying to get a journal article out of it. And my argument there was in the British system; I did my PHD at LSE. So in the British system, almost the litmus test is: Is this material publishable? Are there two or more articles that could emerge from this PHD? Well, I had demonstrated that because I already had 13 articles published as part of my PHD. SO, therefore, I was challenging my examiners to dare to fail me. How can you fail me when others have already identified that this work is good enough to be published?
But, more seriously, if you already have articles published, then, one, you’re visible in the Academy, and, two, you’re making yourself known as a serious player and someone that any university around the world should be interested in. And if you’ve published in some of the American journals, even if you’ve got a doctorate from another country, then in a sense, it doesn’t matter what system you came through as much.
Now, at Bentley, what we’ve tried to do is to combine the best of the European tradition or perhaps the best of the non-North American tradition with the best of the North American tradition. When you mentioned 5 years as being common in North America, that’s true, but it’s true that in many institutions in North America, there will be 2 years of course work followed by a comprehensive exam, then two or so years of research. But in the European system, you may be doing 3 or 4 years of research. So which is better? It’s different.
I would say that the strength of the North American system is the training that you get in research methods and so on as part of your course work. But I’d say that the strength of non-North American traditions is the training that you get in actually doing research. So if you combine those two strengths, then you have a really program, and that’s what we try to do here, so that not only are our students taking coursework, but they have a supervisor and the beginnings of a doctoral committee, as it’s called in the U.S., from the very beginning.
We’re encouraging them and requiring them to publish as they go along, so that when they have gone through their comprehensive exams, they’re not suddenly stopping and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve finished my coursework, now I’ve got to think about doing some research.’ But they’ve already thought about that and applied their knowledge from the coursework into their planning for a program of research.
One of the weaknesses of the North American system, particularly in business, is the syndrome of ABD (all but dissertation). Well, we don’t want our students all but dissertation. As a European, I find it remarkable for anyone to talk about being a PHD all but dissertation because that is the PHD in the European system. So we’re trying to avoid that and also give our students the best opportunity we can to ensure that they really are the kind of PHD graduates that any institution the world over would be interested in.
So I think the answer really is to demonstrate that one is able to publish. One of the other problems though with many PHD programs is that sometimes PHD students are simply used as teaching assistants. Now, it’s important that PHD students get opportunities to teach. I can remember the first time I taught in a classroom, I was like a deer in the headlights. It’s pretty scary. I had no training whatsoever. And even though I had, prior to taking a PHD and getting into academia, as a consultant, I’d make presentations, and I’d even supervised some master’s projects. So I had some background, but that first time I was in a classroom, teaching my course, it was scary. I felt very unprepared for it. I think most PHD students feel that way.
What we’re trying to do here at Bentley is to have a series of workshops during the coursework period so that our PHD students begin to get some techniques in teaching and get some help in becoming a professor. And in their third and fourth years, they actually have an opportunity to teach a class. Rather than be at someone else’s beck and call to do some marking or prepare some materials or whatever it is, they’re actually being trained to teach and gain some experience of teaching as part of their doctoral program. I think that’s a little bit different from many institutions.
One of our PHD students here said something along the lines of, “I’m not just a slave.” I don’t think that was quite the terminology that she used, but a professor’s slave or something like that. That’s not what we’re about. What else can I say? Is that it?

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