Dr. Christopher A. Janiszewski
UF Department of Marketing
2006-2007 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
Academic success is not a random event. PhD students are successful because they learn research skills (i.e., training), develop an appreciation for insightful research questions (i.e., creativity) and come to realize that academic excellence is arduous (i.e., quality). An advisor’s role is to facilitate the learning of research skills, while laying the foundation for creative, high quality research.
Many business faculty rely on the social sciences as a methodological and theoretical base for their research. My students use the methods and theories of cognitive and social psychology to gain insight into consumer behavior. Given this foundation, they need to develop domain specific skills including (1) deductive reasoning, (2) causal inference, (3) experimental design, (4) construct operationalization, (5) experimental procedure and control, and (6) multivariate data analysis. The students also need to develop more general skills including (1) idea generation and improvement, (2) problem solving skills, (3) academic writing skills and (4) oral presentation skills.
Over the years, I have developed an approach to teaching these skills that implicitly recognizes the heterogeneity of my students. My training template is a series of three cooperative research projects where the faculty-student contribution is roughly 80-20, 50-50, 20-80. The advantage of this approach is that I can ask the student to complete a skill-based task, assess their performance and provide feedback on how to improve the skill within the context of a project that they find intrinsically interesting. During the course of a research project, typically lasting from one to two years, there are literally hundreds of opportunities for skill execution and feedback. Thus, I am able to improve a student one skill at a time, one step at a time. Each new project allows the student to combine previously learned skills so as to become more of a research expert. This improves the quality of the research and the efficiency of the research activity.
My approach to advising is aptly characterized as a feedback system. Yet, the feedback system must be implemented in a manner that recognizes the realties of a PhD program. The dilemma is that a feedback system requires the participant to reveal his/her flaws, even though the participant knows he/she will be evaluated on his/her performance. The solution to the conflict between the training objective and the evaluation requirement is to put a much greater emphasis on the rate of learning than on the absolute level of learning. As long as the rate of learning is a basis for faculty assessment of a student’s performance, students will have an incentive to acknowledge and reveal skill deficiencies so that they can improve at a significant pace.
There are a number of other factors that make a feedback-based system effective for training Ph.D. students. First, I continuously remind students that their current skill portfolio is not equivalent to their potential. They are here because they have aptitude. My job is to simply help them get better. Second, I allow the student to dictate the frequency of feedback. Encouraging the student to exercise control over the process makes the feedback less intimidating. Third, I try to provide feedback in a written format.
This reduces ambiguity and allows the student to develop “checklists” for different types of tasks. Finally, I try to provide feedback in a timely manner. A day or two may be a short period in my life, but it is a long period for someone working on a dissertation.
The students I have trained have been placed at a range of academic institutions. These placements were a reflection of each student’s accomplishments at the time they chose to take a position. Yet, each of these students left the University of Florida with a solid foundation of skills and an understanding of how to make a meaningful contribution. As I watch, and in some cases participate, in their research careers, I am excited by their continued development. Each student is on the path to being a lifelong contributor to the academic knowledge base of their discipline.