Ten Questions with Jason Thatcher
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, our feature is Jason Bennett Thatcher, Professor of Information Systems in the Department of Management at Clemson University. He is currently President of the Association for Information Systems. He has been active in service roles within the AIS and other IS organizations, has served on the boards of several top IS journals and has been a longtime supporter of doctoral education through workshops at AIS conferences and the ISDSA PhD Project. He has published more than 150 journal papers, book chapters and conference proceedings in a wide range of IS and management outlets. He answers questions about the challenges and opportunities for the IS discipline.
1. Monideepa Tarafdar writes: I would like to ask Professor Jason Thatcher to answer. I’d like to ask Jason, as AIS President, on what he sees are current challenges and opportunities for the IS discipline and what IS doctoral programs need to do, to address them.
Whoa! Big request. Biggest challenges? And what do IS doctoral programs need to do? If I could see into the future, I might be able to map a course for action. BUT, in my opinion, I’m not sure that we have “great challenges”, I think we have “great opportunities”.
- Diversity – the Information Systems field is reinventing itself around research topics, data, and more. I think we have an opportunity to affirm that we are a discipline focused on the intersection of data, technology, and people – and that we embrace the many different ways that we can tackle research questions at the intersection of these topics.
- Global – the Information Systems field is converging on a shared set of global research norms. When I visit campuses, I find that PhD students are equally well-trained – be it in Germany, Hong Kong, or the United States. While there is methodological pluralism, I think we have reached a mature, discipline wide understanding of what constitutes high quality research. What I find exciting about this, is that the old fights over which research paradigm is the best paradigm seem to have subsided, the conversations now seem to be more about is this interesting? And what is new?
- Relevance – While some may grumble that Information Systems’ journals are not applied enough, when I listen to the stories about where, why or how studies are conducted, they are generally driven by an interest in solving a real-world problem. That our community has retained this focus, while growing increasingly rigorous is encouraging. While this focus may not always appear in the published papers, I think this spirit is pervasive across the field.
- Visibility - The field is increasingly visible – in industry and policy arenas. We have scholars participating in ISO and standard setting, Davos, appearing on the BBC and CNN, and consulting with industry/government/non-profits. That our community is sought after by external stakeholders, is encouraging. As a community, we need to celebrate these successes and set the stage for more successes to come.
2. In your opinion, what makes a person a good academic collaborator?
They laugh. I like working with people who enjoy the work, who see the irony when projects go awry, and who make me see the lighter side of life. While research is serious business, it does not have to be unpleasant or grim.
3. You have collaborated across time zones, disciplines, etc. What advice can you share with the community on how best to manage relationships with co-authors?
I’ve benefited from amazing collaborators – who compensate for my lack of organization, over-commitment, or failure to meet deadlines. So advice, for how to keep amazing collaborators?
- Be up front about your ability to work. I tend to start too many projects. I am invited to participate in many projects. I usually tell people that I don’t have a lot of time and to be patient. Sometimes, it works. Other times it doesn’t.
- Give credit to your co-authors. I view my record as a direct function of the generosity of my co-authors. While we all contribute ideas and time, they really keep the projects moving. I’m very appreciative of their time and support on projects.
- Be quick and polite in responses. Hiding from emails from co-authors – even if you are behind – doesn’t help. People appreciate knowing that you received messages, that you thank them for their work, and simple gestures of kindness.
- Work with your friends. You don’t have to work with every co-author more than once. Sometimes, you find through a project, that you really don’t enjoy the process of working with someone. Form a core group of people that you enjoy working with, then work with them again and again.
4. What do you consider the most interesting research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
I’m usually wrong about what is “next.” I am interested in topics at the intersection of individual decision making and technology. I find inquiry focused on how individuals’ respond/interact/withdraw from using technologies fascinating. I’m interested in how new technologies or information made available by ICT shape individual decisions and organizational processes.
5. Given your educational background in history, political science and public administration, how did you end up in the Information Systems field?
While I had been studying information systems in a public administration PhD program, I was drawn into the broader information systems community through the efforts of the faculty at FSU (with an assist by Allen Lee). I stumbled into the IS coursework when Bob Zmud suggested I take a course from Vallabh Sambamurthy. Samba then suggested that I take a class from Joey George. Joey George then invited me to attend a colloquium by Allen Lee. Be it coursework or presentations, I was impressed by the systematic, thoughtful inquiry into real problems of real organizations. I was also impressed that the faculty cared about doctoral students. At the end of the year, Samba recruited me into the FSU doctoral program. While my entry into IS was accidental, I’ve modelled my career after Zmud, Samba, George and Lee – do good work, be kind to doc students, and be a steward for the community.
6. What have you observed to be a major determinant of the productivity and research quality of doctoral students?
Work ethic. Often the smartest doc students, are not the best doc students. Students who are conscientious, hardworking, and engaged seem to produce the most, and highest quality, work.
7. With respect to your career, if you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Why?
I’m really happy with my professional life – I’ve had a few lucky breaks at journals, have had amazing opportunities to contribute to the community through service, and love my students. So, there really is not that much I would change in my career.
However, I would, if I could go back ten years, work harder to balance my work with my personal life. I would be more balanced. I look at my daughter – and sometimes – I think where did the time go? I’ve worked hard the past couple of years – to make up for lost time – being a father is my most rewarding job.
8. What community has visibly influenced your career? How can doctoral students and other IS researchers become part of this community?
I’m sort of a workaholic. So for me, the highest impact experiences, have been lessons or reminders of the need to slow down and enjoy the experience. My time spent interacting with scholars in Scandinavia taught me a tremendous amount about balance. I learned a lot about how one can juggle family, friends, teaching and research from my colleagues. Those lessons were affirmed when I visited Asia – where I was impressed by the commitment to scholarship – but also friendship, food, and family.
9. What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS/AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS/PACIS/etc.)?
There really isn’t just one. I have had so many remarkable experiences while attending conferences, usually away from the conference venue – swimming in the Dead Sea with Sandy Slaughter, singing karaoke with Christy Cheung, Sophia Bo Xiao and the food gang at PACIS in Singapore, eating shwarma with Daniel Veit late at night in Istanbul, dancing until the sun came up with German and Swedish colleagues in Muenster, sitting with doctoral students from all three regions under the stars on the top of a high rise in Chiayi. While I go to the conferences to learn, I usually leave with new friends – and those are my favorite memories.
10. What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?
Time with PhD students. When I give talks or visit campuses, I usually get to spend an hour or two with PhD students. While I love hanging out with my faculty friends, fielding questions, jokes, and concerns expressed by students is really rewarding. I’ve enjoyed my work with PhD students through the KPMG PhD Project. Through participating in research seminars at TU-Munich, ITU-Copenhagen, Hong Kong Baptist University, City U in Hong Kong, University of Oklahoma, Michigan State University, Baylor University and more – I’ve had a great chance to get to know the next generation of scholars.
Finally: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her/his thoughts on?
Alok Gupta. He is one of the most balanced, reasonable scholars that I know. How does he do it? How does he juggle associate dean? Journal editor? Author? Father? And Husband? Also, what keeps him engaged? Alok has hit a lot of home runs over the years, and the hits keep coming.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, view more information about the column, a list of past features and links to past interviews here. http://agogodavid.com/ais-10-questions-with/