Professor of Planning, Policy & Design, Management, Sociology, Political Science and Nursing Science
Johnson Chair for Civic Governance and Public Management
University of California, Irvine
Given our overlapping research interests, Martha and I gravitate around similar circles and our paths have crossed on several occasions. But until quite recently, none of those occasions ever gave rise to anything that went beyond the rather impersonal “Oh! It’s such a pleasure to meet you!” Not that Martha is unapproachable (quite the contrary), or that I’m shy (I can already hear people laugh about that one), but rather that circumstances were such that the opportunity to get into a more substantive conversation simply never arose. That changed last summer at the AOM meeting in Philadelphia, where quite by chance, Martha and I were staying at the same hotel. One morning at breakfast, I was alone, and Martha came right up to my table and asked whether I minded our having breakfast together. Would I mind?!?!! (if one of your favourite athletes or artists came up to you in a hotel lobby and asked: “Would you mind if I sat down here and had breakfast with you?” what would you say??) Obviously, I was delighted. And our conversation in Philadelphia gave rise, not so long afterwards, to this one. In this interview we delve a little more deeply into the more intuitive aspects of academic writing. I hope you like it.
Interview with Jennifer Howard-Grenville
Associate professor of Management
University of Oregon
I had the good fortune of meeting Jen at an Oikos conference in 2011. The conference took place in that lovely part of Switzerland known as Appenzell. Included in the program were half-day hikes in the mountains (amazing!) and it was on one of those hikes that Jen and I started talking. We discovered then that we had a lot in common and we’ve been talking and bumping into each other pretty regularly ever since. I view this as a real privilege.
On my post about the genesis of this blog, and in particular on this series of interviews on how academics write, I mentioned that one of my goals was to obtain interviews from writers at different stages of your typical academic career. So my idea was that over time, our roster of interviews would include early career researchers, mid-career researchers and researchers with 30+ years of writing under their belts. Jen fits that middle category, where several years of hard, slogging work have begun to reap big dividends, and you’ve (finally! some might add) got the wind blowing in your sails. The work doesn’t get any easier, as several of the people interviewed on this blog have mentioned. But at least now you know what you’re doing, and you know how to keep things in perspective. Jen is at that stage where those early years are not so far behind her that she’s forgotten what it’s like, but she’s also gained a lot of experience such that she now has a clear sense of what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive environment that academic publishing has become – experience that she is articulate about, and very happy to share with others. This is a thoughtful, clear, and very insightful interview. I hope you learn as much from it as I did.
Interview with Stephen R. Barley
School of Engineering
Every field in the academic world has its roster of celebrities, and if anyone fits that bill in organization studies, it’s Steve Barley. I doubt there is anyone in our field who has NOT read something that Steve wrote – evidence of how frequently cited his collected works are. And if that weren’t enough fame for one person, in a 2006 survey of the Academy of Management Journal’s editorial board on “interesting management research,” Steve’s 1986 article on CT scanners “Technology as an Occasion for Structuring” came out on top, alongside Jane Dutton and Janet Dukerich’s study of the New York Port Authority. There is no question that for the vast majority of us, Steve is a tough act to follow. When I found out that he would be visiting HEC, I hesitated before asking whether he’d agree to be interviewed for this blog, as I thought he’d turn me down! And although he can certainly be pretty direct about his opinions (during his visit, he claimed that there was no such thing as “auto-ethnography” which sparked considerable debate among the ethnographers in our midst!), we discovered that Steve is also a super friendly, down to earth and very approachable kind of guy. He was all graciousness about the interview. So here you have it: Steve on his writing habits, on reviewers who ask him to read his own work, and on the publishing process not getting any easier. I hope you enjoy it.
Interview with Davide Ravasi
Professor of Management
Cass Business School
City University London
It is one thing to interview acquaintances and strangers, it is quite another to interview your friends. This particular interview was a bit weird because Davide and I have been friends for quite a number of years now. When we did the interview my impression was that our conversation sounded stilted and contrived. Here are things that we have discussed at length on multiple occasions. Davide is part of that inner circle of academic friends to whom I’ll send my drafts for friendly reviews and who will not waste time with niceties or hesitate even one second before tearing apart every sentence. I remember him telling me once, “You mustn’t give anything to your reviewers that they might grip onto to criticize you. Nothing. Keep it totally smooth and to the point.” And this on the revision of a paper I rewrote I don’t know how many times and in which he still found something to fault. As frustrating as these interactions were (and I admit there have been times when I questioned whether he was truly a friend or not!) I learned a tremendous amount, and I can’t deny that my writing in general has improved as a result. We all need a circle of friends who are willing to be brutally honest with us. We gain resilience from it (something we need a lot of in this field) and our writing gets better. I decided to interview Davide so that others can benefit from the very good advice he’s given me over the years. As a lot of this advice has come to me via his harsh readings of my papers, at least you get to benefit without the criticism that usually goes along with it!!
Interview with Paula Jarzabkowski
Professor Strategic Management
Cass Business School
City University London
I’ve known Paula for quite some years now and she never ceases to impress me. I recall a visit to Aston some years ago where she and Jane Lê, with whom she’s collaborated over the years and who is now at the University of Sydney, showed me how they organized the data they had collected for a big study they were doing at the time. They had these endless, cross-referenced Excel files in which they had rigorously documented every meeting, every note, and every interview by date, by theme, by research site and by God knows what else. I was a PhD student at the time and I came back from that meeting thinking that I really needed to up my game if I was to come anywhere close to that level of rigour in my own research. Paula is also very devoted to her graduate students, working very hard to ensure that they all do well throughout their studies and beyond. So in those and many other ways, Paula has been quite an inspiration. And last, but far from least, Paula is easily one of the most productive people I know. How she does it is completely beyond me. I thought that through our interview I might be able to figure out where her magic comes from, but really, there doesn’t seem to be any. As you will see for yourself, it’s the same for Paula as for the rest of us. You just have to keep at it!
Interview with Bob Hinings
Professor, University of Alberta
Here is a delightful interview with someone who is not only supremely charming, he also happens to have quite a few years of very successful writing tucked under his belt. Bob has visited HEC Montreal on a couple of occasions (he was even awarded an honorary doctorate from us!), and on one of those, agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Unfortunately, I was not in town at the time, so my colleague, friend and fellow blogger Viviane, agreed to do the interview. It was then my job to edit through the twenty odd pages of verbatim transcript to give you this little gem of insights. Enjoy.
Interview with Tammar Zilber, Senior Lecturer, School of Business Administration, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tammar and I first met in 2007, when she graciously accepted to participate in a Symposium I organized with Ann Langley at the Academy of Management that year, on the theme “Competing Rationalities in Organizations.” When she visited HEC last year, it seemed only natural that I should interview her for this blog. As many of the scholars I’ve approached in this way, Tammar was initially unsure whether she would have anything interesting to say about her writing: “I have no idea how I write.” But (thankfully!) she agreed to be interviewed anyway. Our conversation took place over breakfast, in the student cafeteria at HEC. It turns out that despite her initial misgivings, Tammar had a lot to say! We were so taken in by our conversation that we lost track of time, and the person who was scheduled to meet with Tammar after me had to come find us in the cafeteria to say “my turn!”
What I like about this interview is its transparency – it really shows what writing qualitative research is like – messy, iterative, back and forth between theory and data until a coherent story emerges. Yes, it’s like this, even for those who have been doing it for a long while. Read on to find out more…
W.P. Carey School of Business
Arizona State University
Associate Editor, Academy of Management Journal
This interview was done in a crowded, and very noisy, coffee shop cum bookstore in Boston, during AOM in 2012. We had set up a time for the interview beforehand, and I had told Kevin that I would get back to him with a location once we were there. Following my own advice (see my interview with Denny Gioia here), I had gone scouting out the terrain and found this cute little shop off a side street not too far from the main venue. It was quiet, and they had big tables to sit at. Perfect! So perfect in fact (at least it appeared so) that Kevin even organized other meetings there that same morning. It was like he was running his own little office in situ. Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who had scouted out this perfect spot, so much so that by the time I met up with Kevin there, the place had turned into a zoo. Moral of the story: during fieldwork NOTHING replaces a top-notch recording device.
What I like about this interview is Kevin’s point blank style. This is a real insider story: no fluff, no background music. Kevin tells it like it is, and it’s great.
Professor, W.J. VanDusen Professor of Management
Beedie Schools of Business, Simon Fraser University
Tom taught me as a Master’s student back in 2001 or 2002 and we’ve stayed in touch on and off over the years. I’ve always loved everything Tom writes, in part because it is so interesting and readable, but also because I can see its importance and relevance for the “real world”, which is not something we can say about a lot of the stuff academia spews out on a day-to-day basis. Somehow Tom manages, again and again, to bring together an intriguing and inherently interesting empirical setting with a compelling theoretical question or problem that has real implications for practicioners. How I wish I could do the same! And if all these qualities weren’t enough, anyone who knows him will tell you that Tom is also a really funny guy. Fits of laughter are the norm every time we meet up. This interview, which took place over lunch, sitting on a square of grass outside of the Hanken School of Economics during EGOS 2012, is no exception.
Karen Golden-Biddle; Senior Associate Dean and Everett W. Lord Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Boston University School of Management
Karen must be one of the most generous and kind people I’ve met in academia. Even though she doesn’t know you, she has this knack of talking to you and engaging with you as if you were an old friend. You are immediately at ease, and if you don’t watch yourself, you might just start spelling out your whole life story to her. Which, I’m sure you all will agree, is not really a good thing when you are interviewing someone. This interview is a bit of a special case. Although it reads as a single interview, in truth it is a reconstruction of several conversations Karen and I had over several months, some recorded and transcribed and some not. Some of it even comes right out of the comments Karen made as one of the speakers in our Publishing Qualitative Research workshop (which you can see on video on this blog). There are many instances where Karen will talk about the writing process (she did a write a book on the topic, after all!), and I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the listening end of those moments on several occasions. So although our “formal” interview for this blog lasted well over an hour, I was not happy with it in the end. And nor was Karen. There was just so much to talk about, and the hour long interview we did ended up missing out on too much of the richness I felt I had gotten from these other instances of talking with and listening to her. So I did a bit of creative collating, and this is what you get. This is all Karen. Just not all Karen in one sitting. I hope you like it!