Energy. Passion. Care.
Those were some of the ways nominators described Joel Goh, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore Business School. With nearly 1,400 Google Scholar citations and dozens of “hosanna” nominations as our editorial judges put it, Goh, 36, was about as close to a shoo-in to be included on this year’s Best 40 Under 40 Professors list as someone could get. A managerial operations and analytics professor, Goh’s research focuses on healthcare analytics. “I’m generally interested to study how to improve the processes of care delivery, medical decision-making, and evaluation of various aspects of health,” Goh says. “I guess the most significant stream that has emerged from this line of inquiry has been my work on quantifying the costs of various workplace stressors, and the finding that these costs are indeed quite substantial.”
Goh’s research often appears in major media outlets around the world. Within the past few years, Goh’s work has appeared in NPR, Business Insider, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, among many others.
But not mentioning his teaching chops would do Goh a grave disservice.
“Joel Goh challenges us to be bold with our thinking and encourages us to speak our mind,” one nominator said. “He always reminds us in the class that nothing is really white and nothing is really black. Everything is always grey depends on our perspective. That’s why he always tells us to look from a different side. He has very great spirit and energy which influences us every time. The best thing he gives me is by inspiring me to find a job that I love, be passionate about it, and do more than the best.”
Said another: “Professor Joel is the most energetic, passionate, and caring educator that I have ever been taught by, in fact one of the most passionate and genuinely caring people I have ever met.”
In his spare time, Goh says he enjoys cooking with and for his family as well as playing video games with his kids.
Current age: 36
At current institution since what year? 2017
Education: Ph.D. in Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business, M.S., B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Managerial Operations & Analytics.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… This is a little embarrassing, but it’s a long story that goes back to when I was in college, and my wife and I were still dating. She went to Cornell University, and majored in a field called Operations Research. Our spring breaks didn’t line up, so when I visited her over spring break in my junior year, I ended up sitting in one of her classes. The topic of the day was Optimization, and the professor was lecturing about how one could mathematically model the production of beer and optimize this production to be maximally efficient. I was awestruck at how mathematics could be used to study real-world business problems to help firms make better decisions. I had always liked research and had originally wanted to be an engineering professor, but that lecture made me realize that I was much more interested in business academia, and eventually led me to pursue graduate school in business.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
A major part of my research portfolio focuses on healthcare analytics. I’m generally interested to study how to improve the processes of care delivery, medical decision-making, and evaluation of various aspects of health. I guess the most significant stream that has emerged from this line of inquiry has been my work on quantifying the costs of various workplace stressors, and the finding that these costs are indeed quite substantial.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I enjoy teaching, so I think I might be a high-school teacher.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
Students have given me feedback that they enjoy the energy of my classes, but honestly, I can’t really take credit for that. The energy comes from them, and I serve as a conduit for their energy to get channeled back into the class.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I haven’t had any major surprises so far, I guess my mentors had prepared me well for the job. I was pleasantly surprised how much fun MBA teaching has been. I was prepared for it to be tough (which it is), but didn’t quite anticipate that it would also be deeply fulfilling (which it also is).
Professor I most admire and why: Professor Larry Wein (Stanford GSB). His work has been hugely impactful to public policy and at the same time, he has been pushing the frontiers of theory in our field. This is a balance that is tremendously difficult to achieve.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
The energy and passion that they bring.
What is most challenging?
The fact that they are pulled in every which way with multiple priorities and engagements.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Inquisitive
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy cooking with and for my family and playing video games with my kids.
How will you spend your summer?
Given the global pandemic, we won’t be traveling this summer, so when I’m not at work, I’ll probably be doing a lot of cooking with and for the family and playing video games with the kids.
Favorite place(s) to vacation:
Any beach resort where we can kick back and relax together as a family.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg are both great reflections about mortality and life that I’ve found really inspiring to read.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
I’ve enjoyed the Star Wars movies and other shows in the franchise. I guess it’s the interplay between mythical and technological elements of that universe that’s interesting to me. And, of course, lightsabers duels.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I generally don’t listen to a lot of music, but lately I’ve enjoyed listening to Boyce Avenue. They do a lot of really great acoustic covers.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
Students from underrepresented communities around the world. Often, the most impactful lessons that students experience in business school are not encountered in the classroom, but through the informal, unscripted, interactions with their peers. When the student body is enriched by increased representation, students and faculty get to engage with a much wider range of perspectives, business contexts, and life stories, and I think the entire community benefits from this.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Thinking of their employees as individuals, with needs, hopes, and dreams, and not just as economic units of production.
I’m grateful for… Lots of people, who have invested in my life and made a huge difference to me. My mentors at Stanford GSB, Stefanos Zenios, Mohsen Bayati, Evan Porteus, and Jeffrey Pfeffer have been pivotal in shaping how I think about research and scholarship. I’m also grateful to my former colleagues at HBS who have always challenged me to be single-minded about making an impact in the world through my research and teaching. I’m especially thankful to Ananth Raman (HBS) and our many memorable chats, for his constant encouragement to lean into my personal style of teaching. He has greatly influenced how I conduct my classes. I’m also grateful to my present colleagues at NUS, who have been fully supportive of my work. In particular, Melvyn Sim (NUS) and I go way back, believing in me when I barely did so myself; our early work together gave me a solid foundation in research.
I’m also grateful to all my students all over the world, past and present, who have given me so many wonderful and unforgettable experiences in the classroom. They have taught me so much, and make all the difficult times in this job worth it. Finally, and most importantly, I am indebted to my family, who have made huge sacrifices for me to pursue my dreams and who have always surrounded me with their unconditional love and support throughout my journey.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“I don’t remember being engaged and focused while sitting in a single chair for 3 hours except when I am watching some movies. However, professor Joel was able to make me stay focused and engaged in his class weekly for 3 hours! This shows his amazing skills in catching student attention and his ability to make them think hard analyzing and finding solutions for the 2 cases he shared weekly.”
“The level of personalization is what sets him apart. My first impression of him was very unusual. Before the first class, he went through all our profiles and greeted us all by our names as we entered his class and met him for the first time. I embraced myself for the worst because such geniuses are usually not very people friendly. He turned out to be entirely different. With that said, he is not only a mathematical genius as you can probably see from his credentials (BS, MS, Ph.D. all at Stanford) but also very people friendly. He is humble, very warm to talk to, and probably somebody all students in our class look up to. In fact, when I nominated his name for P&Q 2020 40 under 40, everybody was supportive of my endeavors and we all want him to win because of all the hard work he put in. This is the least we can do. Apart from that, during the course of the next few weeks, he took us out for lunch in groups of 7 to learn more about our personal stories and work experiences. He leveraged that information to appropriately call us out during classroom discussions, knowing exactly who might have a strong point to add and when. Other strengths: First: The people from Asia (Japan, China, S. Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand) are usually reserved and don’t like to speak out much. He ensured everybody contributed to the classroom discussions by making people feel valued. This helped students express themselves freely both inside and outside the classrooms, helping us all bond better. This also sets the tone for classroom discussions in other subjects. Second: His energy levels are through the roof. He will never confess, but I am sure he took one or two red bulls before coming to the class. He would come in properly dressed with the same Mustard Tie on top of Blue shirt tucked into his black trousers and by the end of three hours, his tie would be all over and shirt untucked. His passion for the subject and energy is enviable. If we attached a pedometer to him, he could have easily clocked a few miles inside a small classroom by the end of three hours. Third: He frequently connected our case discussions with the research he has done with the likes of Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer. The mathematical genius for what he really is, he can also distill his own research to make us understand its managerial implications. For example, we discussed how his research on ‘tipping’ opinion leaders in online gaming varies by gender and how women can use that information better to become better leaders. The only downside: There’s only one like him! And also, he made us read a lot of cases.”
“Professor Joel teaches with a lot of positive energy and his classes are always interesting. He manages to create a learning environment where everyone feels included and engaged. When you share your ideas you feel heard, but you also encouraged to develop your thoughts and sometimes challenged to think deeper. The content of the class is curated so that you get a very good feel of what business operations looks like across industries.”