Business schools have a dual mission: to educate students and to create knowledge through rigorous scientific research.
Research in business schools plays a major role because it affects not only what we teach, but also how we teach. Knowledge itself changes and it’s not only in disciplines such as science and technology where change is so rapid and evident.
Business school faculty have the intellectual curiosity to address real-world problems in a dedicated way—something you don’t typically have the luxury to do in applied industry settings, particularly when facing short-term pressures. Findings can then be translated into applied principles and learnings, resulting in research methods than can assist in the development and analysis of business cases to use in the classroom.
In universities across the nation, business faculty are submitting work for professional review in time-honored academic publications such as the Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Business Ethics and the Harvard Business Review.
There’s a reason behind all of this. Business faculty members can have a real impact on business, industry and the economy, and at the same time, their research can stimulate curricula and course content to help student learning in an applied and experiential way.
The real question is how to keep research relevant—and recent trends may be somewhat surprising. In the business arena, it can run the gamut from photonics and cybersecurity to corporate social performance and corporate fraud. At Rochester Institute of Technology, interdisciplinary research integrates business principles with engineering, science and design to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems in national security, advanced manufacturing, information technology, energy and health care.
Business research can also assist in providing economic assistance within the federal government. For example, Aiyesha Dey, associate professor of accounting at the University of Minnesota, and Hao Zhang, associate professor of finance at RIT, spent last year as visiting financial economists at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s “think tank”—contributing their research expertise to a broad range of regulatory activities including rule-making, enforcement actions, marketing oversight and monitoring.
Other business school researchers have focused more on environmental and social sustainability. The Sloan School at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has created the sustainability initiative—and the research ranges from understanding markets for alternative fuels to determining factors that enable socially sustainable enterprises.
Faculty research in all the above areas not only can make new contributions to what we know, but can change how companies do business. The ability to analyze business challenges and peel away the layers to reveal hidden strategic, economic, competitive, human and political complexities can lead to truly effective business decision making, increased productivity, strengthened employee relations, improved internal communications, innovation and improved product and service development and delivery.
Business research is also instrumental in teaching methodology. It can stimulate curricula and course content to help students learn more effectively. It can expand knowledge on a field, allowing faculty to instill what they have studied into their teaching. And it can immerse students in faculty work—where they play integral roles in creation, translation and dissemination of research findings.
Through strategic, data-driven research, academics can positively impact real-world decision making—while continuing to enhance the learning experience of their students to ensure their roles as future leaders.
Jacqueline Mozrall is dean of Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.