Tuesday, February 10, 2015

3 Formidable Letters


I don't recall if I've yet shared here on NJW my new 4-year plan.   It includes the letters: P, H, and D.  In that order.  As I prep this evening for an upcoming retreat in which I should present a few possible research questions, the magnitude of this decision is looming overhead.

Four years is a long time to spend on a project.  Okay, so if I'm going to do this whole PhD thing, I'm going to do it right. Basically, I have huge expectations. You might call me naive, insane. But I'm not looking for a passable research question that will earn me a title so I can, I don't know, earn a higher salary or something.

I'm looking for a real game changer. A big question. I want to do something that changes the way we see some part of the world.  Something that has potential to be applied in a way that yields real impact for real people.


So..
Exploration and development of scientific methods: yes.
Theoretical contribution: yes.
Become an expert in a field: yes.
But I'm adding another criteria: do something really big. That's just how I roll.



But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me explain how I ended up here in the first place.  A while back I explained it pretty well to my friend George:

By some strange occurrence I happened to have an abstract written out of my bachelor thesis accepted to "the Mecca of academic entrepreneurship conferences" (as one Finnish professor called it), which I presented at this summer.  I had such a good time, met tons of people, and -- fresh out of my first-ever quantitative research methods course -- didn't hesitate to critique other people's research design in the ear of whomever had the misfortune of sitting next to me.  

One of those misfortunate folk turned out to be a lively German guy.   We got to chatting, discovered we had similar research interests, he was surprised I hadn't done my PhD yet and proceeded to become the 7th or 8th person to suggest I do my doctoral research in his program.  Having received so many invitations that weekend to check out different programs (literally across the globe), I began to doubt my ability to properly evaluate the different programs, so in the spirit of the moment I told him, "Ok, why don't we sit down for a lunch this afternoon.  You can pitch your program to me and try to convince me to come."  
"Okay - then you have to pitch yourself," he replied.  It was a deal.  We had a good discussion and I had also become good friends with one of his former postdocs, so I was feeling good about the ambiance.  It was only while telling this story to someone later that night that I found out this friendly German is the Associate Editor of the Academy of Management Journal ... pretty much the most prestigious empirical research management journal out there. 

So the week went by, I mostly goofed around with their group, talked research over beers, met some legends as well as other young scholars, and Marc (the German), kept bugging me to send him my CV.  I finally did, and just hours later he invited me to come present my research in Lausanne.  I guessed that it would be some precursor to me eventually maybe submitting an application to their program ... I didn't expect to have a job offer at lunchtime after my presentation!  That was super exciting.  

I was due to graduate from Aalto in May 2015, but Marc wanted me to start at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in February 2015, so he looped me into one of their ongoing projects and said I could design and write my master thesis out of that...  Which led to my 'working vacation' last autumn, bouncing around the lovely Swiss countryside for three weeks to meet with all sorts of entrepreneurs.  But then the pressure was on:  I had to analyse the data, write, and submit my thesis in two months! 

Flatlands around Malvilliers

Looking south from up above Neuchâtel

The hills really were alive with the sound of music!

I call this the Grand Swiss Canyon.  In real life it's le Creux du Van

On the open road

A malfunction in my GPS led me along a most incredible route.


View from my hotel in Lugano.  So strange that the cheapest hotel in the region had the most amazing view!   (Maybe because I had to zigzag back and forth up a mountain for 30 minutes to get there...)


I got off to a bit of an icy start in Switzerland last week.

It definitely doesn't feel like an accident that I'm here now, with this group of amazing scholars, embarking on an exciting new journey.  In fact, I'm sure that there is a bigger purpose woven into this grand project; it's a few more rather thick threads in the tapestry of a life's work and journey.  When I find the right research question, I'm going to know it.  I'm certain of that.  Until then, the search is on!

I'd love to hear your burning questions about life, business, people, the future, entrepreneurship, and pretty much anything else you're pondering.  You never know where ideas will be sparked, connections drawn.  Tweet to me @shiraheden or email me.  I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Fun from the get-go!  Helping out some new colleagues with a design thinking workshop for industry folk.

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