Before coming to Wharton, Andrew Boysen worked at a technology company experiencing rapid growth and change. In order to get up to speed quickly with each new team or project, he turned to academic research to shorten the learning curve.
“Eventually I decided that I would rather produce research, and answer some of my own questions, than simply be a consumer of it,” Andrew said.
Faculty and Location Put Wharton Above the Rest
Andrew came to the program with a lot of different questions, and a lot of uncertainty about how exactly he wanted to answer those questions. A lot of PhD programs in management or strategy take a single-discipline approach to answering questions, whether relying primarily on economics or sociology, and his applied undergraduate studies and varied professional background didn’t give him a clear picture of which of those approaches would be best for him.
“The breadth of faculty in my department really gave me an opportunity to learn about and explore different approaches, while allowing me the time to figure out who exactly I wanted to be as a scholar,” he said. “On top of the great fit, I was also moving with my spouse, and the very reasonable stipend and cost of living in Philadelphia were also a big draw.”
Making the Transition to Academic Life
Andrew found some changes much easier than he expected. He and his wife sold their house, and his income fell by more than two-thirds. “This was one of his bigger concerns about returning to school, but it was actually a very smooth transition,” he said. “Students in the program are able to live in quality housing while still enjoying the great food this city offers, and even traveling for the occasional vacation.”
Andrew has also seen a major change in his outlook on life. “People constantly develop theories about the world around them, but don’t always recognize this fact, or think about how to test those theories,” he said.
“Whether we’re talking about the best ice cream in town, or diminishing returns to better lodging during conferences, I start with the premise that it’s an empirical question. Then we can discuss the assumptions behind beliefs, and think about whether and how to test those assumptions. Fortunately, this is a community where that’s not too weird, and can be really fun.”
Bringing Work Experience into Research and Teaching
While Andrew is interested in technology strategy and innovation, he comes from a background in enterprise technology and is studying competition in consumer technology for his dissertation. “Right now my background serves primarily as a reality check on the potential boundary conditions of the theories I am building,” he said. “When looking at competition between substitute technologies, I make sure to think about what might change if marginal costs were very low, or switching costs very high.”
In Andrew’s work as a teaching assistant, there is a lot of interest in technology competition and high tech industries in the classroom. “My work experiences really help me pull out examples of concepts that people can connect with, and also allow me to speak about the messiness and complexity of life in organizations, which can’t be ignored when thinking about how to apply textbook strategies to the real world,” he said. “I’ve really had a lot of fun discussing various ideas with students, and I hope my experiences have been valuable for them as well.”
Collaborative Relationships and Exceptional Resources
Andrew has taken advantage of the wide-ranging resources within Wharton and across the University, but Wharton Computing’s Research IT team is one of his favorites. “It provides access to data and high-powered computing resources that are invaluable for my work,” he said. “Using the high performance computing cluster, I can run computational models or analyze large data sets that might take substantially more time or even be impossible on my personal computer.”
The faculty at Wharton have been the real highlight of the program for Andrew. “I have a very supportive committee and advisor, but the openness and helpfulness of everybody else is perhaps even more surprising,” he said. “They’re always willing to take time to discuss research ideas, provide advice on life in academia, or just talk about what is going on in life, despite not having any formalized relationship with me.”
Andrew has also had a great experience working with his committee. Andrew said that even though his advisor Prof. Daniel Levinthal is very well known in the field, has additional responsibilities within the department, and even started a new academic journal, he still always had time for him. “At conferences people often speculate that it must be challenging to get on his calendar, but we have often met multiple times a week if that was necessary for me to keep pushing forward,” he said. “Across the board, his committee is filled with brilliant caring people, who will do whatever it takes to help me push my ideas and develop my research to its maximum potential.”
Posted: August 31, 2016