Not many professors who make the Best 40 Under 40 List have received more nominations than Michael Gill. With well over 100 separate endorsements, the 37-year-old associate professor of organization studies at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School was one of the most wildly popular professors this year — and in all years we’ve done this list. But teaching is not the only area in which Gill excels. He’s also a very established and reputable researcher with nearly 800 Google Scholar citations.
To be sure, Gill expertise hits a unique and often overlooked aspect of business education and business in general — mental health. “I am currently examining why the lessons from mental health training programs fail to be implemented in organizations, despite buy-in from senior leaders and employees,” Gill says of his research. “It appears that suffering is bound up in many processes of organizational control, such that addressing issues like anxiety can be perceived by workers as a threat to completing tasks.”
His nominators — students, alumni, and faculty — have taken notice.
“From the moment Mike Gill steps in front of a classroom, it is clear how passionate he is about teaching,” writes one recommender. “He approaches each lecture with an energy and enthusiasm that is unrivaled by the vast majority of his peers and challenges each student to truly analyze their established beliefs about the business world. True to his academic roots, he backs each and every lesson with data from multiple studies and also provides a critique of those studies in order to give a more complete picture of the research. Additionally, his lectures have a refreshing emphasis on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, a topic which is all too often glossed over despite its grave importance. It is so rare to have a professor who exudes such an aura of passion for teaching students (especially MBA students), and I will certainly carry Dr. Gill’s lessons into my future career.”
Said another: “Professor Michael Gill facilitated extremely generative discussions in our Organisational Behaviour class. He led seminars on mental health in the workplace, for which he developed his own case studies and role-playing scenarios based on his own research published in top journals. He did a terrific job at bringing up this unconventional business topic through a safe and comfortable environment. His lessons in the topic have resonated with me since the day I attended his class and have shaped the way in which I will perceive and accommodate mental ill-health among colleagues.”
Associate Professor in Organisation Studies
Current age: 37
At current institution since what year? 2017
Education: DPhil in Management Studies, University of Oxford
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Organisational Behaviour
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I studied for a master’s degree and really, deeply enjoyed the assignments and conducting my first small-scale research study. This was during study leave from a management consulting firm and I knew that academia was the career I hoped to pursue from then on.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I am currently examining why the lessons from mental health training programs fail to be implemented in organizations, despite buy-in from senior leaders and employees. It appears that suffering is bound up in many processes of organizational control, such that addressing issues like anxiety can be perceived by workers as a threat to completing tasks.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I suspect that I would be working in the FMCG industry or consulting, where I worked for several years before.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I believe that great classes reflect considerable effort from both instructors and students—it is a shared endeavor. I have been fortunate to work with many committed and thoughtful students. I hope the students can tell how much preparation goes into the content of my classes, whether it be live experiments or new case studies.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Anxious.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It is an amazing job to have, try to enjoy it.
Professor I most admire and why: I have been fortunate to learn from lots of great professors. The list is so long that I cannot name them all. Tim Morris, Owen Darbishire, and Sally Maitlis have been incredibly helpful in guiding me inside and outside of the classroom, and I am grateful for their support.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
The opportunity to work with, and learn from, hundreds of students from all over the world each year is incredible. Just as they encourage me to think differently, I enjoy trying to challenge their assumptions about human behaviour and organizations.
What is most challenging?
In the classroom, I find the most challenging element is trying to facilitate meaningful discussions, answer questions, and cover the core material within the allocated time. Outside of the classroom, it is trying to balance teaching preparation with research and all the many other activities that go on behind the scenes.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Thoughtful.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Inconsiderate.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy Brazilian jiu jitsu (no-gi) and wish I could find the time to do more.
How will you spend your summer?
I would usually say fieldwork for research but currently we face the coronavirus, so I have no firm plans beyond hoping to be able to spend time with my family.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: I am always excited about visiting North America.
Favorite book(s): Anything by Orwell or David Mccullough.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
I am spellbound by Christopher Nolan films. I enjoy any media that can surprise me or challenge my assumptions.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I like most genres of music.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Integration. Internal integration, by which I mean uniting different groups within business schools (accounting, OB etc.) and drawing together different departments across universities (e.g., psychology, sociology). External integration, whereby we collaborate with a range of organizations across sectors in terms of our teaching and assessment. I think such integration enables us to understand phenomena in a more holistic way and to tackle world-scale problems.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Appreciating how they can help and harm their employees’ mental health. Many people find fulfillment at work while others suffer, often in silence. These experiences have profound implications for organizations as well as wider society and warrant greater attention.
I’m grateful for… My family, first and foremost, and my friends for their support. A very encouraging school and faculty. The many superb people outside of the faculty who keep the MBA classes running. And thank you to the students who nominated me for this award! It is an honour to be able to work with students at Oxford.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“Michael taught one of our core classes, Organizational Behavior. He is an exceptional lecturer because he facilitates activities that bring the theories and issues to live, and encourage the whole class to participate. He brought important issues to the table that face all business leaders, and that we were not discussing in any other class. He also went above and beyond in his preparation for class, and dedication to being available for students as necessary. He even taught two courses on mental health that were not required, as he did not get official syllabus sign off from the school. Yet he knows it is such an important topic that he did it anyways.”
“He was a shining beacon during Organizational Behavior class, and I found his balance of lecture, discussion, and simulations to be really engaging and thought provoking. He’s trying to raise the profile of mental health in business schools using teaching methods and cases based on his research (published in top research journals), which is an incredibly important topic and one he is clearly passionate about.”
“Amazing teacher. Passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about his area of research and teaching. Also love how he goes about debunking myths that persist because people are too lazy to read the source material, which of course he has! Also has a strong focus on mental health in the workplace. Lastly, has organised trips for MBAs to visit local high schools with students from less privileged backgrounds to build aspiration for university.”
“Mike has made mental health an important topic in the classroom for our MBAs. He puts extraordinary amounts of work into his teaching, having developed his classes and original case studies in collaboration with the department of psychology and with clinical psychologists here in Oxford.” – Peter Tufano, Moores Dean and Professor of Finance at Saïd Business School