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  • Writer's pictureNahyun Kim

Aline Gatignon, Assistant Professor, The University of Pennsylvania

“At a very deep personal level, I think impact is how much you can move the needle in terms of doing something to make the world a better place by being here. And the way that you decide to spend your time and your energy and dedicate it to others. You can do that in a lot of different ways as an academic.”

Aline Gatignon, Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School, has worked on cross-sector partnerships and collaborations that are formed to address sustainability issues in emerging markets such as Brazil and India. As a phenomenon-based researcher, Aline’s view is that impact starts from the question “Is there a real-world problem that we can help solve?” In her work, she interacts with various people in the field to identify struggles that organizations face, and she seeks to make a bridge between theory and practice. For Aline, impact is a strong motivation for getting into an academic career in the first place, seeing that academic research is very important and helpful to solve conundrums in the real world.

Creating synergies across research, teaching, and engaging with organizations

Aline believes that generating impact hinges greatly on interconnections between research, teaching, and engaging with practitioners. Aline sees that education is a great channel for impact. In her teaching, Aline brings examples from her fieldwork to the classroom and shares some of the preliminary or ongoing findings with students. In a focused class such as an MBA elective course on stakeholder management and emerging markets, her sharing is highly relevant to a small group of students who already have experience and interest in the topic and are going straight out to the field to work in these areas. In a large class, such as an introductory undergraduate course, Aline tries to touch on different aspects of management and provides more nuanced questions with students to stimulate their thinking by incorporating her work. In mentoring her doctoral students, Aline also gives advice as to how to manage a research project and how to bring diverse topics or research into the classroom.

Besides integrating her research with teaching, Aline believes that disseminating knowledge from academic publications is particularly important in the long run. Aline has worked with different platforms including INSEAD Knowledge and Knowledge@Wharton, and other outlets to create managerial distillations of the findings of her work which are diffused to managers in the field. She views writing pedagogical case studies as another way of generating longer-term impact. “That's helpful for me as I conduct my own research, it's helpful as I go to teach it, it's helpful for others who might want to teach these topics as well. It’s helpful for the organizations who then get to share what they do and other organizations who have similar interests. This multi-pronged approach creates scale in terms of disseminating what we do.”

Immersing in the context

Aline emphasizes that developing good-quality insights through interactions with people and organizations in the field is the key to impactful research. She believes that qualitative insights from the field add considerable value to understanding real issues to be tackled. For example, with her co-authors Julien Clement, Luk N. Van Wassenhove, and Leandro Pongeluppe, Aline worked on a project on access to healthcare for mobile populations at risk of HIV and AIDS across multiple countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. She participated in workshops with clinic managers where she obtained insights about the dynamics of changing relationships in cross-sector partnerships. “In the workshops, I observed some of the preoccupations that managers had, in particular around forming and managing cross-sector partnerships to support their clinics, but also creating relationships internally in an organization that spread out across multiple geographies and trying to apply lessons and best practices across these settings. You're kind of listening to that. It was the impetus for the paper, which is focusing on what's the right configuration of attention to internal and external relationships that will help you actually access these populations that are underserved in resource scarce settings?” In addition, she strives to continue ongoing interactions with managers and organizations to help them learn about the best practices and develop their organizations to achieve those.

Advice for early-career scholars

Aline shares the following advice for junior scholars and Ph.D. students:

  • Don't neglect the field. Connection with the field provides ample opportunities and critical resources although it may take time. Aline noted that “Understanding the field is really important as it is a gold mine in terms of where the questions come from and what kinds of answers you can come up, with and how useful they will be. Even if you're a quantitative researcher, do make sure that you're still talking to people who are facing these problems or questions.”

  • Invest in relationships with co-authors. Aline stresses that relationships with coauthors are an incredible source of happiness, making the work better, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling. It is much more rewarding to solve problems and think carefully about how the project could be interpreted or used together.

  • Believe in what you do.It is really important to believe in what you do, as part of the process of improving our work is a lot of criticism and rejection. Although rejection is difficult and tough, you have to believe in yourself to persevere. But, at the same time, you should go look for feedback as often as possible. Aline views all feedback as valuable, and it is critical to incorporate it to enhance your work to have a positive impact. “If we go back to the field and give people the wrong answers, that's the opposite of impact. You know you have that spark but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be flaws or that you can't fix them. You should see them as kind of ways to make things better as opposed to questioning the validity of what you do.”

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