Empowering Students to be Scholars

Students at the Jindal School of Management hone their critical thinking skills as they conduct academic research.
Empowering Students to Be Scholars

FOR THE PAST few years, undergraduate and graduate students at the Naveen Jindal School of Management (JSOM) at the University of Texas at Dallas have been encouraged to produce their own original scholarly research. Recently, the business school took this initiative one step further—it has formalized the process for approving student projects. This includes granting scholarship funds for student scholars and even providing students with a list of academic venues where they can present their findings.

To support student researchers, a scholarship committee developed a rubric to evaluate the students’ work and make decisions regarding scholarship dollar amounts. The committee also signed up to use a plagiarism detection service to ensure academic integrity.

“These research projects help build strong connections between students and faculty members,” says Monica Powell, senior associate dean and dean of graduate programs. “They also help students gain a better appreciation for and understanding of the research that our faculty members do and just how rigorous that process is.”

A MORE RIGOROUS APPROACH

The scholarly inquiry that JSOM students are asked to conduct is much different from the papers they may have written in high school, says Powell. Rather than simply choose a topic and thesis statement and write a paper based on a list of citations, students must follow a more exacting process to produce their research projects. First, they formulate hypotheses by identifying gaps in the knowledge base. Then, they go through the formal steps of research: reviewing relevant literature, explaining previous research in a particular area, and pinpointing the gaps that support their hypotheses.

“At that point,” Powell says, “students create either a qualitative methodology, in which they’re aggregating narrative information to come to a conclusion, or a quantitative one in which they’re looking at data and asking what it says about their hypotheses.”

Students who undertake research, Powell says, have the opportunity to go to one or more conferences, which allows them to practice their presentation skills or sell other people on their ideas.

“A secondary effect is that it helps build the Jindal School’s reputation because it shows the world that we are producing scholars who are solving real-world problems,” she says. “It’s also a great résumé enhancer. It gives students something with which to impress a prospective employer during an interview because it sets them apart from other candidates.”

CAREER DIVIDENDS

Mark Chang, who earned his MBA from the Jindal School this past May and is pursuing a master’s degree in information technology and management, conducted two studies—one on data privacy issues affecting the United States and the European Union and one on overcoming immigration challenges that international corporations face when hiring. Chang used scholarship funds to help defray the cost for him to present his work at conferences held at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The experience is “very much paying dividends when I go on job interviews,” says Chang. “Almost everybody wants to learn more about my experiences, how I prepared for them, and how they have helped hone my professional interests.”

Sean Haas, who is a senior double majoring in finance and economics, researched the process of financialization— or, as he describes it, the increasing size, prevalence, and importance of the financial sector relative to all other economic sectors since the 1970s. Haas was particularly interested in the process of securitization, by which current or future cash flows are transformed into marketable products sold to investors who share in potential risks and rewards.

“Being exposed to academic research and learning how to perform research has fundamentally changed the way that I think,” he says. “It taught me a different way of looking at the world, a different way of looking at ideas, and a different way of analyzing the things that exist.”

The experience has been so positive for Haas that it has helped him set a new course for his life. He has decided to apply to PhD programs in finance this fall.

TESTING ASSUMPTIONS

Powell believes that management education should teach future leaders to identify not only problems, but also their root causes, in ways that have a favorable impact on a company’s bottom line.

“Doing that takes a certain level of critical thinking—assessing and evaluating and bouncing your ideas off other people who are experienced scholars. It takes having your hypothesis tested by others critically to determine whether the assumptions that you’ve made are correct or what you’ve deemed as important is really important,” Powell says. “This scholarly research program teaches just that. We want our students to go out and be so valuable to their employers because they already have experience identifying and solving the right problems.”

Learn more about the Jindal School of Management's approach to student research.

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