MBA Professor Of The Year: Darden’s Lalin Anik

Darden Professor Lalin Anik

A superstar in the classroom, Darden Professor Lalin Anik poses for a photo with MBA students in her core marketing class. Photo by John A. Byrne

The very first time that Lalin Anik walked into a classroom to teach the core marketing course to a group of first-year MBA students, she was admittedly a nervous wreck. She had done everything she possibly could to prep for the experience at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. She knew every nuance of the case study that would be taught that day like the back of her hand. She had memorized the names, faces, and backgrounds of each student in the class. And she had gone to bed at 9 p.m. to ensure a solid night’s sleep before waking up at 6 a.m.

After all, the expectations for teaching at the Darden School are extraordinarily high. It is well known for having the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, even better than Harvard or Stanford. So Anik arrived 15 minutes before the start of the class to acclimate herself to the tiered classroom.  “I was absolutely scared,” recalls Anik, who remembers visibly shaking. “It was nerve-wracking. I was anxious. I didn’t know if I would be able to teach them well. I didn’t know if I would like them or if they would like me. I had no idea.”

By the session’s end, however, something extraordinary occurred. “I remember incredible kindness and a welcoming embrace,” she says. “There was a lot of energy on their part and they were nervous as well. And I just relaxed and moved through the experience. It was magical.”

MBA PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR: LALIN ANIK

Just how magical it was wouldn’t become apparent until a few months after the quarter ended. The dean of faculty stopped her in the hall and asked her to come to his office to read a letter he had received. The message, two paragraphs long, was signed by 69 students in her first class. “It said I was okay,” she says, humbly. “I did fine in the classroom and they enjoyed it. It was a tiny gesture that went a very long way. Even through my faults, they welcomed me to their journey. We got closer. We started working together. We grew together.”

That was five long years ago and it probably feels like a lifetime. Because since that early start, the 35-year-old Anik has established herself as one of the most beloved and sought-after professors at Darden. Her student evaluations are, in the words of Darden Dean Scott Beardsley, “off the charts.” In the five core and three elective courses she has taught at Darden, Anik’s teaching effectiveness score on student evaluations is a remarkable 4.99 on a five-point scale.

“The students admire, both her willingness to have courageous conversations on difficult topics, but also her willingness to think big,” says Beardsley. “And beyond that, she also just brings a lot of joy everywhere she goes.” She was selected as the Faculty Marshal by the Class of 2019, the highest honor students can bestow on a professor at Darden, and she has been nominated for the Outstanding Faculty Award multiple times.  She also received the Faculty Diversity Award in 2019 and 2017 and was named one the “2019 Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professors” by Poets&Quants.

For bringing all of herself to the job and doing so with compassion and caring, Anik is Poets&Quants‘ MBA Professor of the Year for 2019. She is only the third professor to earn the honor which was given last year to Stanford’s Jennifer Aaker and the year before to UVA Darden’s Greg Fairchild.

Favorite MBA Professors: University of Virginia's Lalin Anik

University of Virginia’s Lalin Anik

HER PARENTS ADVISED HER TO ‘GO AND DO OTHER THINGS IN THE WORLD’

How this pixieish young professor with closely cropped hair went from being a jittery young faculty member to a superstar professor is a fascinating story that involves her deep desire to develop meaningful relationships with students as well as her unusual dedication to teaching, particularly for a young professor who is also under great pressure to do exemplary academic research in her field to win tenure. She has been able to excel at teaching even while performing at an exceptional level on research, ranking within the top 10% of authors on the Social Science Research Network.

Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Anik was literally pushed out of the house by her parents who recognized that in her home country she would never be able to achieve her full potential. “They really pushed me to move,” she recalls. “They said, ‘Turkey is not going to do well in the next 15 to 20 years. Go and do other things in the world.'”

So at the age of 17, in 2002, she came to the U.S. for the first time to do her undergraduate studies at Brandeis University. Anik was all of 19 years of age when she felt the first inkling that perhaps she would like to devote her life to teaching. At the time, in 2004, she was a research lab assistant for a marketing professor at the London Business School. When she ultimately graduated from Brandeis with high honors, magna cum laude, with a degree in psychology, Anik immediately landed in the doctorate program at Harvard Business School where she brought her social science skills to the field of marketing. After earning her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2011, with a dissertation on experiments in social networks, she moved to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business as a postdoctoral fellow, working closely with Dan Ariely at The Center for Advanced Hindsight until 2015 when she was hired by Darden.

REHEARSING IN EMPTY CLASSROOMS WITH A COLLEAGUE THE NIGHT BEFORE CLASS

Before walking into that first Darden class, she had never taught a full course before a group of highly discerning MBA students. At Harvard, she had served as a course assistant for the first-year required course in marketing. At Fuqua, Anik delivered a lecture on motivation and incentives for a second-year MBA elective. But now it was showtime–and she performed as if this was her destiny, something she was born to do.

But what looked easy in class was a function of hours upon hours of work. Anik would borrow an empty classroom the night before a class and rehearse with Luca Cian, another outstanding newbie prof whose expertise is also in marketing. She would be on the phone at all hours with a senior professor or Cian to make sure she was prepared for every possible angle that could come up in a case discussion. And after a class, she would compare notes with Cian to see what worked and what could be done better. “In my first year here, we spent more time with each other than we did with our own families,” she says.

As one of 31 new faculty hires at Darden in the past five years, Anik has found a highly supportive culture of colleagues devoted to their students. “Senior faculty would come in and knock on the door and say, ‘we are so glad you are. You bring so much energy to the place. Is there anything we can do?’ It allows you to open up and to flourish.

“Our faculty has become more international than ever before. We are bringing a very diverse set of junior faculty from around the world. Diversity comes in many different shapes and forms. The goal is that we bring that knowledge and experience to the classroom. We are young, energetic blood, aspiring to ask and answer the questions of tomorrow. We need to be diverse in our thinking, our values and our transformation of experiences. I try to be creative. I try to be energetic and different in ways of thinking. But we are all deviants who come together under one roof with one goal. It’s a diversity of the mind and diversity of the soul.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.