Ten Questions with Brian Pentland
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, the AIS Insider features Brian Pentland, a Professor of Accounting and Information Systems at Michigan State University. His publications have appeared in the Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Information and Organization, Management Science, MIS Quarterly, Organization Science, Organization Studies, and elsewhere. Aside from his engagement in research and teaching, Professor Pentland is a prolific songwriter and musician. He began playing rock and roll while attending Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and he has been playing in basement bands off and on ever since. Under the moniker Doctor Decade, he has penned and performed catchy songs inspired by academic life with titles such as “big data”, “sociomateriality”, “office hours” and “let’s go to a conference”. You can learn more about him and listen to his music at Doctor Decade.
1. At the ICIS 2015 Senior Scholars Slam, you had the entire audience in excited cheers after you delivered your introduction with a rap, complete with rhymes. Can you tell us about the origin of Doctor Decade and this remarkable dual career you have created?
I’ve played in bands since high school, but I started writing songs a few years ago, more or less by accident. I was chaperoning my son and niece at the 2012 VidCon in Anaheim. VidCon is basically a YouTube fan event, so there were all these tween-age kids walking around, holding their phones in front of them, making video-selfies to post on their YouTube channels. That inspired songs like “I wanna go viral,” “Fame makes people famous,” “Retweet it,” and some of my other social media songs. The songs about academia, like “Sociomateriality,” “Vampires on our Editorial Boards,” and "Reject and Resubmit" were inspired by my day job, of course. The good songs just write themselves. But it's just a hobby, really.
2. How do your students, other faculty and your friends outside academia respond to Doctor Decade? Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share?
For the most part, nobody pays any attention. For the last few years, I have been performing at the College of Business Alumni tailgate tent. The tent is set up right outside Spartan Stadium, before all of the home football games, so a lot of people see me play, but it's just background noise -- they are they to see the football game. Then, much to my surprise, the MSU Executive MBA program website started featuring Doctor Decade on their home page. It seems to imply that having a sarcastic songwriter for a professor is a good thing.
3. While network science is recently gaining popularity due to the prevalence of online social networks, you have been conducting research in this area for decades. What initially drew you to this perspective, and what kept you interested?
Great question, but just to be clear, I have never studied social networks. I have been working on action networks: putting actions in the foreground and actors in the background. Networks provide a convenient representation for action patterns, and action patterns are a fundamental aspect of the social world, but often overlooked. I’ve been at it for more than 20 years but I feel like I’m just getting started.
4. In your opinion, what academic disciplines should IS researchers most seek to learn from to better understand and study complexity and the various properties of networks?
I would say graph theory.
5. What do you consider the most important research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
I think that research using sequential data and digital trace data is the most interesting thing on the horizon.
6. What have you observed to be a major determinant of the productivity and research quality of doctoral students?
For scholars at any career stage, the number one determinant of productivity is the ability to write well. That's why I wrote the song quoted in the answer to the next question...
7. Can you share one of your favorite sayings or quotes with our readers?
Forget about the fictional facts that you learned in school
Forget the computational stacks and statistical tools
Don't fill your sack with those plastic jewels
'Cuz in the end, the Writing Rules.
- Doctor Decade, Writing Rules.
8. With respect to your career, if you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Why?
I am not a person who has done a lot of career planning or strategizing. I have mostly just been lucky. I would not have done anything differently, and it's hard for me to imagine being more lucky.
9. What community has visibly influenced your career? How can doctoral students and other IS researchers become part of this community?
The IFIP Working Group 8.2 community was very influential early on. It might not be that visible in my career, but that group was extremely welcoming, thoughtful, and eclectic. There were lots of good role models there.
10. Tell us something very few people know about you?
I also play drums.
Finally: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her/his thoughts on?
Youngjin Yoo: What is your favorite thing about airports?
Natalia Levina: What is your favorite thing about living in New York?
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.