2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Katherine DeCelles, Rotman School of Management

Katherine DeCelles

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

With coined terms such as “air rage” and “whitened resumes” found at the heart of her academic studies, Rotman School of Management’s Katherine DeCelles has made a definitive mark in management academia and mainstream news media alike. Her research — which has been featured on CNN and in The New York Times as well as earned the top story spot last year in HBS Working Knowledge — explores ethical issues for business and society with a special focus on conflict, power, inequality, activism, crime, and aggression.

Fueled by her interests in these areas, Professor Katherine DeCelles says her goal as a professor is to provide Rotman students with a deeper understanding of people at work. In fact, she says, “If my students can better understand themselves and other people at work, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

DeCelles has proven herself to be a rising star throughout academia as evidenced by thousands of dollars in research funding, invitations to discuss her research from just about every top business school imaginable, and editorial leadership positions on two of her field’s top academic journals. She’s also been recognized by Rotman for multiple awards in teaching excellence.

Age: 38

At current institution since what year? 2009 (and visiting positions at Stanford University (2015) and Harvard Business School (2016))


Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the University of Maryland, 2007

List of courses you currently teach: Leading People in Organizations (MBA), Organizational Behavior (undergraduate), Organizational Behavior (Ph.D.)

Twitter handle: @katydec


“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I realized I never wanted to leave school

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Currently, I’m examining how displays of anger influence others’ judgments and behavior. In this line of work, our most significant finding is that while anger is a natural and normal reaction to being accused of wrongdoing, displays of anger (falsely) signal to others that the accused is guilty, even among experts in the criminal justice system.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would work in government intelligence/criminal investigations

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I believe my excitement for the course material and efforts to make class engaging and fun set me apart

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be?

Imagine by John Lennon

As a b-school professor, what motivates you?

Trying to make an impact on the world by making more effective and prosocial leaders, and by trying to make education enjoyable and engaging rather than a bore/chore

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor”:

Business students are unfairly stereotyped as money hungry, but they have a diverse range of interests and passions outside of finance

Professor you most admire and why:

Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan, whose care for students and colleagues, and about making the working world more compassionate, is palpable and awe-inspiring


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Feeling like I’ve improved their chances of career success by providing them with a deeper understanding of people at work

What is most challenging?

Not always having all the answers from research to give clear evidence-based direction

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student


Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student


What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?

What impresses me most is when students help one another learn in class, often through self-disclosure of experiences that are relevant for understanding the concepts or theories being discussed

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?

Be an active and insightful class participant, write well, and be able to analyze real world situations by applying course concepts/theories

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …”


“But I would describe myself as …”

Holding students to a high standard that they are capable of achieving

Fill in the blank:

“If my students can better understand themselves and other people at work, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”


Fun fact about yourself:

I am an identical twin

What are your hobbies?  

Traveling, yoga, enjoying time with family

How will you spend your summer?

Working on my research

Favorite place to vacation:

Anywhere with a beach

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

Homeland, which I enjoy because I can imagine an alternative career in criminal investigations

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

Late 90’s hip hop

Bucket list item #1:

See the Great Barrier Reef before it is completely gone


What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Getting tenure

What is your most memorable moment as a professor?

Feeling proud of a student who overcame a weakness and turned it into a positive moment in front of his peers in the classroom

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…”

More women, more interactive learning, and student discussion

“And much less of this…”

Lecturing, grades, and exams

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain.

Being more inclusive and less discriminatory, and making a positive contribution to better society and the world, not only Wall Street

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you

Reaching full professor, continuing to publish my research in top academic journals, and taking on more of a leadership position in the school and in developing junior faculty

Students say…

“I attended Professor DeCelles’ course, Leading People in Organizations. I was impressed not only by her professional accomplishments and passion for the subject but also her ability to engage her students through real–life cases and group activities. I have never taken a course with so much student participation! Her ability to create an environment of openness where we feel safe to express our opinions is commendable.  Even though the class was offered as an intensive course, she made it fun and interactive so I was always looking forward to attending class. I am thankful to professor DeCelles for genuinely caring about our learning experiences and for her continuous support even after completing her course. She is a true leader and her outstanding qualities as a professor deserve to be recognized. ” – Rotman MBA Liz Diaz Merino.

“I have recently had the privilege of Prof. Katy DeCelles facilitating our Leadership course during an intensive week. While there is the obvious complexity that comes from cultivating and instilling leadership in students, there is an added challenge in having a limited time to administer the fundamentals and nuances required to be a world class leader in a condensed time frame. Rotman, prides itself on being the catalyst to change great students into exceptional Business Leaders. Prof. DeCelles is the catalyst.  In the short time together she epitomized a thoughtful leader. This was done not only with her approach, dedication, and passion to her students, also by empowering us to challenge ourselves to be both great managers and successful leaders. To be fair, none of us will be altered overnight, but by providing a solid foundation and context to real world situations she has provided a roadmap to get there.” – Rotman MBA Brandon Lines


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