The pandemic taught many of us that online learning is possible. What is less clear is how to do it effectively. In my op-ed for EdSurge, I discuss findings from my recent research on engagement in online learning platforms.
This post describes my recent research visit to the University of Toronto in June 2022. It's meant to serve as a potential guide for other junior faculty interested to plan a research visit (i.e., an ultra mini sabbatical, or ums). I cover topics, such as how I started thinking about ums, how I planned it, what helped me get the most out of it and how you can still have fun while working and traveling.
I recently discovered that many junior faculty and students have found my blog and informal musings about academic life in #marketing useful. How did I discover this? At the virtual Marketing Science conference, I “ran into” (at the Gather Town virtual simulation) at least three PhD students from three different schools who said that they had read my blog (and my papers – whoa!) and that it helped them decide to pursue their PhD. One even said that I MUST continue writing these posts.
In the spirit of believing that maybe I do have something useful to say, this post is dedicated to a recent experience I had: a short research visit to another university, i.e., University of Toronto, over the summer. I think of this visit as an ultra-mini sabbatical or ums, just like the filler word umm, symbolizing a pause, although a deliberate one.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m currently finishing my second year as an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This means that a fair bit of my dissertation research is wrapping up (hopefully) and that I’m on the cusp of something exciting i.e., developing new papers and crafting my research identity. All of this, while teaching three different courses including an online MBA course and MOOC on Applying Data Analytics in Marketing, mentoring PhD and Masters' students, and serving my profession, department, and school in various ways.
So, what was I doing in Toronto? What prompted my visit? What were the pros and cons, and how did I make the most of it?
Origin of my ums
I first started thinking about ums when I saw a Twitter post by another assistant professor of marketing, saying he was going to spend some time in Italy visiting another school. Some universities have a structure and a more formal process for visiting scholars but for most, if you know someone there, perhaps a senior mentor, it could be worth exploring informally if the visit makes sense.
The purpose of these visits can vary greatly depending on what you want out of them. You can meet and learn about various faculty in the department, get feedback on your papers, start new collaborations, and work on existing projects if you already have co-authors at that school. Since a full sabbatical is often not feasible or recommended for junior faculty, a mini sabbatical is a potential path that gives you more time compared with a typical 2-day visit for a research seminar but is shorter than a one-year commitment.
I wanted to visit the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto for various reasons. First, I had visited them for a job talk during my academic job market year. They had seen my job market paper during my campus visit. In fact, the feedback I had received during my presentation and meetings there had already been super helpful on my earlier drafts. This is also the paper I’m currently revising and one that could benefit from immediate feedback before I sent it back to the journal. Second, they’d been very warm and receptive during my last visit, and I had since been in touch with several of the faculty there. One of their former PhD students is also my very good colleague and friend at the U of I and I also know her co-authors well. Third, I have overlapping research interests, both in methods and topics, with multiple faculty members in their marketing group. When I wrote to them exploring a potential visit, I also learned that most faculty I’d want to meet with was around in the summer. Finally, my cousin had serendipitously just moved from New Delhi to Toronto in May. So, I could also get to see her.
Planning the ums
The two big considerations for planning the ums are the visit timing and budget.
The timing is important for both strategic and tactical reasons.
Strategically, it makes sense to visit when you have projects at various stages in your pipeline. Depending on the faculty or PhD student you are meeting and the amount of time you have with them, it could help to have some advanced papers waiting revision, new working papers that are not yet submitted and a few new ideas you may be on the verge of starting or may have collected data for.
Tactically, my visit was ideal during the summer. At least in 2022, summer is the only time I don’t teach (since I’ve borrowed my future Spring ‘23 teaching into Fall ‘22). This is also a summer when the global pandemic has subsided, and people are more available to meet in person. Depending on the school and department, it might also make sense to visit during your non-teaching semester if more faculty members are around at that time and/or you want to attend their regular seminar series, etc. Paperwork, such as getting a work permit in another country, may also influence the timing of visit. Finally, the timing should also make sense personally, especially if you have children and may have to visit with family. I have two dogs and a cat, and my husband was more than happy to watch them. His work is also only a five-minute commute from our home, so he could walk them during his lunch hours.
The budget for the visit is another important consideration, particularly when visiting a major (and expensive!) city. Most schools can support accommodation and travel for a few days if you are giving a talk but will not be able to support longer stays. They might be able to offer an office or working space, access to the building, and Internet credentials. One way to fund an ums is to set aside some of your own research and travel/conference funds. You can also combine the trip with a conference in that area or close to the airport you’re flying from, if you don’t live near an airport. I was going to drive from Champaign to Chicago to present at the Advances with Field Experiments conference, so I planned my visit right after that. Chicago is also the nearest airport for me to fly to Toronto, so I flew from there directly.
Another suggestion for keeping the visit affordable is to explore accommodation options on campus. I was able to stay at New College Residence at one sixth the cost of a hotel. Living close to the campus you’re visiting also allows you more flexibility (and less Ubers!). If you’re a gym-fanatic like me, there are also always free gym trials or short-term memberships available. Finally, if your accommodation provides a kitchen, consider traveling with basic cooking equipment. I packed a small pan with me and pretty much made myself an egg-white omlette every morning for breakfast. This is also healthier option, especially since you’ll likely end up getting several meals outside for lunch meetings, etc.
During the ums
I have a bunch of advice for what to do during the ums.
First, make sure everyone (at least anyone you plan to meet) in the department knows you are visiting. You can do this by sending the faculty an email a week or more before you go. In my case, I had been in touch with at least two of the senior faculty there since April for my June visit. I was sharing my office with a junior faculty, who’d herself reached out to me a week before to let me know about being officemates. I’d also emailed most of the other faculty individually a week before the visit. In general, 90% of them said they’d be around and would love to meet. Instead of formally setting up doodle or something (who wants to deal with this super formally during a summer visit?! Of course, you can if that’s what you prefer), I started maintaining a google doc with my own itinerary and booking meeting times at my end. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t double-booked, that I didn’t miss any meetings, and that I was tracking meeting-related conversations across all possible conversation channels (e.g., two PhD students reached out to me on Twitter and Facebook to set up coffee chats).
Second, make sure you plan ahead of the meetings. While ums is not a campus visit and you don’t need to read everyone’s entire set of research papers, it helps to know what they are doing and what their recent research projects are about. Why? In my experience and conversations, this helped me select the right projects from my pipeline to talk about and the right questions to ask. I learned, for example, that someone I was meeting for lunch had recently published a paper on giving incentives for COVID vaccines. While I don’t have a COVID-related project, I have a new project on financial- and non-financial incentives for going to the gym. It ended up being a meaningful conversation and he gave me several ideas for potential new experimental designs as well as literature to consult.
Third, build in some deliberate pauses or gaps between meetings. If I had a meeting at 2pm, I’d not schedule my next one until 4pm. I don’t think I did this on purpose so much, but it worked great because sometimes we ended up going for a long-ish walk to talk, and I didn’t need to rush anyone for my next meeting. This is the kind of rush you’d typically experience in a 2-day research talk visit. In some of my longer meetings, the first half hour or so could be dedicated to a specific project or a warm-up conversation, so the real topics of connection or possibility of a collaboration would not even come up until much later. Having less time-pressured meetings was a great benefit of a longer visit!
Fourth, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone and meet multiple times. There are no rules. Again, unlike a 2-day seminar visit, you can find opportunities for continuing your conversation. I met with a junior colleague who is at the same career stage as me once for a quick chat in the office, then for dinner (it happened to be my birthday that week, so we celebrated!), and then again over brunch. It wasn’t until the third conversation that we even explored any ideas about potentially working together. Similarly, a senior faculty member gave me some excellent feedback for my job market paper, so I was able to circle back and meet with him the following week to share what I was finding based on the analysis he had recommended and get detailed feedback on my overall research portfolio. In another case, a senior faculty member wanted to meet a second time to discuss my marketing analytics syllabus in detail. The opportunities for multiple meetings can be rich and rewarding for everyone.
Finally, don’t overplan. LOTS of work and conversations can happen serendipitously. During my visit, I learned that someone else in quantitative marketing was also visiting Toronto. I’d talked to him virtually before. I reached out to him and was able to meet in person for a great conversation! Stuff Zoom can’t do justice to :)
Work-life balance in ums
Last but not the least, an important goal of ums is to reset. It can allow you to step out of your comfort zone and routine, and to try something different. Travel gives you a chance to step away from the structure of your daily life. Make sure to enjoy it. During the weekend and some of the evenings, for example, I explore Toronto Islands, the Little Italy food festival, and dinner with my cousin.
Cheers to a dream summer, and to many of you, hopefully exploring your own ums after reading this!
Where did 2021 go? I know exactly where.
If you know me or anything about me, you know that I love data. I track my workouts. I track my daily calorie intake and macros, and most importantly, I track the time I spend on various research projects.
As 2021 comes to an end, I wanted to share some of the tracked data from my life. My hope is that this will be a useful sneak peek for current and future tenure-track assistant professors. Perhaps this may even be useful for those wanting to pursuing a goal in 2022, especially a fitness-related goal.
Snapshot of what I did this year
My biggest commitment in 2021 was my research projects. I spent 932 hours on my top 6 research projects this year!
While I explored opportunities for new projects, it turned out that I spent 60% of my time on projects that continued from last year. Last year, in July-December 2020, I had already spent 610 hours advancing 3 of the top 6 research projects this year in terms of time commitment. In 2021, one of these continuing projects on online learning platforms was accepted for publication at the Journal of Marketing Research. Two were rejected in advanced rounds, and subsequently received an opportunity to revise at other journals (note to self: never give up).
Interestingly, the research that I spent most time on took up about 37% of my effort this year. It has recently resulted in its first complete draft (coming soon). It also happens to be a paper about the privacy implications of tracking granular mobility data.
Now onto the tracked data from my other big commitment of 2021 -- health and fitness. I completed over 250 hours of workouts this year!
My breakdown from the last 6 months shows that I spent 117 hours spent working out between July-December. Of these, more than 50 hours were at Orangetheory fitness, a popular group fitness class comprising treadmill, rowing and strength training intervals. In addition, I spent about 58 hours doing heavier weightlifting, with 60% lower body training. I have been going to group fitness classes for more than 10 years but this year, for the first time, I stepped under the barbell, going from body weight squats to over 160lbs barbell back squats in just a few months.
Since I also track my calorie consumption, what surprised me most was that I wasn’t eating any differently on my cardio vs. strength days, or upper vs. lower body days. The box plot below shows that I consumed very similar amount of total calories irrespective of the kind of workout I had that day. I'm curious to see how this split varies by macros, since I do make an effort to consume more carbs on lower body/heavier lifting days and keep carbs low on other days.
Results? Overall, it was quite rewarding to see that I started this year at 160lbs and closed it just under 140lbs with a 7% drop in body fat (between June and November).
Did tracking everything cause me to be more productive or get more in shape? I’ll leave that question for a future paper once I can figure out an identification strategy. For now, enjoying the descriptives and looking forward to continuing the tracking trajectory in 2022!
How I collected these data
Time spent on research projects: I use a mobile/web tool called Toggl that allows me to set up various categories of projects I work on. All I have to do is hit play when I begin working on a project and pause when I stop. Most of the times, I do remember to track it. If I forget to stop it, Toggl sends me a timely email nudge to go in and pause it, so I guess with some accuracy what time I stopped working. For the most part, I can correctly see where my time is going with some margin of error, of course.
Fitness data: I use a combination of apps to track my fitness journey, including MyFitnessPal for nutrition, the Orangetheory app and heart rate monitor for OTF workouts, and my own filming skills (iphone camera, really) to keep track of non-OTF strength workouts.
On June 16, 2021, I completed my first year at the Gies College of Business. It is hard to bucket this year’s “life lessons” into logical themes but I will try my best to make this relevant for other junior faculty and PhD students.
When I asked a few new assistant professors how their work and life changed when they went on from their PhD to their jobs, here are a few things they said:
My perspective and mindset, like with most things, was quite different on this topic.
The major changes I noticed were: (a) New institution: I was now part of a whole new university system, a new business school, new department (duh!), (b) More resources: I had a lot more resources for my research and needed to learn the skills to best use them, and (c) Citizen Unnati: I was a citizen of my department in a bigger way and had a responsibility towards colleagues and also students who were either taking courses or working with me.
Here is how these not-so-groundbreaking observations helped me in my first year as an assistant professor:
(a) New institution
(b) More resources
(c) Citizen Unnati
Overall, my first year as a junior faculty pushed me to reframe my role, learn new skills, get to know amazing people at my school, and influence students in addition to focusing on my own research as I did during my PhD years. How was your experience?
(This article originally appeared on https://giesbusiness.illinois.edu/news/2020/11/25/sony-s-playstation-5-or-xbox-series-x-backward-compatibility-with-older-games-plays-into-console-wars)
Sony and Microsoft have both upped their game with the release of their latest consoles, PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X this November. However, when it comes to backward compatibility with previous generation games, Microsoft’s Xbox has a head start.
“While PS5 is compatible with 99% of the games for PS4, the previous generation console, Xbox Series X goes far back with its backward compatibility feature. It spans multiple generations of games from the original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One,” said Unnati Narang, assistant professor of marketing at Gies Business.
In a recent paper she co-wrote, Narang examines the effect of Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature on its previous and new generation games. “What we found in our research is that when Xbox One allowed compatibility with older Xbox 360 games in November 2015, the unit sales for the old console games decreased, but the revenues from both old and new generation console games increased. The revenue lifts came largely from more popular games,” added Narang.
So, not all games benefit equally from backward compatibility?
“The selective launch of compatibility for some games allowed us to understand these effects at the game level,” said Narang. “High-selling games, games with an ESRB rating of E (everyone), action games, and those with high user ratings proved to be the primary beneficiaries of backward compatibility among the older generation games."
Narang and her co-author Venky Shankar also examined the spillovers to new-generation console games. In other words, what explained the positive impact of Xbox One’s backward compatibility on its own (new) games?
The research used detailed data on individual gamers’ game and console purchases over three years, 2014-2017, from a large gaming retailer to understand the potential explanations for the spillovers. “The data revealed that those who already owned backward compatible games before 2015 were twice as likely to upgrade to the new console. Since these preowners no longer needed to buy old games they already owned, they also had more spending capacity to buy the new console games due to a budget effect,” Narang explained.
Narang’s research shows that the effects of backward compatibility, although positive overall, may not apply evenly to all games and buyers. Managers should strategically launch backward compatibility based on their likely impact on sales as well as customer expectations.
Unlike the Xbox, for PS5 most games are covered under backward compatibility with only a very short list of excluded games. “What we are seeing now is a move toward standardization in the gaming industry for backward compatibility. Competition between rival platforms often results in these standard wars,” says Narang.
What does it mean for the future of console wars and the role of backward compatibility? “Console makers and publishers need to appreciate the complexity of the backward compatibility decision. New considerations, such as availability of multiple generations of games on the new console, playability on online gaming networks, and compatibility of disc and digital versions, will play a critical role going forward. PS5, for example, launched with a digital edition of the console, which isn’t compatible with the PS4 discs,” added Narang.
I enjoyed talking to our media folks @ Gies about my mobile marketing research, what got me thinking about a PhD 7 years ago, and the next steps in my academic life.
Interested? Read more on Gies News.
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