Associate Professor of Management and Organizations
What’s it like to be a physicist in a business school? Ask Dashun Wang. The 34-year-old professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management was trained in physics and holds a Ph.D. in the field from Northeastern University. Wang also holds a professor role in the division of Industrial Engineering & Management Sciences at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “As a physicist in a business school, Dashun’s research combines statistical physics, computational social science, and artificial intelligence to exploit the opportunities and promises offered by Big Data,” Taryn Tawoda, a spokesperson for the school said in Wang’s official nomination from Kellogg. “Through the lens of new and increasingly available large-scale datasets, he uses and develops tools of network science to help us better understand and predict social interactions, human mobility, knowledge production and scientific impact.”
Wang’s work has been featured in virtually every major global media outlet including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and many others.
“As an exchange student from France, I was deeply impressed by Professor Wang and his course Social Dynamics & Network Analytics,” one nomination said. “I would say this course is a state-of-art class as Professor Wang managed to explain and apply the most advanced scientific learning from top journals like Science or Nature in an easy-to-understand and down-to-business way that not a Finance or Marketing student but also students of HR and any other business domains can apprehend and connect in their professional life. I’m now a marketing innovation manager for a mega international brand in the HQ, and I still go back to materials I had on this course to find inspirations for my professional projects.
“It has equipped me with an extra lens to see my work – packaging designers, ingredients or consumer tribes so that I can bring fresh thinking and perspective. Out of work, it also helped me to reshape how I see and interpret the world, how things are connected, evolve and develop, and how to manage uncertainty & complexity. I suggested my home school in France to open similar courses and recommended this course in my exchange study report. Outside of the classroom, Prof Wang is also a very easy going and down-to-earth person to connect, talk and ask advice from.”
Current Age: 34
At current institution since what year? 2016
Education: Ph.D. Physics, Northeastern University, 2013; B.S. Physics, Fudan University, 2007
List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Social Dynamics and Network Analytics
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR:
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I first stepped into the MBA classroom that I was about to teach for the first time. I understand that to many, it may seem a little late at that point… but the truth is, as someone trained in a physics Ph.D. program, I really didn’t know what it means to be a business school professor. Although I was assured repeatedly by my trusted colleagues that I would be a good fit for the MBA classroom, I just didn’t know what to expect. I know that I like teaching. I just didn’t know teaching MBAs could be this much fun—they are incredibly curious and driven to learn.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
My current research focus is on Science of Science, a quest to turn the scientific methods and curiosities upon science itself. This is an emerging, multidisciplinary field. It leverages new, large-scale datasets capturing broad aspects of the scientific enterprise, and uses data science and artificial intelligence to make sense of these data. Over the past seven years, along with my students and collaborators, we have begun to understand several quantitative patterns underlying the success and failure of individual careers, teams, and the discoveries they produce. Our key findings over this past year include uncovering how small teams of innovators tend to do more disruptive work than large teams, and how “hot streaks” can occur across careers of artists, film directors, and scientists.
If I weren’t a business school professor… Can’t really imagine I’d do anything else at the moment, but I would love perhaps one day to have the experience of opening a microbrewery, hosting my own talk show, or launching a nonprofit that aims at improving access to education and career opportunities for those in developing countries and regions.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
As a recovering physicist in a business school.
One word that describes my first-time teaching: 5%, 10%, 15%, … and counting…
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
For my first teaching quarter, I wish someone shouted at me: What? You haven’t started preparing?
Professor you most admire and why:
There are several professors in my field that I admire, and I’m very fortunate to have worked closely with many of them. If I have to single one out, I’d say Prof. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Northeastern University. He has a relentless focus on asking big questions, and a formidable drive to solve them. And, he is infuriatingly good at both.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
As one of the few people in my field who teaches MBAs, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to present to MBA students the latest advances in my research area, and explain to them why these insights matter to them today, and after they leave Kellogg.
What is most challenging?
How to unpack complex – and often mathematically involved – concepts, and present to my students in a way that’s clear in takeaways and implications, yet at the same time without sacrificing the scientific rigor.
Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Eager-to-learn
Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: “Know-it-all”
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Someone who believes that getting an A is not why they’re here.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM:
What are your hobbies?
Two – Allen (3 years old) and Mark (10 months)
How will you spend your summer?
Staycation. I’ve come to appreciate Chicago summer. Enjoy the lazy afternoons spending time with my family on the beach.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Maui
Favorite book(s): Anything that Yuval Noah Harari writes.
What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
My wife invented a category for all my favorite movies: where the main character never dies. So it includes Batman, Ironman, Jason Bourne, Die Hard, etc. It really puzzles her why I enjoy them so much because no matter what happens halfway through the movie, you know the main character will eventually come back. She obviously has a very good point here. But I still can’t wait for Avengers Endgame!
Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: These days? Baby Shark (of course).
THOUGHTS OF REFLECTIONS:
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Computational social science. I truly believe that we are living in an exciting era, where big data permeates every corner of the society, increasingly essential for human decision making, and machines may soon outperform and even replace human doctors, soldier, bankers, and drivers. The business schools that can best understand, anticipate, and respond to these new opportunities may be the ones best equipped to educate business leaders of the future.
In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what?
Improving data literacy across the organization, from team members to line managers to executives. Despite all the talks about “data is the new oil”, many people including decision-makers in today’s companies remain notoriously illiterate in data analytics thinking. Companies that are not serious enough about this can be left far behind by competitors that embrace data literacy today.
Faculty and administrators say:
“Dashun Wang, a physicist turned b-school professor, has spun big data problems into gold. His “Social DNA” course is consistently over-subscribed by up to 20% each quarter. It shows students how to build their professional network, control viral marketing processes, and apply AI to discover new strategic insights and start disruptive firms. His research has also fundamentally shaped thinking in a big way and received over 10 million in startup funds from the top US and private funding agencies. Look for his new book on the science of science (forthcoming 2020).” – Brian Uzzi, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
“Prof. Dashun Wang has been leading both teaching and research on social dynamics and network analytics at the Northwestern University and Kellogg. His lectures, mingled with the latest research in the area brought in stunning and unique perspectives about social network related business which didn’t exist traditionally at B-school and help connecting the classical B-school teaching with the latest trend and vast development in digital social space.”
“As an exchange student from France, I was deeply impressed by Professor Wang and his course Social Dynamics & Network Analytics. I would say this course is a state-of-art class as Professor Wang managed to explain and apply the most advanced scientific learning from top journals like SCIENCE or NATURE in an easy-to-understand and down-to-business way that not a Finance or Marketing student but also students of HR and any other business domains can apprehend and connect in their professional life. I’m now a marketing innovation manager for a mega international brand in the HQ, and I still go back to materials I had on this course to find inspirations for my professional projects. It has equipped me with an extra lens to see my work – packaging designers, ingredients or consumer tribes so that I can bring fresh thinking and perspective. Out of work, it also helped me to reshape how I see and interpret the world, how things are connected, evolve and develop, and how to manage uncertainty & complexity. I suggested my home school in France to open similar courses and recommended this course in my exchange study report. Outside of the classroom, Prof Wang is also a very easy going and down-to-earth person to connect, talk and ask advice from.”
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