Interview with Wendy Smith
Professor of Management
Alfred Lerner School of Business at the University of Delaware
I am recently back from our field’s main annual conference (every discipline has one, you all know what I’m talking about – David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy might have only been a monograph if there hadn’t been academic conferences he could satirize!) Ours is hosted by the Academy of Management (AOM), and it’s a very big affair, attracting 10 000+ attendees. It’s the place to see and be seen, as most of our field’s heavy hitters attend. First-timers are routinely overwhelmed, and the organisers have to organise special activities just to help them navigate 100+ concurrent sessions, endless “off” and “on” social activities, and too-many-to-count “unmissable” events. FOMO is ubiquitous, as is a generalized feeling that everyone else is a million times more productive than you are. The AOM conference is our field’s annual beauty pageant, an opportunity for everyone to showcase their best work, and by the same token, the opportunity to hide just how painful producing that best work actually was.
Step in Wendy. I met Wendy when she visited at HEC Montreal. I interviewed her over breakfast at her hotel, the venue proved to be a bit too noisy, and so we resumed our conversation over the phone a few weeks later. What impressed me most about Wendy was her brutal honesty about the very real pain she went through in the early years of her career, trying to get her first single-authored paper out in one of barely a handful journals that actually seem to matter anymore in our field. By all accounts, today, Wendy is one of AOM’s “heavy hitters”. She has an impressive pedigree, an impressive publications list and as Associate Editor at one of our field’s most prestigious journals (Academy of Management Journal), she also acts as a judge of what our field considers is outstanding work. But as she shares here so forthrightly, getting to where she is today was anything but a walk in the park. So all I can say is, “Thank you.” Thank you, Wendy, for humanizing this process, and sharing the good AND the bad. The blood, sweat and tears; the moments of self-doubt and the feelings of utter discouragement that inevitably rise up when yet another paper did not “make it”. You help anyone and everyone who has ever felt deflated after AOM realize that everything is relative. One person’s high is another person’s low. Focus on subjects you are passionate about, work hard, persist: it will come together in the end.