Published on July 13, 2009
The practical challenge is the loss of income for quite a few years. It's a huge commitment. The intellectual challenge is learning from faculty and peers in one class or one project or another -- and then having to put it all together and synthesize it. There were two other graduate students in my cohort, and we spent a lot of time talking and arguing about how the field fit together. More generally, it's important to develop a support system of people that understand what you're going through (even if it's someone from a different discipline). My parents still don't understand what I do, and I found it really helpful to have close friends that had gone through or were going through the same process and could offer encouragement. As for advice... before embarking upon a doctorate, I would first encourage students to do research about the field and the schools they are interested in. If you read the academic journals of the field and find them uninteresting, that's not a good sign. The journals don't have to be completely intelligible -- because there is a lot of jargon in academic work -- but they should be interesting. It also helps to be sure about your choice (as sure as you can be without having done it). Being a graduate student is a lot of hard work and it requires a very high level of self-motivation. When it gets to dissertation time, I have advice for picking a topic. One of my mentors, Joanne Martin, had me write a dozen sentences. Each sentence summarized the findings from a potential dissertation topic. I could share that with a variety of people - without them needing to invest a great deal of time -- and get a sense of what might be interesting and valuable as a topic. Paul DiPerna: Do you have a particular regimen for your work, such as launching projects, publications, attending conferences, teaching lesson plans, reading academic journal and popular periodicals, time with students? Christine Beckman: I work best when I have time to focus on a project. I try to arrange my teaching schedule so that I can have time without teaching to immerse myself in research. I always have too many projects going at once hopefully projects at different stages. Right now, I have one paper under review, one paper that is in the final stages before being submitted, one paper that is in the data analysis stage, and several data collection and data cleaning efforts going. It's difficult because I work better on one project at a time but I try to dedicate a day or an afternoon to a project before shifting gears. I also like to have deadlines internally or externally imposed that motivate me to work harder. I like smaller conferences to try out ideas, and I enjoy giving colloquia at different universities. It's a treat to have a room of people listening to you talk about your work and offering their ideas about what you could do better. I'm still trying to figure out a particular regimen and looking at my senior colleagues and peers to see how they organize their time. This is a tough question! My current challenge is trying to carve out time to reflect and think about I would like my next project to look like. I enjoy collaborating with people. I believe in collaboration as a means of increasing the diversity and quality of ideas -- and it's more fun too. In the beginning these were collaborations that began in graduate school. I'm at a point now where I'm developing new ideas through my interactions with graduate students. We find common points of interest and a project emerges from those conversations. Working with graduate students has been a generative and engaging process, and it encourages me to think about issues more broadly. Breadth has costs, both because it's harder to be known for something in the academy when you're broad and because there's a fairly diverse set of literatures that I need to keep up with, but it keeps
me interested. Paul DiPerna: About a year ago, you co-authored "The Influence of Founding Team Company Affiliations on Firm Behavior" in the Academy of Management Journal. My understanding is that the central conclusions were founding team prior affiliations and experiences have a great impact on the paths and decisions a new firm will take. The more diverse the experiences within the founding team, the more "exploratory" and "exploitative" their behavior. I believe another conclusion was that team members' prior affiliations can predict firm growth. Is that on target? Can you summarize that project? Christine Beckman: It's close to right. The paper you refer to was published in the August 2006 issue of the Academy of Management Journal. It is one paper in a series of papers using a sample of Silicon Valley high technology companies that were founded in the late 1980s and early 1990s (see below). The paper looks at the affiliations of founding teams; that is, I was interested in what companies the founders had worked in before starting the entrepreneurial company. I found that when founders came from a variety of different prior companies, or had diverse prior company affiliations, they were more likely to start a company that had an exploration or innovation-based strategy, and they were more likely to change their initial founding idea over time. Founders that came from the same prior company, or had common prior company affiliations, were more likely to start a company that had an exploitation or incremental strategy, and they were faster at bringing the first product to market. The findings are consistent ".. research with research that suggests suggests demographic or functional demographic or heterogeneity on a team can functional promote innovation, but I focus heterogeneity on diversity that in prior on a team can employers. When founders promote have worked at different innovation..." companies, they have unique information, contacts and perspectives that encourage innovation and creativity. In contrast, shared affiliations give founders a shared language, perspective and way of doing things that allows them to move quickly to market and incrementally innovate. I also find that founding teams with both common and diverse affiliations are likely to grow; thus, there are advantages to creating a founding team with both common and diverse prior experiences. One of the contributions of the paper is to focus on a source diversity affiliations or prior employers that has not received much attention. Another contribution is to link the composition of the founding team to the strategy of the firm. Paul DiPerna: Can you describe (if possible) the steps taken by you and co- authors in that research? Christine Beckman: This paper came out of a large-scale research project that I have worked on for many years called the Stanford Project on Emerging Companies (SPEC). The sample was drawn from a variety of high technology industries in Silicon Valley (i.e., telecommunications and networking, manufacturing, biotechnology and medical devices, research, computer hardware and software, and semiconductors) and
examines over 170 entrepreneurial companies. These firms were less than 10 years old at the time of the first round of interviews in 1994, and they had at least 10 employees. The faculty leaders of this project were Mike Hannan and Jim Baron. My colleague from graduate school, Diane Burton, was involved in this project from the inception and it provided the basis for her dissertation. Diane is now at MIT, and we have co-authored a series of papers using this sample of firms. We collected additional data on the career histories of the founders and top managers involved with these firms from founding through 2001. It was an intensive data collection that we did over a period of six years, with lots of help. From these career histories, we coded the affiliations of the founding and top management team (we have a paper forthcoming with Charles O'Reilly in the Journal of Business Venturing that also looks at affiliations of the entire top management team over time; and we have a 2002 paper with Jesper Sorensen that examines founder prior affiliations with prominent firms). Although Diane was not a co-author on the AMJ paper, we worked together on the collection of the data and she has been a co-author on every other paper that I have been part of using this data. As for steps in coming up with the idea, I outlined the basic idea while on a long drive with my family (my husband was driving!). I wanted to use the data to look at issues related to organizational learning, which is a topic I am very interested in. In talking about how organizations learn, I felt that learning came not only from what and whom you know but from where you come. I was fortunate to have a good editor at AMJ, Christina Shalley, and some terrific reviewers that encouraged me to develop my ideas further. They were critical of the initial manuscript but constructive in their suggestions. I worked hard to think deeply about, and then address both theoretically and empirically, the issues that they raised. Several colleagues were also generous with their time and read drafts of the paper. Paul DiPerna: Are there Internet or ICT-focused companies that provide good examples reflecting your conclusions? Christine Beckman: I have not done any work on Internet companies. The Silicon Valley companies were founded before the internet boom. I think there are many innovative companies that are diverse on a number of dimensions such as functional background, affiliations or race. These are companies that validate the general ideas in the study. Paul DiPerna: We've briefly discussed that you have a young family.. Your daughter was born five weeks before your first academic job interview! How do you balance being a mother and wife with your teaching and research work in academia? Christine Beckman: Being a wife isn't so hard, but being a mom is a lot of work. I often have graduate students ask me about the best time to have children. The truth is that there is no good time -- which means you should have children when it makes sense for the rest of your life. In retrospect, having children during graduate school would have been great... but my husband and I weren't living in the same city! In graduate school, you have the problem of too little income; in the beginning of your career, you have the problem of needing to get publications out with some speed; later in your career, people risk having fertility problems. We are fortunate in that we have enough resources to have lots of help.; In the most difficult early years, I outsourced everything I could think of (grocery shopping, house cleaning, childcare). My goal was to
make sure that as many of my non-working moments as possible were focused on my children. I didn't have much time for myself or my husband, but I survived. One of the benefits of academia is that there is flexibility, so I was often able to move things around to meet my children's schedules. That said, just last week I needed to have a babysitter come early in the morning to walk the kids to school because I had an early morning meeting. My husband's job is less flexible, and he travels a lot, so I end up doing more than my share of juggling. I don't think there is a balance but there are a series of trade- offs. Every day I assess what's most important and make trade-offs accordingly. Paul DiPerna: How is Irvine, CA, for raising a family? Christine Beckman: Irvine is a great place to raise a family; in fact, I grew up in Irvine and my parents still live here. However, for my first six years at UCI I commuted from Los Angeles (where my husband was working), so I didn't get to take much advantage of the location. The 50 miles from my house to my office sometimes took over two hours to travel. I was very glad to move a year and a half ago (my husband changed jobs and now he commutes). Irvine is a very easy, safe place to live, with very good public schools. It is a perfect place to live right now when I have two elementary age children. I miss the energy of a more urban environment but Irvine is great for a family. It's close to beautiful beaches and hiking too. Paul DiPerna: If you could list your favorite 2-3 essential readings in organizational theory/analysis, what would they be and why? Christine Beckman: This is a timely question because I just finished teaching a PhD course on organizational theory. So I have just finished re-reading many of my favorite articles and books. My favorite classic is Richard Cyert and James March, The Behavioral Theory of the Firm. The book raises so many of the critical issues that we continue to wrestle with today. I find John Padgett and Christopher Ansell's 1993 article on "Robust Action and the Medici" in the American Journal of Sociology to be an inspiring piece of research. The data is fascinating and the story beautifully told. It reminds me of the value of careful historical work and nuanced analyses of patterns of interaction. I'll stop at two but the syllabus for my PhD course is on my website. Paul DiPerna: I don't know if you've come across the group blog called orgtheory.net, but the bloggers -- four professors of sociology, and one professor of management -- do a nice job of bridging academic work to a broader audience. Often times they connect concepts in organizational theory and past research in organizational studies to current events. Recently they described the field of organizational studies as being a field in flux and one (my take) having a kind identity crisis within academia.. (in this post they cite Jim March) How would you assess the state of organizational studies? Christine Beckman: I am familiar with orgtheory.net, and I think it's a terrific site with many thought provoking posts. As for the identity crisis in organization theory, in the last class of my PhD course this quarter we talked about exactly this issue. There have been a number of articles written in the last couple years suggesting that the field is adrift or changing in potentially problematic ways (Walsh, Meyer and Schoonhoven, 2006; Gerald Davis, 2006; W. Richard Scott, 2004; as well as some papers with Jim March as you note).
I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, these are thought provoking discussions but not particularly distressing. These types of debates occur with some regularity (Jeff Pfeffer, John Van Mannen and others engaged in some heated debate in 1995 about the advancement of organization theory). These are not discussions to get hot and bothered about. As one of my students said, and some of the discussion on orgtheory.net would support (and in a much more eloquent manner than I am here), perhaps this is just about some of the first and second generation scholars concerned that their theories are not getting enough attention. I'm not quite that cynical. However, I do appreciate the plurality of opinions in the organization theory community, and, although frustrating at times, I think it more interesting and reflective of reality than some of the other disciplines. But it does mean there is regular angst about where we are heading and whether we're going in the same direction. On the other hand, there are some real concerns. The move of jobs from sociology departments to business schools (although the orgtheory.net is run by some very good organizational sociologists still in sociology) has led to a change in the types of questions that are asked. And, more recently, there is a tension in business schools as organization theory jobs become less prevalent. Jobs for new faculty members, except at the elite schools, tend to be in organizational behavior or strategy. At the MBA level, many schools are dropping their organization theory classes. Although the classes often still exist at the undergraduate level, there is a question at the MBA level about what practical things organizational theorists can teach. And in a business school, without a clear application to the real world, there is a risk of being marginalized. In order to find jobs, our doctoral students need to think of themselves as organizational theorists andentrepreneurship or innovation scholars; organizational behavior scholars; strategy researchers. I worry about that. I'm part of the Organization and Management Theory (OMT) division of the Academy of Management, and this is a topic we talked about at our last meeting. We talked about how to be clearer that OMT brings critical ideas to MBA education such as managing innovation, leading strategic change, understanding social networks, building sustainable organizations, and institutional entrepreneurship. The connections are there but they sometimes get lost. Paul DiPerna: Currently you're working on some research that I find very timely -- examining how Navy sailors connect and keep in touch with their family and friends by way of email. Can you describe the project? How did you get the data? Christine Beckman: I am part of a group called CRITO, the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations, and one of the advisory board members of CRITO works for the Department of Defense. The advisory board member was very interested in how email influenced the morale of soldiers and whether soldiers intended to re-enlist. I agreed to examine that question because I was interested in how email technology was shaping relationships within and outside the Navy. I first proposed the project in early 2003, and I received a small grant to interview a number of Navy personnel. The advisory board member put me in touch with a retired Commander who helped recruit interview subjects. I
collected the data with a graduate student and several marketing professors (the marketing professors were interested in how consumer decisions are made over email), and we interviewed about 20 sailors who had just returned from an overseas deployment in 2003 and 2004. We also interviewed their spouses because we were interested in how they used email in their relationships. We asked questions about the frequency of email use, their access onboard ship, the topics of email conversations, and we asked people to compare email with other forms of communication. For the questions important to the CRITO advisory board member, we learned that morale was improved because of email but that intention to re-enlist was not (among those that we interiewed). We found that email was a lifeline for sailors and spouses alike -- it is a critical means of communication. Email keeps sailors from feeling as socially isolated -- they are part of consumer decisions, celebrating holidays, disciplining children, and paying bills even when they are thousands of miles apart. The extent of involvement in daily life is truly amazing. Sailors talked about emailing their spouse 10 times a day while deployed. This makes it easier for sailors to integrate back into thei! r life off the ship. But the physical isoloation remained a very real consideration as people considered whether the Navy was going to be there long-term career. Other than the reduction of feelings of social isolation, email reinforced many of the basic aspects of the Navy, including the hierarchy and the culture. We found greater lateral communication within the Navy through email. However, the Navy hierarachy remained strong. In addition, despite the increased difficulty of monitoring communication, sailors and spouses alike had largely internalized and accepted the limitations of the technology (such as limited access to email during certain times during the deployment and the restriction of sharing certain types of informatition over email). So the culture of the Navy supported email use in ways that were generally consistent with the overall values and goals of the organization. This is still a work in progress, and I'm working with my graduate student, Taryn Stanko, to continue to analyze our interviews. It has been a very fun project. Paul DiPerna: What do you plan to do with your research findings? Christine Beckman: In terms of connecting with a broader audience? Much of the work that I have been doing with Diane Burton, that we discussed earlier, I see resonating with entrepreneurs. I'd like to synthesize the findings from our last several papers in a journal that speaks directly to managers. The organizational theory aspect of entrepreneurship is still in the development phase, and I think we have a lot to say to entrepreneurs about the process of designing and growing an organization. That's what I'm thinking about at the moment. Paul DiPerna: I understand CRITO is pretty influential in the field of social informatics... How does CRITO function as an organization? Is it fairly decentralized in terms of setting research agendas and coordinating activities? Christine Beckman: CRITO operates as a partnership between academics and industry
board members. The industry advisory board meets twice a year, and faculty propose new research proposals during those meetings. If the proposal is something that the board agrees would be useful, they agree to fund the project. There is also a place in one of the meetings for pre-proposals (I have forgotten the formal name of these). This is a chance to float an idea, get feedback, and learn what to add or how to change the proposal so that it has a better chance of being funded in the subsequent meeting. During those meetings, they also bring in outside speakers and have project updates from faculty that have previously been funded. Paul DiPerna: How are CRITO's research and findings normally disseminated to the public? Christine Beckman: The CRITO staff puts together a newsletter and updates the website regularly. They're very good at encouraging the researchers to summarize our work using language that is more readable than the typical academic journal article. Paul DiPerna: Do you have any upcoming plans this year that you are especially looking forward to?.. could be professionally and/or with regards to family? Christine Beckman: I'm looking forward to sitting down and reflecting on what I've learned and what I still want to know about how organizations operate. In Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, they talk about an organization's Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHADs). People need them too, and I'm looking forward to revisiting mine and figuring out where I need to turn next. Between the race for tenure and raising two little kids, I haven't had much time to revisit what I want to accomplish. An introspective person by nature, I am looking forwarding to indulging in some thinking about my future research. It's an exciting prospect and it reminds me of what a great profession this is spending my time trying to answer questions that I hope will make the world a better place (in some small way). May 10, 2007 home | interviews index | Join the email list | RSS for interviews | Paul's email Blau Exchange, est. 2006 | Blau Exchange, All Rights Reserved 2006-2008 site design by gralmy
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