IB Frontline interview: personal section

Ilgaz Arikan conducts wonderful interviews with scholars in International Business in the Frontline IB Conversations series. I was honoured to participate and thoroughly enjoyed my interview. As the full interviews are a bit long, I have cut my interview up in the three key sections: personal, research, and mentoring. Below is the personal section of my interview.

For more interviews with senior IB scholars, see this repository page on my website or the Frontline IB Conversations webpage. The interviews are also available as podcasts on all services, including Spotify, Amazon, Google, Apple, Tune In, and iHeartRadio.

Ilgaz was kind enough to send interviewees the questions in advance. As I am not good at improvising, I did reflect on the questions beforehand; I even wrote out some rough answers. In the 30-odd minutes available Ilgaz wasn't able to ask all questions. So, I have reproduced a cleaned-up version of my answers below.

Questions and answers

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I can’t really recall any thoughts about this when I was young. My professional role models came when I started reading. I loved the Big 5 detective stories by Enid Blyton and wanted to be Dickie, the boy who always came up with the smart ideas.

In my teens my interest in reading lead me to want to be a librarian. But as I was quite good in Chemistry, I also sometimes imagined myself as an analyst in a white coat, working in a laboratory. So detective, librarian, and analyst, I guess being an academic is a pretty good mix of those three.

After the interview I suddenly remembered that when I was about ten or eleven, I liked to "play school" with my younger brothers. Of course I was always the teacher! At one stage I even organised an exam for them, complete with a diploma outlining the skills they were expected to display. It was a roller skating exam, but still...

It is clear that the teaching part of academia already held an attraction to me from an early age. My kid brothers grew up quickly and soon were taller than I was. They could no longer be tricked into doing homework and exams. So I had to shelve practising my teaching skills until I became a student tutor during my studies.

What is your earliest moment of awareness between domestic foreign?

Unlike many IB scholars I don’t have a history of early foreign exposure. Most parts of the Netherlands were very mono-cultural in the 1960s & 1970s. All immigrants and non-white Dutch were concentrated in the big cities and I grew up in a small village. Moreover, my family wasn't rich, so holidays were quite rare and foreign holidays even rarer.

My first conscious international experience was probably in the 1980s when I was 19 and went to Paris for a few days with a group of friends. I recall the different food, the dirtiness, and seeing overt poverty for the first time. This was obviously more a reflection of my own Dutch background than anything else!

Frequent international travel didn’t materialise until my thirties when I started going to the EIBA and Academy of Management conferences. I still vividly remember the cities I visited: Warsaw, Urbino, Stockholm, London, Vienna, Jerusalem, Copenhagen, Toronto. It was like magic for me; I suddenly felt like a world traveler.

How or when did you choose to be an IB scholar?

That was almost pure chance. I did a 4-year professional degree in Business & Languages as I wasn’t quite sure about going to university. After that I went on to do a 4-year university degree in International Business in Maastricht. At the time, I worked as a student tutor and student research assistant and found that I quite liked that.

After graduating I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so did some freelance work for the Dutch Open University, creating a course on International Human Resource Management, which included an edited English-language textbook published by SAGE, now in its 5th edition. I had included a book chapter on HQ-subsidiary relationships in the course plan, but couldn’t find anyone to write it. So, I wrote it myself and decided to do a PhD on the topic. So that’s how I kind of rolled into it.

What is something not on your CV that people might find interesting?

Well… I guess you can immediately see one of these things behind me. It is not something lots of people knew about me, but now with online meetings it is usually the first thing they notice. I really like having bright colours in my home and in the last 30 years have painted my own walls in all sorts of colours. I must have painted over 60 rooms in those years.

The other thing that not many people know about me is I am absolutely fascinated by the London Underground. For this interview I have put my favourite underground poster in the background. I find the combination of transport, social history, architecture, and the urban development of London in the 19th and 20th century utterly fascinating. So I have dozens of books about this and love visiting transport musea and underground stations.

If you stopped doing what you were doing today, 2nd-best career?

I don’t think I would survive in another career. So, it would probably have to be working in another academic discipline, most likely paleontology or archeology. I am very interested in history and historical artifacts and I like the forensic detail of the work involved.

But I really don’t think I would thrive outside academia. Despite everything that has changed for the worse in higher education, I do think academia can still be a great career. So, if I couldn’t be an academic, I would most likely be a research librarian or a take on a professional role in research management.

What is one thing you haven’t done what you wish you would have done?

Nothing really to be honest, I have been really blessed both in my personal and in my professional life. Professionally, I could probably have had a quicker route to a professorial level, I did two 4-year degrees and studied for 8 years before even starting a PhD. It also took me 10 years to get to a Senior Lecturer level.

But that would have denied me the opportunity to learn and build confidence. I really needed that  coming from a family where nobody had gone to university. Also, I don’t really think that having regrets is all that useful. We all try to make the best decisions we can based on the information we have at the time and the constraints we are facing.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

Too many things to mention, failed promotions, being made redundant, and countless rejections of journal and funding submissions. This made realise that the key attribute for an academic career is persistence (See also my blogpost: Be proactive, resilient & realistic!).

More generally and going back to your earlier question, I think junior scholars should realise that it is not just hobbies that are missing from a CV. A huge amount of semi-professional information is also missing. A CV is like an Instagram account. It doesn’t show the blood, sweat, and tears, the rejections, the many many failures. But neither does it show the luck and the privileged or challenging circumstances that are different for every academic.

My CV doesn’t show the more than 100 journal rejections, the fact that 90% of my grant applications were rejected, or that my first applications for Associate and full Professor were both rejected. (See also my blogpost: CV of failures). But neither does it show how my academic volunteering work with the Journal Quality List and later the Publish or Perish software gave me huge name recognition, which no doubt has helped me in my career.

Most importantly, our CVs generally don’t show the support network (or lack thereof) around a scholar, whether professional or personal. In my case, all the key turning points in my career were directly or indirectly supported by my husband. For one thing, he was the one who pushed me to start my website back in 1999 and he is the brain behind the Publish or Perish software.

What are you most proud of?

To be honest it is not my academic publications, although to some extent I am proud of all of them, I wouldn't have published them if I wasn't. I would say probably two things. First, the free Publish or Perish software which is now 15 years old and is used by over a million academics and students from more than 150 countries. In recent years this includes a growing new group of users in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Brazil, Turkey, and lots of Asian and African countries.

More recently, CYGNA, the network for female academics that I have established in 2014 with two junior colleagues Argyro Avgoustaki and Ling Eleanor Zhang, later joined by Shasha Zhao . We have grown to more than 250 members and are now holding 6-8 meetings a year, dealing with everything from resistance to gender equality and academic career trajectories, to understanding Social Network Analysis, Big data, publishing in specific disciplines, and acquiring interpersonal skills such as negotiation and coaching.

What are you most passionate about?

Definitely PoP and CYGNA again, and more generally helping junior female (and male) academics – including those in countries where access to resources is limited – to find their way in the increasingly competitive academic environment. This also includes day-to-day efforts to change academic research cultures to be kinder and more inclusive (see also: Changing academic culture: one email at a time...).

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