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2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Chia-Jung Tsay, University College London

Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London’s School of Management is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Professor. Courtesy photo

Chia-Jung Tsay

Associate Professor

UCL School of Management, University College London

With a whopping 86 nominations, Chia-Jung Tsay of the University College London’s School of Management was one of our most nominated professors this year, and any previous year. And considering how much her research has be covered in major academic and mainstream media, Tsay was as close to a shoo-in as it gets.

“I have always been fascinated by the interaction between performer and audience,” Tsay says of her recent research. “My research examines observers’ judgments of performance and aims to unpack related decision-making processes. One line of research explores the influence of beliefs about the source of people’s achievement on perceptions of performance. Challenging our broad, explicit admiration of hard work in American society, my research shows that people are subject to a hidden naturalness bias, a phenomenon I define as the premium people place on apparent natural ability and talent, as opposed to the same achievements obtained through striving and deliberate motivation. My co-authors and I are continuing to investigate the implications of the naturalness bias for a range of issues, including racial and gender inequality, discrimination against vulnerable populations in need of healthcare, and education and learning outcomes.”

Tsay’s research has been featured in The Atlantic, BBC, The Economist, Forbes, NPR, and many others. Bonus: she is a trained performance pianist with multiple degrees in piano including a Pre-College Diploma in Piano Performance from the Julliard School.

Current age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2012

Education:

Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Psychology (2012) with a secondary Ph.D. Field in Music (2012), A.M. in Social Psychology (2009), A.M. in History of Science (2004), and A.B. in Psychology (2004), Harvard University.

M.Mus. in Piano Performance (2006) and M.Mus. in Piano Pedagogy (2006), Peabody Conservatory of Music, Johns Hopkins University; Pre-College Diploma in Piano Performance (2000), the Juilliard School.

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Negotiations

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor after a detour into medicine. During my years in medical school, I often skipped class to spend more hours practicing piano. Reflecting on what I enjoyed doing and where I could make better contributions, I reached out to Shasa Dobrow, who had pursued research meaningful to musicians while also performing as a professional bassoonist. Her example and guidance allowed me to understand more concretely what a dual career in academia and music could entail. I love and cite her work to this day!

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I have always been fascinated by the interaction between performer and audience. My research examines observers’ judgments of performance and aims to unpack related decision-making processes. One line of research explores the influence of beliefs about the source of people’s achievement on perceptions of performance. Challenging our broad, explicit admiration of hard work in American society, my research shows that people are subject to a hidden naturalness bias, a phenomenon I define as the premium people place on apparent natural ability and talent, as opposed to the same achievements obtained through striving and deliberate motivation. My co-authors and I are continuing to investigate the implications of the naturalness bias for a range of issues, including racial and gender inequality, discrimination against vulnerable populations in need of healthcare, and education and learning outcomes.

Another line of research examines the impact of visual information on judgments of performance. I have found that professional musicians are able to reliably select the actual winners of live classical music competitions based on silent video recordings, but they are not able to identify the winners based on sound recordings or recordings with both video and sound. This points to powerful vision-biased preferences on selection processes, even at the highest levels of performance. My co-authors and I have elaborated on the meaning of this effect across domains – including for judgments of entrepreneurial pitch competitions and group performance, and in service operations in the food industry.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I would continue as a classical pianist, performing as a soloist and in chamber ensembles, and teaching young musicians part-time. I could also see myself enjoying aspects of journalism or working at a cat shelter.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? From a research perspective, my performing arts background has influenced my curiosity and given most of my work an interdisciplinary bent. From a classroom perspective, an engaged audience truly energizes me. Folks are often surprised at the contrast between my “off-stage,” introverted self and the performer they see onstage. I have had similar reactions since I started performing as a musician at age five.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Crowded—it was standing room only in the lecture hall.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I wish someone had told me earlier that this career existed! I get to meet and work with smart, motivated people who want to do good. Academics tend to have incredible flexibility and autonomy. We are also lucky that what we can offer has adapted reasonably to virtual formats.

Professor I most admire and why: I am grateful to have met many business school professors who have been impactful leaders in their fields, while also happening to be wonderful human beings. As advisors/mentors (both official and adopted), they encouraged my development as a scholar, supported my efforts toward work-life balance in the midst of family healthcare challenges, and continue to inspire me to “do good things” and “have fun.” Listed in chronological order, I am indebted to Sigal Barsade, Max Bazerman, Boris Groysberg, Teresa Amabile, Bert De Reyck, and Angela Duckworth.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? When students reflect on and develop each other’s points in rapid fashion. When students arrive at moments of recognition from cases and share examples from work that expand the learning environment.

What is most challenging? Initial resistance to data-driven approaches, which can sidetrack classroom discussions when students bring up individual exceptions to try to refute overall themes.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Passionate

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as fair; I use the entire grading scale, when needed.

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? Food, art, spreadsheets, traveling. Music and caregiving have been a major part of my life, though I would not categorize them as hobbies.

How will you spend your summer? Some of the usual – making progress on research projects, teaching online, and caregiving and managing my grandmother’s healthcare. For something new, possibly venturing into a restaurant for the first time since March 2020. But, most likely, introducing a much-needed new ingredient to my still-limited cooking repertoire.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Besides rediscovering neighborhoods in my hometown of New York and recent base in London, one favorite would have to be Vienna! The deep and broad appreciation for classical music remains striking for someone who grew up in the U.S., where classical concert halls are not always packed with engaged audiences. And I will find any excuse for Austrian-style potato salad and Sachertorte. I also look forward to returning to Berlin, Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Moscow, Taipei, and Tokyo.

Favorite book(s): Guilty pleasures include books by Mary Higgins Clark.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? The Shawshank Redemption is an old favorite, with the themes of grit under pressure and karmic justice.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I love performing works by Schumann, Liszt, and Chopin. For unwinding, any genre except classical, which gets me too analytical about the piece, performance, and performer.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would… find ways to leverage its talents and resources to help expand the impact of education by offering enrichment sessions to elementary and middle-school students, who could benefit from earlier access to such learning.

In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… buffering against conflicts of interest, and implementing sufficient checks and balances to protect those who may not be in a position to voice their views without repercussion.

I’m grateful for… my health, my family and fiancé, and my friends, mentors, and colleagues from each city/field/phase of life.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“I believe Prof. Chia Jung-Tsay deserves this nomination due to the excellence she has demonstrated both as a teacher – bringing engaging content and practical experience to her course content- as well as a researcher. In the former, as a student I remember conducting live negotiations in each of her negotiation classes- each with their own focus- as well as live “real world” negotiations where we had to develop our negotiation strategies, execute them and present on the results to the class. These interactive experiences solidified my learning of negotiation topics. Further, to comment on Chia’s research, she used her deep knowledge of behavioral psychology and research in the realm of music to help reinforce our learning of negotiation topics and tactics- such as the positive power of visualization on performance in music completions- and how these findings might translate into the business world. Fascinating topics – and Chia presented them in a way that made learning easy, engaging and unforgettable!”

“Dr. Tsay taught the Influencing and Negotiation module, which I took part in. Dr. Tsay’s passion for teaching was palpable, as was her knowledge of the subject. Dr. Tsay was very engaging, and she took the time to truly assist the students. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the module and learnt a great deal.”

“Chia-Jung Tsay is one of the most engaging teachers in executive education. She has worked with me with CEO’s in the UK Education sector. Chia-Jung Tsay is skilled in challenging assumptions around decision making by using data, skilled argument and humour.”

“Chia-Jung Tsay is a regular contributor to our senior leadership programmes for Further Education leaders. Her sessions draw on a wide range of the research she has undertaken to help participants understand the complex process of decision-making and formation of judgements in a number of critical contexts as leaders, including decisions that impact on their ability to develop high performing teams, make selection and recruitment choices, and assess performance. Chia has received very positive feedback on a consistent basis: she has an interactive delivery approach and an ability to challenge assumptions and reframe perspectives, that allows participants to develop new awareness and approaches in their leadership roles.”

“We were keen to bring in an experienced negotiation teacher to enhance the faculty mix for Oxford Programme on Negotiation, one of the world’s lead executive programmes of its kind. Chia came highly recommended and she has fully lived up to her reputation. Her teaching style is very engaging and she draws on an immense grasp of the subject. I am very happy to recommend her for this prestigious honour.”

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