The advantages and disadvantages of being a young professor vary. On one hand, you don’t have the same history and knowledge base as some of the more senior faculty. Here’s an example. The course that I teach is also taught by one of Kellogg’s brilliant senior faculty, Brian Sternthal, who has taught it for 30 years. I’ve had the opportunity to observe him in action which has framed my approach and guided my ongoing research and learning.
Similarly, I find that the students will put you to the test, “kick the tires” a bit to make sure the knowledge is there. But once that’s done and they get past any uncertainty, that’s when the advantages of being a young professor are made plain. Because I come to class with some of the same background as the MBAs, I find it really easy to relate to them.
Now the trick as time passes is not the knowledge, but maintaining that ability to relate. You have to have a pulse on what’s important to them. It’s an interesting exchange because, as you become more seasoned, your needs shift from acquiring industry knowledge to maintaining relevance.
Early on, one of the mistakes I made as a professor was that I was afraid to give critical or negative feedback to the students. I remember thinking to myself, “What do I say? How do I say it?” But I’ve learned how to disseminate even negative information in a positive way. In general, we tend to learn a lot more from our mistakes than our successes, so instead of worrying about being antagonistic, I view it as an opportunity to make the student better, and I deeply value such opportunities.
My favorite moment as a professor was the very first course I taught at Kellogg. I had about 30 students and I was teaching in the evening part-time MBA program. When it’s your first time teaching, you really don’t know how it’s going to go. At the end of class, all 30 students stayed after just to say thank you. I had one student say to me, “This is exactly why I came to Kellogg; to have professors like you, teach me the way you just did.” This was a very, very powerful moment and an amazing validating experience.
Overall, I’d say I’d want my legacy as a professor to be my steady attempt to bring cases to life. Similar to the 48-ounce steak challenge, I do a “Creepy King Burger King Demonstration.” I get a former student to dress up in a Burger King costume and secretly plant the person in the rear of the class. One class period, a student actually screamed when she happened to turn around in class and saw the king sitting behind her. I have also now developed a scenario where students act out the roles of brand manager and advertising agency to get a serious feel for the roles and people they will interact with. My teaching philosophy centers on these experiences that help bring the discipline and cases to life.