Ten Questions with Monideepa Tarafdar
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, the AIS InSider features Monideepa Tarafdar, Professor of Information Systems at Lancaster University (Management School) in the United Kingdom. She is currently Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research for 2016 and a Leverhulme Research Fellow (United Kingdom) during 2017-2018.
At Lancaster University she co-directs the High-Wire doctoral program, an interdisciplinary doctoral program across the Schools of Management, Computing and Communication, and Design. She is also a Senior Editor at Information Systems Journal. You can learn more about her work from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/lums/people/monideepa-tarafdar
1. Robert Davison writes: I would like to invite Monideepa Tarafdar to answer. Monideepa is a remarkable boundary spanner between India, the US and now the UK. I’d like her to talk about how she reconciles the very different systems of values that pertain in these different contexts as she makes sense of her own life and values as a researcher.
‘Boundary spanning’ - aha! The word ‘boundary’ has an etymology in the French ‘limite’, the Latin ‘limitem’, the Sanskrit ‘seema’. They all signify the notion of a ‘limit’. ‘Span’ derives from Dutch/old English ‘spannan’ and old German ‘spannen’, all alluding to stretching, joining, connecting or extending. To me therefore, boundary spanning means pushing the limits and frontiers of what I know, by reaching out and connecting to things that I do not know or know differently.
Boundary spanning across the academic/scholarly systems in the US, India, and the UK has been interesting and rewarding for the following reasons. One, I have learned about different ways of looking at knowledge and knowing, that is, what we research and how we research it. Two, it has repeatedly pushed me out of my comfort zone in order to understand different scholarly traditions and the values they embody. And three, it has been helpful in finding what I value as core, to my own scholarship. Stepping back a bit and looking at the big picture, the first keeps you pushing the frontiers of what you know, the second develops in you empathy for different types of research questions and research methods, and the third increases your confidence, passion and guts to really go at the questions you find are interesting.
Why is this important? Many research questions we tackle today are not confined to disciplinary or geographic silos. We work with colleagues from different research traditions, subject-areas, and countries. You don’t have to agree with all the different things but you do need to (1) understand why they are there; (2) be mindful of and tackle your own biases; and (3) work collaboratively to get the project done. Boundary spanning gives you the tools to make this happen.
2. The “dark side of IT” is a research area you are well known for. What led you into this area and what are some challenges you have had to deal with in getting this research published?
Technology is neither inherently good nor bad. Its use emerges from an enmeshing of its properties, and our own values and choices as individuals and collectives. So it has all kinds of sides – dark, bright and all shades in between. Shoshana Zuboff’s writings have been very inspiring for me. As the technology and the nature of our use of it changes, new phenomenon emerge. At the time we did our first studies on technostress about ten years ago, something new (for that time) was happening – people were starting to be 24/7 connected, frantically checking work email while on holiday, and getting stressed and angry about it – those sorts of things. I was fortunate to have as colleagues and co-authors, a set of serious scholars who were keen to explore. In terms of challenges, since these phenomenon were relatively new, it was difficult to situate them in a large base of existing literature. The papers benefited greatly from forward-looking and constructive reviewers and editors. Going forward, as we see more devices and applications with possibilities of new ways of use, dark side phenomena will also evolve, both at the organizational and societal levels. As researchers, authors, reviewers and editors, we will need to be open-minded.
3. What are some new trends in the technology industry and IS research that you are excited about?
While every technology has potentially something different, it is important not to get swayed unduly just by trends or their hype. There are things we have learned over the past 40 – 50 years that are enduring and fundamental. What I find interesting in the current times is that information systems are interwoven into some of the big questions of our age –energy, refugees, social inequalities, unemployment from artificial intelligence driven automation, and wellbeing. This presents an exciting opportunity for us to bring value to the investigation of these phenomena – all of which span multiple disciplines, are global in scope, and are hugely complex. To go back to the first question you asked – boundary spanning helps!
4. In your opinion, what are some of the most important research areas with the potential for lasting global impact that are being ignored by IS researchers?
This has been a long standing dialectic in our field – whether the research questions should converge tightly around the technology or whether a thousand flowers should bloom. I am not sure if there is a winner in that debate, but I do think that we as a field are more diverse than many of the other management disciplines. We have numerous and a growing number of different sub-fields, as evidenced for example, in the conceptual breadth of our conference tracks, conferences, and SIGs. So I don’t think we are seriously ignoring any area as such. While it is great to be able to study a constant stream of new topics, to go back to my answer to your previous question, we should also remember, and intelligently and sensibly apply what we do know. For example, we know a lot about IT-enabled process transformation that can inform the study of energy related topics.
5. Currently, what is your favorite class to teach? And why?
The IS core class in the MBA has been a favorite. It provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the relevance and essential-ness of IS for organizations. You have people in the class from all sorts of backgrounds, many of them utter skeptics with regard to IS. It is not the easiest of classes to teach, but it can be a lot of fun.
6. What have you observed to be a major determinant of the productivity and research quality of doctoral students?
You need R2-D2! The two R’s – reading and reflection, and the two D’s - dialog and dialectic, that is, talking to people who think similarly as well as differently. R2-D2 helps you investigate interesting and relevant research questions through rigorous research designs.
Research productivity depends on creating content that is valued by the journals that are valued in the discipline. It is important to know how the process of scholarly publication works - which journals, what kinds of research they publish, the peer review process and opportunities for special issues. Beyond these basics, it is also important to seek out and learn from those who do it well, and talk to editors and senior scholars.
7. Can you share one of your favorite sayings or quotes with our readers?
I am inspired by those who write and talk about searching, traveling, exploring, and drawing from the roots - in order to know about the phenomenon around them. Henry David Thoreau – live the life you imagined, Star Trek Voice - to boldly go where no one has gone before, Rabindranath Tagore talks of a place - where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit, and Dorothy - there is no place like home.
8. What community has visibly influenced your career? How can doctoral students and other IS researchers become part of this community?
The AIS is a great community of opportunity and support. Scholarship, as we practice it, needs both interaction and reflection. Doctoral students should find early on, a discipline-based community (e.g. AIS, AOM, DSI, INFORMS) that aligns most closely with their work and where they can test out their thinking and get to know who is doing what. But even beyond that, what sustains high quality scholarship is honest collegiality and frank counsel. It is important to have colleagues and friends who will tell you like it is, and help shape your ideas – its richer and more interesting that way. So go far, go wide, make friends and seek out colleagues, have fun.
9. What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS/AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS/PACIS/etc.)?
The keynote speech at the 2015 Fort Worth ICIS by Prof. Warren McFarlan. A classic and stirring aide-mémoire of what the IS discipline is about.
10. What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?
That of reviewing and editing. Getting to the heart of a paper, helping shape it. Everyone involved –authors, editors, reviewers - benefits and learns.
Finally: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her/his thoughts on? (Please list two or more questions for each person)
Current Senior Editors of MIS Quarterly and Information Systems Research who are women – Profs Radhika Santhanam, Sulin Ba, Manju Ahuja, Susan Brown, Dorothy Leidner, Sirkka Jarvenpaa, Sue Newell, Emmanuelle Vaast, and the current EIC of Information Systems Research Prof. Ritu Agarwal - on what their journey has been like and what learnings they would want to pass on.
Jason Thatcher, current AIS President, on what IS doctoral programs could do, to address current challenges and opportunities facing the IS discipline.
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 the full interviews here. http://agogodavid.com/ais-10-questions-with/