Building your Network to Build your Future

My experience with connecting with a research mentor was largely unplanned, although not due to luck. I am in the business honors program and in the fall semester, I took Ray Jones for the class “Organizational Behavior,” through which I completed a 1 credit annotated bibliography on a research topic of my choice (I chose the lack of women in top leadership positions in corporate America). Early on in January, we presented these topics to Dean Murrell of the Honors College, and she seemed  very interested in my topic. After the presentations, I stayed after to talk to her a little bit more about what I was interested in studying, and a few days later, she mentioned to my professor that her interests aligned well with mine and suggested we do research together. I made sure to follow up with her to express serious interest in a project, and she suggested looking into the “Glass Cliff”, which was a topic I knew little about at the time but was definitely interested in studying further. Dean Murrell has a lot of expertise in the area of subconscious bias, women leaders in the workplace, and has conducted her own research on similar topics, so I knew I could learn a lot from her. However, I also think part of the reason we were able to initially get the ball rolling on this project and have made so much progress so far is because of the dynamic between us. Dean Murrell is extremely knowledgeable, however she and I truly are a team. She does a fantastic job listening to my ideas, but is also willing to push me to think about things in a different way, and always encourages me to make sure I don’t rush into anything. My biggest advice for students pursuing a research member is to certainly take into consideration your mentor’s background/ expertise, but to also strongly consider what kind of a team you will make. Two people with similar interests but extremely conflicting personalities, or who share the exact same ways of doing things are less likely to discover new ideas and make progress than a student and mentor who push each other and work together well. I also recommend that students network as much as possible; had I not attended the presentations for our annotated bibliography, I never would have struck up a conversation with Dean Murrell, which has ultimately led to the most exciting project I’ve ever done. You never know what opportunities are out there, and it’s so important to meet as many people as possible, and to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.

When working across disciplines, there are certainly pros and cons. The largest benefit to working across disciplines in my opinion is the vast amount of perspectives that can be brought to the table and considered. In the real world, different disciplines must co-exist and be brought together all the time in order for progress to be made. For example, an engineer can’t design a bridge without considering the economic, environmental, and humanitarian impacts it may have. Additionally, even if someone has a job where all of their coworkers are in the same field of study, there’s a large chance that they may need to work with a client with a completely different background. It is therefore important for individuals to at least understand how to work with disciplines outside of their own. As far as research goes specifically, I have learned already that any one research question can be analyzed from the perspective of many, many backgrounds. Throughout my project, I have already read literature that focuses on various industries, I’ve read literature by authors with various areas of expertise, and I will be collecting data from people with all sorts of backgrounds. Without considering multiple disciplines, it would be very easy to overlook an entire perspective on a problem, which could have large ramifications on the solutions found. On the other hand, working across disciplines can certainly be cumbersome. It is difficult for any one person to have a large amount of expertise in more than one area, and trying to bring multiple disciplines together may lead to mistakes due to a lack of expertise. I also believe that there is sometimes merit to studying a problem from just one lens, so as to gain a large amount of depth in one area, as opposed to research with more breadth. Overall, I believe the benefits of working across disciplines outweighs the drawbacks. Because whether we like it or not, it’s always going to be important to take into account multiple perspectives, and the ramification of an issue on all people and industries, not just the ones we are most familiar and comfortable with. 

A big part of my research will involve conducting interviews of professionals across disciplines in order to gain insight into the causes of the Glass Cliff, and to focus specifically on finding solutions for this issue. Luckily, I’m working with Clare Stitch, who’s in charge of Alumni Relations and has been of great help in putting together a list of Alumni connections for me to use to find interviewees. As far as my career goals, one of the things I focused on during Quarantine was setting up phone calls with various professionals with Accounting and legal backgrounds to find out more about what they do, and to help me determine what I want in a career. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned from conducting these calls is that once you start expanding your network, it can grow exponentially. So many people that I’ve talked to have connected me with their contacts, which has allowed me to expand my own network to various cities (including New York, Washington D.C., and Atlanta) and to continue learning from people with work experience. Although I am happy with every connection I’ve made, I hope to expand my network in other sectors a lot more than I have; currently, the majority of my connections are in the business realm, specifically with backgrounds in public accounting. As I mentioned before, working across disciplines is extremely important in gaining new perspectives and understandings of the world. Although my degrees will be from the business school and I plan to begin my career at a Big Four Accounting firm, I want to do a better job talking to people outside of Accounting/ Finance, mostly in order to learn from their unique experiences in ways that can help me down the road. I think the best way to make these connections will be to stay in touch with the alumni I interview for this research project, as their backgrounds will cover many different disciplines. Additionally, I have found that if I simply ask other professionals in my network to put me into contact with people in different fields, they are always happy to do so. 

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