Ten Questions with Varun Grover
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, AIS features Varun Grover, the William S. Lee (Duke Energy) Distinguished Professor of IS at Clemson University. He has published extensively in the information systems field, with over 200 publications in major refereed journals. Ten articles have ranked him 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in research productivity (among over 4000) researchers in the world in the top six Information Systems journals in the past decade. He answers questions on the state of research in IS, and what that means for doctoral students. You can learn more about him from www.varungrover.com
1. In a recently co-authored issues and opinion paper in MISQ, you call in a provocative and compelling way for a “Push to the Edges” in IS research. In the paper, you provide several recommendations for modified behavior that should improve the state of theorizing and innovativeness in the field. What has been the response among senior IS scholars (especially)?
The response has been positive. We thoroughly vetted the ideas through presentations at various universities and at a number of ICIS panels and benefitted from some great feedback. I think that there is an increasing recognition among senior scholars that IS research has done well, but needs to do something different to take advantage of the opportunities to study important problems in today’s digital environment. Our paper sheds light on one important way of looking at how we can do this.
2. What can doctoral students and junior faculty, accustomed to ‘the script’, do to exert greater influence on the culture of IS? How can our naiveté help?
It’s tough to change a culture and value system that has been ingrained in the field over many years – particularly when we observe the clear improvement in the quality of work published in top journals as measured by traditional metrics of rigor. It is even more difficult for doctoral students and junior faculty that have institutional structures (i.e., the way doctoral students are trained, tenure) that do not encourage deviation from the script. However, as we discuss in the paper, there are small steps we can take as individual researchers in selecting research problems (that matter), being more aggressive with theory and data, and more sensitive to creating interventions.
3. You have a remarkable track record of working with and advising doctoral students. What habit(s) shape the productivity and research quality of doctoral students and faculty you know?
I have been fortunate to have had a variety of incredible experiences over the past 26 odd years with doctoral students. Every experience has been different, and I have learnt that cultivating a rich and productive relationship often requires different sensitivity to the student’s strengths, weaknesses, working style and personality. Periodically, I try to document my experience in the form of guidance for students. This includes guidance on alleviating mistakes in the doctoral program, managing the program stages, managing the advisor, creating a schema for the field, putting on a good job talk, networking etc. I also discuss the different archetypes of students. These readings can be found at
4. Do you see executive doctoral education as a major “market” for business education in the future?
I do. Such programs serve important needs for working executives who want to make a difference through creation of new knowledge, or who want to have the tools to engage deeply with applied problems – or even those that want to transition into part-time or full time teaching. I think that the number of executive who want these enhanced skills or need them (for teaching) is going to continue to grow. While programs will differ on how close they are to the traditional full time PhD, I think that there is a critical mass of programs now that have found their sweet spot and are doing well.
5. What do you consider the most interesting research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
What is fascinating to me is the substitution or augmentation of man and machine. With increasing automation and digital technologies increasingly replacing jobs with a heavy information component, the question of how humans and machines will co-exist and what any new equilibrium will look like. Co-creation of value will not only be business to business co-creation, but also people-machine and people-people co-creation. This broad theme has many interesting research questions that include the positive and negative aspects of digitization on individuals, business and society. We are already seeing research on this, and I think that this theme will evolve well beyond 5 years.
6. Can you share one of your favorite sayings or quotes with our readers?
It’s folksy, but I like Nike’s ad slogan – “Just do it.”
7. If you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
This might sound a bit haughty, but I think I got things too fast in the early part of my career. I was promoted to full professor less than 8 years after graduation. I think I should have enjoyed junior faculty life and being in the background a bit more than I did.
8. What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS/AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS/PACIS/etc.)?
ICIS in Pittsburgh when I was a doctoral student where I had the responsibility and privilege of driving a group of prominent faculty (McFarlan, Ginzberg) from the airport to the doctoral consortium in a heavy snowstorm! There was a bit of panic in the car when we slid over ice….
9. What is you most rewarding service activity? And why?
The most rewarding to me has always been participation in Doctoral Consortia and MIS Camps (and more recently a mid-career workshop). I feel I am giving back in a meaningful way. There is nothing more satisfying that seeing doctoral students in particular develop and succeed.
10. Finally: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her/his thoughts on?
Arun Rai is taking over as EIC of MIS Quarterly. It would be interesting to hear his views on the state of the field and how he sees MISQ positioned.
David Agogo, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
For questions about this series or suggestions of who you would like to see interviewed, please contact David Agogo
Also, view more information about the column, a list of past features and links to past interviews here.