With more than 1,400 Google Scholar citations, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management‘s Maryam Kouchaki is one of the most influential and impressive young researchers on this year’s Best 40 Under 40 Professors list. An organizational psychologist, the main focus of the 39-year-old’s research revolves around understanding moral decision-making and how individuals psychologically experience daily moral encounters. Her work has led her to become the editor-in-chief of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Besides being featured in many academic research journals, Kouchaki’s findings have also been featured in major media outlets, including the New York Times, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post, among others.
It was while an undergraduate physics student at Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, when she fell in love with the field of organizational behavior and psychology. She had taken an elective introduction to organizational behavior MBA class and just got hooked. “It was my first exposure to social sciences,” Kouchaki recalls. “I was inspired by the insights from the professor and the MBA students in that class; I wanted to know more about human behavior and social systems.”
Those feelings set her on a successful academic journey, ultimately leading to her Ph.D. studies at the University of Utah, a post-doc at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and her decision to join Kellogg in 2014 where she has pumped out an impactful amount of research on human behavior and moral choices.
But it takes more than research, however important in the academy, to make this list. And Kouchaki’s nominators had many positive things to say about her formidable teaching chops.
“Professor Kouchaki is one of the most remarkable professors at Kellogg,” one nominator enthused. “Her class, Leading and Managing Teams, is one of the Kellogg student body’s favorite courses. It teaches critical behaviors and frameworks for how leaders can best manage and leverage the power of groups. I truly believe that it is one of the most useful and powerful classes for Kellogg students while at Kellogg and beyond. In addition, as a female professor from Iran, Professor Kouchaki brings incredible diversity to our campus and is a role model of empowerment and intellect for me and my fellow students. I can think of no one else more deserving to win this award.”
Outside of the classroom, Kouchaki says she enjoys reading, running, watching soccer, cooking, and listening to music.
Associate Professor of Management and Organizations
Current age: 39
At current institution since what year? 2014
Education: Ph.D. in Management from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business;
MBA and B.S. in Physics from Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran.
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Leading and Managing Teams
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I fell in love with the field of organizational behavior and psychology when I took an elective introduction to organizational behavior MBA class as an undergraduate physics student. It was my first exposure to social sciences. I was inspired by the insights from the professor and the MBA students in that class; I wanted to know more about human behavior and social systems.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
As an organizational psychologist, I seek to understand everyday moral encounters, particularly at work. In my research, I have uncovered novel and often counterintuitive forces that continually create widespread unethicality. Notably, I have offered evidence that everyday moral encounters cannot be fully understood without a thorough consideration of the individuals’ psychological experience of them. More recently, I have started to work on research that focuses on ethical learning and individuals viewing their workplace as a moral laboratory for becoming a better person. This is particularly important considering the thousands of hours every individual will likely spend at work.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be a consultant/researcher or an entrepreneur helping people design better workplace that improve their lives and those of people around them.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I am very passionate about research and I bring in my personal experiences and research into the classroom. Everything that I discuss in class is rooted in science, but importantly it’s also tested in the real world.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Alert, on my toes!
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: How hard it is to balance all the demands on your time, teaching, research, constants flow of asks and emails! Not enough time to be self-reflective.
Professor I most admire and why: Professor Feyzbakhsh, I mentioned his class earlier where and when I fell in love with the field of organizational behavior and psychology. He was my first business professor and the reason I became a professor in this field. He is one of the most passionate people I’ve seen and he has devoted his life to teaching and inspiring young Iranians to learn about business and entrepreneurship. If I could mention a second one, my doctoral advisor, Art brief. As my mentor and friend, he helped me develop my passion for research and become a better researcher, professor, and a better person. He is an incredible mentor, the person I still call for any professional or personal advice.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
Their enthusiasm, idealism, and ambition; A lot of them inspire to do great and better the lives of people around them and create businesses that positively impact their communities.
What is most challenging?
Students that are consumed with finding best practices; in my view, most of the time the answer is something that works for you and your situation, and you need to figure it out, something that works for you; the best practice is the way of going for average, for easy answer.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: curious!
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: silent
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Reading, running, watching soccer, cooking, listening to music.
How will you spend your summer?
Visiting my family back in Tehran and traveling to somewhere new; except this year, I have the chance to see Chicago (and Midwest) summer more fully.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: I love going to different locations, where you find culture, history, nature, and meet people! I truly believe everywhere is worth seeing and learning from. So, I try to go to a different place any chance I get.
Favorite book(s): The Little Prince, Animal Farm, Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, The Brothers Karamazov, Pride and Prejudice
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
The Truman Show, Forrest Gump, Inception, The Shawshank Redemption; each of them helped me see the world differently
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I am Iranian and enjoy Persian classical music and instruments; Homayoun Shajarian, Kayhan Kalhor, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Shahram Nazeri
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… an emphasis on viewing corporations as creating value for all their stakeholders rather than principally serving their shareholders; and inspiring our future leaders to make the workplace (and the world) a better place, especially for people less privileged than themselves.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at … helping and guiding people to live up to their values and aspirations, to proactively focus on becoming their best moral selves, as a laboratory for refining their character.
I’m grateful for… all the amazing people (family, friends, mentors, teachers, colleagues, collaborators, students, many more) I’ve been fortunate and privileged to have around me.
Students, faculty, and administrators say:
“As an organizational psychologist, Maryam seeks to understand what drives people to make moral (or immoral) decisions. At Kellogg, she teaches Leading and Managing Teams, which uses hands-on exercises to teach students to prioritize conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and diversity as they build and lead teams. In 2020, Maryam was named editor-in-chief for a top-tier journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes — a distinction that very few academics ever achieve, especially at a young age. Maryam has published 12 academic papers since 2018, 8 of which appeared in top-tier journals including Management Science, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, and The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Maryam’s research has been featured in Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and more.”
“I took “Leading and Managing Teams” with Professor Kouchaki and it was one of my favorite classes at Kellogg. The class was designed to be an experiential learning course where we had a different team-based activity in each session. Professor Kouchaki was extremely engaging and challenged our thinking around social norms. She encouraged us to be intentional about every aspect of building a team. What I learned from this class, I apply to my work every day. Professor Kouchaki should definitely be recognized for her commitment and dedication to teaching and research.”
“Professor Kouchaki is one of the most remarkable professors at Kellogg. Her class, Leading and Managing Teams, is one of the Kellogg student body’s favorite courses. It teaches critical behaviors and frameworks for how leaders can best manage and leverage the power of groups. I truly believe that it is one of the most useful and powerful classes for Kellogg students while at Kellogg and beyond. In addition, as a female professor from Iran, Professor Kouchaki brings incredible diversity to our campus and is a role model of empowerment and intellect for me and my fellow students. I can think of no one else more deserving to win this award.”