Jul 19 • 3 min read
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Both seasoned academics and attendees with no prior research experience learned valuable lessons from the conference about social responsibility in research.

Aren Zhang

For hundreds of years, business schools have operated under the principle that the primary goal of business is to build shareholders’ wealth. As the world faces looming existential issues such as climate change and growing social inequality, many researchers question whether their responsibilities are greater.

Members of the Fox School community joined their peers in academia and industry partners to discuss this at the Responsible Research Summit on June 6 and 7. The two-day summit, hosted by the Wharton School, brought together participants from the business field to learn from one another about responsible research practices.

“The idea of the conference,” says Thomas Fung, assistant professor in the Department of Statistics, Operations, and Data Science, “is how do we generate business research that talks about the responsibility of being a member of society?”

Due to incentive systems that reward researchers for the reach of their publications rather than their social impact, many academics may not see responsible research as a viable path to career success. Fung, who has worked in both academia and industry, thinks it is not so simple.

“You can have a meaningful, successful career by doing responsible research,” says Fung. “How do we plant the seeds with people in academia that you can do well by doing good?”

According to Fung, many corporations are looking for applied research that can inform more sustainable production methods. During his 29-year career as a chemical engineer and director of operations at the Campbell Soup Company, Fung led a project to convert roughly a million pounds per day of organic waste from potato peels, carrots and beans into biofuel. Fung suspects academics could be a big help to corporations implementing projects like this that reduce waste—and costs.

Similarly, Aren Zhang came to the conference with a unique perspective on research. A finance major who was attending upon recommendation of her professor, Zhang was one of the few undergraduates in attendance. Like Fung, Zhang was left with a strong impression that research and industry fields have a lot to offer one another.

“In this conference, I saw the strong connection between industry and academia,” says Zhang. “The industry, they invest in the research. And the research gives information back.”

Zhang made connections with other attendees, including a conversation with Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, whose speech on business leadership practices she found particularly inspiring.

“It is very meaningful to hear how people can change the world, little by little, by doing research,” says Zhang.

Zhang remains unsure whether she wants to focus on research or industry after graduation. Either way, she says she will take relationships and lessons learned from the conference into her life moving forward.

“I think more undergrads should go to conferences like this,” says Zhang. “It is very meaningful to see the big picture so that you can locate yourself more clearly. So you know where you are going.”

According to Sunil Wattal, the Fox School’s new associate dean of research and professor of management information systems, the Responsible Research Summit can provide a new direction to renewed efforts to introduce undergraduate students to business research at Temple. The Fox School’s undergraduate research leadership program offers students with the tools and experience that will help them succeed in today’s competitive business environment, which values decision-making based on evidence. Undergraduate students can be paired with faculty mentors who can guide them in the research process.

Everyone in academia, whether tenured professors or fresh undergraduates, can benefit from learning about responsible research. 

“There has always been a complaint that business research doesn’t have that much of an impact,” says Wattal. “Discussions like these are very valuable to move the needle forward for research impact by making connections with others in business, but also in society and public policy.”

Also in attendance from the Fox school were professors Sudipta Basu and Todd Schifeling. The 2023 summit, to be held in Paris, France, will be the fifth Responsible Research Summit in Wharton’s history.