For decades, business schools have been discussing how to translate the insights of academic research into real-world solutions to industry and societal problems. To address this issue head-on and truly move the needle of impact, the Fox School recently founded the Translational Research Center.
Charles Dhanaraj is the executive director of the center, an H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest Professor of Strategy and executive director of the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration program.
Q: What does translational research mean?
A: Research is about creating knowledge that will transform practice. Imagine it as a bridge between academics and practitioners. Translational research envisions keeping the two-way flow of knowledge: presenting business challenges to research scholars and providing research insights to business leaders.
Business executives understand what the big issues that face them are. Part of the emphasis of translational research is on helping academics understand what the real issues are that executives face and creating engagement between academics and business executives for that purpose.
The second emphasis is on getting research to professionals. Much of our research is published in journals that only academics read. Research findings do not become actionable insights on their own. Often research findings from multiple studies, sometimes multiple disciplines, need to be integrated to make them actionable insights.
Q: Why is translational research important?
A: Since the mid-1960s business schools have moved toward scholarly research that advances theoretical understanding of the business issues.
Business schools are rewarded when their work is published in well-known journals that focus on such issues. Prestigious scholarly research in the last decade has become the core currency on which schools have been rated.
Unfortunately, there have been three unintended effects:
- Research has gone on to explore exotic issues, and more and more of business research has become esoteric. Increasingly businesses and more recently even academics have started feeling that research is losing relevance;
- The misplaced emphasis on the “publish or perish” model has isolated academics from business executives and policymakers who are the major stakeholders in the research we create at such a high expense.
What gives this issue an urgency is that technology and the changing business dynamic is demanding accountability from business schools. We need research that can create growth in business and equip business leaders and policymakers for meeting today’s challenges. Research has to show impact. That’s what the Center is about.
Q: Who does translational research impact?
A: The predominant focus in our scholarly research in recent decades has been academia. We measure the impact of research by how well other academics value it. It is an important stakeholder community for us. But, if that dominates our thinking, we run the risk of becoming self-referential or talking to ourselves and creating an echo chamber.
Students, business executives, business policymakers and the community at large are also key stakeholders.
The value of bringing research to business executives and policymakers is self-evident. The problem we now run into is that increasingly business executives do not look up to business schools as knowledge providers—they see us only as labor market players—producing students who can be employed by them.
Students are largely the group that has paid a price in this system. Often they are drawn to prestigious schools because they are research-driven. The bifurcation of teachers and researchers in business schools helps manage budgets and maintain prestige but it does not serve the students best.
The larger community is the most distant from our scholarship. No business school is an island. We are embedded in communities. If we believe business can be a transformative agent, it should be so in our local communities. For example, we teach hundreds of students in multiple entrepreneurship courses. Imagine the power unleashed if we bring together our research insights on entrepreneurship, our ability to convene the strength of local institutions and transform communities into action laboratories where our students can engage and learn!
To learn more about the Translational Research Center, visit https://www.fox.temple.edu/institutes-and-centers/translational-research-center/.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially in education.
For years, academics and business executives alike have questioned whether the insights from business school research conducted are getting into the hands of those who need it. The debate about “rigor versus relevance” is age-old. While the answer may seem simple, the process of getting there is complex.
The Fox School of Business is committed to pushing this conversation forward. On Friday, March 29, the Fox School’s Translational Research Center (TRC) hosted the 2019 Impact Summit, bringing together deans, faculty and students from across disciplines and parts of the world to determine how schools can move the needle of impact in tangible ways.
The attendees sought to answer the question: How can business school leadership change the way research is conceived, produced and implemented to prioritize impact?
These are five lessons business school leaders can apply:
1. Start at the top. “It takes time to re-engineer a school at a systems level,” said Tarun Khanna, a professor at the Harvard Business School. However, a top-down perspective is key to encouraging institutional change.
Jerry Davis, associate dean at the Ross School of Business, highlighted the University of Michigan’s experiments with the promotion process. By making research impact a more significant part of an associate professor’s evaluation, he advised, deans can use promotion structures to affect change in the way their faculty conduct research. Getting top business schools across the country to agree on a new evaluation structure would be even more influential.
2. Instill impact’s importance early. The attendees also discussed tackling the issue of impact from the opposite side—starting with junior faculty and doctoral students. Elizabeth Cowley, deputy dean of the University of Syndey, said that in Australia, “faculty are encouraged to build a narrative of the long-term impact [they] have had on some sector of society.” Attendees agreed, remarking on the importance of letting junior faculty members define for themselves how they would want to make an impact and develop a strategy based on that objective. With doctoral students, the starting point should be their research questions—advisors should ask if it is grounded in a real-life phenomenon and has relevance in the business world.
3. Systematically engage with business. “Business leaders tend to look at our schools primarily as labor markets for sourcing the MBAs and business graduates,” said Joanne Li, dean of the business school at Florida International University. “We need to help them recognize us as knowledge markets as well. We are able to produce expert knowledge vital for their business growth and survival.”
Brent Beardsley, the chief strategy officer at Vanguard, talked about the value of an advisory board made up of executives, entrepreneurs and academics. “That mix is really rich,” he said. “This is a lab outside of the walls of Vanguard’s large institution that can get out in front of market trends and themes.”
Participants championed the creation of a brokerage platform between companies and universities that could connect those who have real problems to those working on practical solutions. Simple activities like business sabbaticals for faculty, corporate engagement in research projects and programs like Fox Management Consulting can help faculty to better define their research questions.
4. Use teaching as a tool. One speaker suggests a change in vocabulary to underscore the importance of teaching. “We shouldn’t be referring to a ‘teaching load,’ said Gautam Ahuja of SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. “It’s not a load, it’s a tool.” Academic leadership can encourage faculty to step into the shoes of learners, focus on practical insights in the classrooms and foster intellectual questions with relevance. Stronger connections to industry, through practitioner conferences, relationships with practice faculty and co-teaching with executives can also benefit classroom outcomes.
5. Be a community hub. Business schools will also benefit from a stronger community connection. “We should be known by the community where they can come to get ideas,” said Will Mitchell, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Attendees brainstormed ways to make research more accessible but noted that faculty will need different reward structures and training to bring that to fruition. Ideas like three-minute presentations or one-page summaries of academic papers can help get ideas out of academia and into the real world.
Ronald Anderson, interim dean of the Fox School, remarked at the end of the day that a lot was learned. “Disruption is going to have to be part of the process,” he said. “Technology and innovation are changing higher education, and research is going to have to address that.”
The event, a follow-up to the 2018 Editors’ Summit, is part of a series of initiatives by the TRC to change how both academics and practitioners view business research. Other activities have included the TRC’s Seminar Series, which invites executives to share their viewpoints on faculty research presentations, and case writing workshops, which encourage faculty members to learn and perfect their skills in writing and submitting teaching cases for publication.
Learn more about the Fox School’s Translational Research Center.
The academic year has drawn to an end, students have graduated, and campus is a little quieter. These moments are often the best times for reflection on the year behind—and what a successful year it has been!
Graduating with Distinction: Congratulations to the PhD and DBA Class of 2018
The Fox School’s PhD and Executive DBA programs have performed to high standards. The PhD program boasted eleven graduates in the Class of 2018. The PhD candidates have accepted opportunities to teach and conduct research in prestigious institutions around the world, from George Mason University in Virginia to the University of South Wales in Australia. The PhD program continues to produce students who graduate with publications in top-tier journals, such as The Accounting Review, MIS Quarterly, Journal of Applied Psychology, and more.
The Executive DBA program applauds the 20 business leaders who successfully defended their dissertations in the second-ever DBA cohort. These alumni are just one example of our commitment to research with impact, as these students return to industry, not just as leaders, but as thought-leaders, ready to apply theory and research to business problems. This upcoming September, the Fox School will continue to demonstrate its leadership in the field as we host the 2018 Engaged Management Scholarship Conference, the premier meeting of executive DBA programs in the world.
Achievements in Research: Faculty Honored with Prestigious Awards
The world-class faculty at the Fox School has brought significant pride with many awards and achievements in research this year. The Office of Research applauds individuals such as In-Sue Oh, who was twice awarded the William A. Owns Scholarly Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the fields of HR and organizational behavior; Ram Mudambi, whose paper was one of eight to be selected the impactful paper in international entrepreneurship by the Journal of International Business Studies; and Thilo Kunkel, who is a 2018 North American Society for Sport Management Research Fellow in recognition of his contributions and achievements in sport-related scholarship.
These are just a few of the school’s achievements in research this year. Congratulations to all of the faculty for their numerous publications, citations, paper downloads, and grant awards. Learn more about the Fox School’s research impact.
Engaging Thought Leaders: Notable Events Highlighting Research
Through the year, faculty, staff, and students at the Fox School have worked tirelessly to create impactful, exciting events to showcase research and encourage collaboration. This year, the school hosted its semesterly Young Scholars Interdisciplinary Forum and the PhD Paper Competition, in which doctoral students and junior faculty present research concepts and solicit feedback.
The school also demonstrated its position as a thought leader in events throughout the year. The Translational Research Center hosted the inaugural 2018 Editors’ Summit, a first-of-its-kind forum that brought together editors-in-chief of leading academic business journals across multiple disciplines to discuss driving real impact with business scholarship. The Frederic Fox Lecture Series brought business executive and alumnus David Schoch, MBA ’78, previous chairman and CEO of Ford China, to discuss the implications on China in the international economy.
Congratulations to the students, faculty, and staff of the Fox School’s research community for a successful academic year!
Learn more about Fox School Research.
The Fox School of Business is making history—and driving real impact.
On Monday, March 12, the Fox School hosted a first-of-its-kind forum that brought together editors-in-chief of leading academic business journals across multiple disciplines. The 2018 Editors’ Summit united academia and industry, researchers and executives, students and educators, for a day of dialogue on a way forward to generate transformative impact of business school research.
With leadership from Charles Dhanaraj, director of the Fox School’s new Translational Research Center, over 150 people discussed the opportunities for creating impactful research and barriers standing in the way.
Fox School faculty and doctoral students were joined by editors from prestigious business journals from many disciplines, including management, marketing, accounting, finance, operations, management information systems, and international business; colleagues from Villanova University, the Wharton School, and Northwestern University, among others; and executives from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, LyondellBasell, and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Here are five key takeaways from the event:
1. Define impact
What do we mean by “impact” and how do we measure it? “It has to meet the qualifications of rigor, relevance, insights, and action,” said V. Kumar, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Marketing and Regents Professor at J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.
While a definition of impact may remain elusive, participants identified its signs: from small shifts in how companies work and academia teaches, to societal, economic, and public policy changes.
Anne Tsui, president of the Responsible Research Leadership Forum, noted that this discussion about impact was a large step. “In the last 20 or 30 years, rigor began to dominate research and relevance began to decline,” she said. “Today, we’re here to discuss this gap.”
2. Ask the right questions
“Just because something hasn’t been studied doesn’t mean that it should,” said Tyson Browning, co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Operations Management and professor at Texas Christian University. In order to study issues that affect business, researchers need to know the right questions to ask.
Researchers can develop relationships with businesses, through programs like Fox Management Consulting, or invest in listening platforms to identify what problems businesses face.
Bhavesh Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell, put it another way: “Think about what value your work will create from the beginning. If you do it early, it will guide the work you do.”
3. Know your audience
“In reflecting about practical impact,” said Arun Rai, editor of MIS Quarterly and professor at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, “we need to think about partnerships with complementary channels to reach audiences that we do not have core competencies to reach.”
Executives are not reading academic journals, nor should we ever expect them to. If academics want their research to have impact on the real world, they should think beyond publications and about distribution.
“In the Twitter and soundbite era, no one wants to read a 40-page paper,” said Dr. Scott Bauguess of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “They want the major takeaway.” His suggestion? Write white papers and stylized facts.
Practitioner journals, trade magazines, and popular media like newspapers and TV can also be relevant channels to getting research insights into industry. Mary Barth, senior editor of The Accounting Review and professor at Stanford University, also recommended translating research into thought pieces that are understandable to non-academics. To do that, however, researchers need a new set of skills—like marketing or social media strategies—that require training or support from the school.
4. Adjust the infrastructure
A recurring theme throughout the day was incentives. How can business schools incentivize faculty to produce research that has impact, not just publications? How can editors affect trends in what is published to promote relevance?
Participants brainstormed solutions for both. While structural changes take time, discussions centered on adjusting tenure requirements and timelines, defining impact, creating industry partnerships, hosting workshops with executives, providing funding incentives for research with practitioners and non-tenure-track faculty, and publishing special issues in journals that focus on bundled topics.
Alain Verbeke, editor-in-chief of the Journal of International Business Studies and professor at University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, put it bluntly: “If you really want change, you can’t do it with the existing structure and processes.”
5. Teach the future
Students cannot be neglected in the conversation about impact. “One way we take our research articles and ideas and make them relevant to practice is by teaching them in our classes,” said Jay Barney, editor-in-chief of the Academy of Management Review and professor at the Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.
Constance Helfat, co-editor of the Strategic Management Journal and professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, agreed. “Every single thing I teach is based in academic research. And it works.”
The Fox School is already addressing the way forward. M. Moshe Porat, dean of the Fox School, affirmed his commitment to research and doctoral education throughout the day.
With support from the dean, the Translational Research Center has big plans for the future of research at the Fox School. The center plans to develop a white paper of the findings from the event and is hosting a case-writing consortium for faculty interested in writing and submitting a teaching case through the summer.
“The shift toward impact is a significant one, but it will take time,” said Dhanaraj,. “We will need everyone to make this big move.”
Learn more about Fox School Research.
Look around. They are in newspapers and social media feeds. They are online and on scrolling news tickers, too.
Almost daily, you’ll see splashy headlines announcing the latest scientific-research findings—from groundbreaking disease cures, to solutions for cell-phone addiction and possible causes of global warming.
Rarely, if ever, are real-world applications of business-school research given such a high-profile platform. Temple University’s Fox School of Business is hoping to alter that reality with the launch of a center designed to bring impact to the forefront of business-school research. Next week, the Fox School will host a workshop on March 12 to bring together industry leaders and top journal editors to start the conversation on driving real impact with scholarly research.
The Fox School’s Translational Research Center is the first of its kind nationally to attempt the alignment of business-school research produced by Fox’s award-winning faculty with critical problems of the industry and to communicate it quickly and effectively to practitioners and executives.
Why hasn’t such an endeavor been launched? There are multiple reasons, says Dr. Charles Dhanaraj, the Fox School’s H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest Professor of Strategy. Conventionally, business-school research is produced by faculty looking to earn tenure status, or as a mechanism to support the school’s reputation. Faculty often gauge the success of their research based upon the journal within which it’s published and the volume of citations it receives.
“Business schools need to go beyond academic citations; they need to create real impact on business and on policy,” said Dhanaraj, the center’s founding director. “That being said, the Fox School has more than 210 full-time faculty in a variety of research disciplines, which means we are uniquely positioned to accomplish those traditional research goals, too.”
“Everyone in academia discusses impact,” said Dr. M. Moshe Porat, the Fox School’s Dean. “How you define impact and how you measure impact takes time. We are moving in that direction. Our school has the agile, entrepreneurial faculty to take the lead in shaping the future of business school research—and not just ours, but for everyone.”
The Fox School’s Translational Research Center will focus on four dimensions of impact: academia, students, business, and society. The center enables faculty to broaden their scholarship portfolio and support them in stretching their reach.
Typically, translational research is linked to fields of medicine and science. This approach bridges multiple disciplines, as practitioners and academics work together to uncover new and innovative medicines and treatments.
Fox’s Translational Research Center will operate under a similar construct, Dhanaraj said.
“Think of it as push and pull,” Dhanaraj said. “We want to tap into the needs of industry to pull in their problems to drive our faculty research, and we want to push actionable insights in the most effective way back to the business community, as quickly as possible. Our mission is to change the way everyone thinks about business school research. We don’t want to simply overcome the perception of lack of relevance, but really demonstrate that research creates substantive value. By increasing the engagement of faculty with business executives, the Translational Research Center will ensure that our researchers are asking the right questions, and that they are producing their research in a way that it can be consumed by academic peers and leading practitioners.”
Eventually, the Fox School will house the Translational Research Center in 1810 Liacouras Walk. That space is currently under renovation. The Fox School’s expansion across Liacouras Walk is happening in conjunction with the school’s centennial. For now, the center operates out of Dhanaraj’s office.
“Between the center, our school’s expansion, and our 100-year anniversary, it is an exciting time to be at the Fox School,” he said.