2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Nate Pettit, NYU (Stern)

Nate Pettit

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations

New York University, Stern School of Business

What are you willing to do for status? NYU Stern’s Nathan Pettit has made it his business to investigate the behavioral outcomes that stem from experiencing and desiring status. Specifically, Pettit delves into the motivators of status and how the drive to attain or maintain it can either help or harm a person’s well-being and group performance.

His research has drawn mass attention and invited talks and presentations from the world’s top business schools and industry associations as well as thoughtful  coverage in top business media such as Forbes and the Harvard Business Review.

As a teacher, Pettit has reached significant status of his own: #1 highest teaching ratings across all of Stern for several years (2012-2015). He’s the only junior, tenure-track professor ever to receive Stern’s Pedagogical Innovation Award (2014). And get this: Pettit has racked up near perfect teaching ratings in every semester of his professorial career (6.9 out of 7 aggregated average), teaching both undergrads and MBAs.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2011

Education: PhD Management, Cornell University, Johnson Graduate School of Management, 2011

List of courses you currently teach: Leadership in Organizations

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? A number of academic disciplines conceptualize social status as a zero-sum commodity. It’s virtually taken-for-granted. We’re finding that plenty of people don’t see it that way, or at least don’t see it that way across all situations – for example, when someone gains status people don’t automatically believe that another person must lose. If people hold different personal theories about how status operates—fixed vs. expandable pie—this will have implications for competition and collaboration, group dynamics, and more generally how people strive for and try to protect their status at work and beyond. It also raises practical questions about whether the way we organize at work (and even in school) is cueing a more fixed vs. expandable mindset and more academic questions about how we’re conceptualizing social status.   

Professor you most admire: Jim Detert (UVA Darden). He’s a brilliant researcher, brings unrivaled passion and innovativeness to the classroom, and has a truly student-centric approach to his work that I deeply admire.  

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I realized I cared far more about understanding how and why the groups/organizations I was a part of operated and performed as they did than I cared about actually doing the work that those groups/organizations were set up to do.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I’d be coaching.”

One word that describes my first time teaching an MBA class: Surreal

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: Teaching with a concussion (although that memory is a bit foggy).

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Any of the teaching recognition I’ve received. My hope for my students is that at least a small piece of my classroom experience lingers half as long as their student loans. Any evidence that might be happening brings me immense pride.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? A business school professor is a job that offers remarkable flexibility and autonomy if you choose to use it. We have enormous responsibility to provide value to our students, but can approach this in any number of ways. We are tasked with generating knowledge through our research, but can choose the domain(s) of study and questions we ask. If you can ignore the politics, know what you care about, and have the courage to pursue that, this job is amazing!  

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Grading

Fun fact about yourself: I once won a bench press competition

Bucket list item #1: learn to play piano

Favorite book: Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)

Favorite movie: The Big Lebowski

Favorite type of music: embarrassingly, 80s glam metal

Favorite television show: The Wire

Favorite vacation spot: Sonoma County, CA

What are your hobbies? Weight-training /fitness, nutrition

Twitter handle: N/A

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…as much of a focus on the progress students make during their two years in school as they currently do on the job students land or their starting salary at the end. Placement and salary metrics have obvious merit, and shouldn’t be abandoned, but when examined in isolation we can’t know whether these outcomes are the result of real learning/development or simply selection and reputation.  While it’s probably a bit of both, I worry that learning/development is taking too much of a backseat to placement, and hope that business schools (and recruiters) in the future work to correct this imbalance. Students and their employers would benefit.”

Faculty says…

“I sat in on every Pettit class session for a semester, and after tailoring his style to my own teaching, my own ratings have approached his.”


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