Senior Lecturer, Management Science
Teaching at MIT Sloan since: 2001
In my adult life, I haven't left MIT much at all. I earned my undergraduate degrees (in Physics and Russian) here. After a few years working for a business strategy consultancy and a non-profit environmental think-tank, I returned to MIT for a PhD in System Dynamics. I then taught at the University of Michigan for five years, but was lured back because I really like it here. I love the excitement about ideas that is unique to MIT, and I love that stuff is happening everywhere — in every corridor, in every office!
When I started at MIT Sloan, I focused on system dynamics and organizational theory. I have now broadened my area of focus to include management practice. In the process of looking at what it takes to become an effective manager and change agent, I've developed a new course that will start during the fall, continuing through IAP and the spring. It's called Practicing Management and involves the notion of learning by doing. It's very Sloan and very MIT; we learn by practice. Whether it's lab-based work, internships, or hands-on projects, we encourage students to learn through real-world experiences and to develop the tools and skills to engage in rigorous thinking about their experience. For example, one thing we teach students is that they have access to more data than they realize — that even qualitative data can be used to develop ideas and test them. In my new course, students will work in small teams with real organizations on “negotiated projects.” This goes beyond typical consulting-style assignments. They don't tell a company what to do; they do it. By actually trying to affect change, hopefully they learn from it. Students have come up with many ideas for these projects in the business community and at MIT too. We're reaching out to local companies as well. It is very exciting, and I can't wait to start!
My research also examines how individuals learn and how that is linked to how organizations learn and how they change or fail to change. Here, I'm collaborating with colleagues across many disciplinary lines to ground our teaching innovations in what we know from the research on learning, project management, and organizational studies. As a former assistant professor, I've done research on organizational change and organizational learning; in my current role, I draw on this background in my collaborations with faculty, staff, and students to redefine a uniquely MIT Sloan approach to management education. Another area I'm interested in is sustainability. Right now, I'm working with students on a study that investigates additional opportunities for sustainability — in energy and environmental domains and beyond — right here at MIT.
I started on a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) as an MIT freshman in 1982, shortly after the program was launched. The ideas I developed, the skills I learned, and collaborations I participated in had a lasting impact on me.
I can trace four things that I enjoy about being an academic to things I came to understand about myself during my UROP. First, I experienced the joy of picking a subject and digging into it. There's something to be said for the idea that by really focusing on the important parts of a problem — almost any problem — you can learn something universal, even from the most apparently narrow investigation. I gave five years to my UROP project, and got much back in return! Second, my UROP was a lab-based experience that enabled me to meet and work with all levels in the community — undergrads, grad students, researchers, faculty, staff — and I really enjoyed the collaboration. Sitting around a table for lunch day after day gave us a forum for ongoing discussions. We'd circle around and dig into questions in ways that aren't possible in other settings. That probably influenced my decision to become a teacher. My group of colleagues in system dynamics had similar collegiality, and I enjoyed that immensely. The third thing I've come to understand is that the work that MIT does — including research — is the product of people playing many different roles: research staff, post-docs, visitors, and many others are essential to the Institute and work with faculty and students in many different ways. This enabled me to chart my own course here at MIT as my goals evolved, something I'm so glad I've been able to do. Lastly, I really enjoy working with students. It was clear to me then, and it still holds true today. It sounds like a cliché, but they do keep you young! When the students (or most of them) are gone for the summer, I miss them. When they're back in the fall, you feel the energy, and it's infectious. I'll have to pace myself though, because by spring, this energy can get exhausting!