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What Makes a Great Business School Professor?

Posted in Test Prep on February 23, 2011 by

Katherine Phillips
Katherine Phillips, Kellogg Professor

With all the emphasis placed on b-school admissions, job interviews, and networking, it can be easy for prospective students to forget the real point of b-school: to study business.

Top business schools offer more than just access to prestigious recruiters, experiential learning opportunities, and a class of talented peers. They offer the opportunity to study under some of the most accomplished and dynamic professors in the world.

So what does it take to be a great teacher of business?

Poets and Quants surveyed students, faculty, and alumni at the world’s finest b-schools to come up with a list of The World’s 40 Best B-School Profs Under the Age of 40. Hailing from Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, HBS, Wharton, Kellogg, Duke Fuqua, and other fine institutions, these world-class educators teach the core business disciplines – finance, operations, accounting, marketing, leadership, and strategy.

Some are barely 30. Some have received honors such as the Nasdaq Award, the Goldman Sachs Asset Management Prize, and the Barclay’s Global Investors Prize. Others have had interesting life experiences (one is a filmmaker on the side, another used to be a trapeze artist). Almost all have received awards for teaching excellence.

What qualities do they have in common? Wit, charisma, and the ability to pull students out of their comfort zone. Their classrooms are bursting with lively and proactive discussions, and students often emerge from them with greater self-awareness and the ability to grasp the complexities of real-world business situations. On top of all this, outstanding business professors are fantastic one-on-one mentors who care about their students’ professional development. They often have innovative ways of using technology in their classrooms and a knack for generating hands-on learning opportunities.

According to Poets and Quants, here’s what some students had to say about their professors:

On Professor John Ackerman, Assistant Professor of Marketing, MIT Sloan:

“Professor Ackerman’s classes are galloping adventures through the amusing, quirky, irrational bits of the human mind as it navigates consumption and marketing decisions. His amazing breadth of knowledge on consumer behavior and psychology unfurls relentlessly in every class, as he runs quirky in-class experiments, cites findings both recent and classic, and explains theory and practice with a mild-mannered yet gripping authority. The class material is so fascinating that it attracts an incredible amount of class participation and many, many ‘smaht’ questions – which he calmly answers, or parries, with signature wit. His class is destined to become a classic, and I’m glad I was there.” – Lu-Fong Chua, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2012

On Professor Katherine Phillips, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Business:

“What sets Professor Phillips apart in the classroom, and makes her class a great way to start the Kellogg experience, is her dynamic nature, relatable style and deep understanding of the value of diverse perspectives. She often incorporates real-world examples from her professional and personal life in her teaching:  flashing up pictures of her husband and two children as she’s discussing negotiations strategy or telling stories about walking the long way around the academic building as a Stanford PhD student to maximize networking opportunities. Outside the classroom, Professor Phillips is generous with her time in supporting student initiatives. She’s served as a speaker and advisor to the Women’s Business Association on the topics of mentorship and inclusion. Her engaging teaching style and commitment beyond the classroom make her an incredible resource for Kellogg students and an asset to the school.” – Ashlee A. Miller, Kellogg MBA Class of 2011

What this means for you. If you’re applying to business school this spring or next fall, spend some time thinking about the kind of curriculum you want to define your MBA experience. Do you enjoy lecture or case-based instruction (or a mix of both teaching styles)? It’s often a good idea to familiarize yourself with the course offerings and professors at various programs. While Poets and Quants’ list is a great place to start your research, be sure to make some inquiries of your own. At b-school information sessions, ask current students to discuss their particular experiences in the classroom–which professors and classes they enjoy most, their process around shaping a course of study, etc. Remember: great professors can be found at business schools around the country. If you have an interest in a particular area of business, be sure to check out your dream b-school’s faculty and course offerings in that subject area, before you apply or accept an offer to attend!