Professor Emeritus Kimberly Elsbach Honored by Peers for Scholarship, Research, Mentorship

Fireside chat with this year’s Journal of Management Inquiry Scholar

Consummate scholars are not made in a day or a year. There is passion and endless toil that builds scholars like Professor Emeritus Kimberly Elsbach of the Graduate School of Management (GSM). And then there is discipline—developing a natural rhythm that makes it all look easy to an outsider.

Whether being recognized as a Fellow of the Academy of Management—one of the highest honors bestowed upon a scholar in the management discipline—or being feted by UC Davis MBA students as their favorite professor multiple times—the perennial smile and let-me-help attitude of Professor Elsbach has endeared her to her colleagues in academia, and the staff and students at the GSM.

We celebrate her latest honor as the 2023 JMI Scholar sponsored by the Western Academy of Management (WAM) and the Journal of Management Inquiry.

The JMI Scholar award recognizes WAM members who have distinguished themselves over the course of their careers, have a reputation for mentoring successful researchers and have personal qualities that enhance the academy’s culture.

At WAM’s annual meeting in Reno, Nevada, on March 22, 2023, Professor Elsbach joined a fireside chat moderated by Professor Antoaneta Petkova of San Francisco State University and the president of WAM.

Professor Kimberly Elsbach Fireside Chat at WAM 2023 Reno
Professor Emeritus Kimberly Elsbach (left) shares about her academic career at the Western Academy of Management (WAM) conference in Reno. Professor Antoaneta Petkova of San Francisco State University and the president of WAM moderated the fireside chat.

We’d like to share an excerpt from their fireside chat: 

Petkova: Would you please share with us your origin story. How did you get into academia? When and why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.? Was this one of your childhood dreams?

Elsbach: My father was a professor at a medical school, and I always thought he had a great job and lifestyle. But I had no clue what I wanted to do. I went into engineering because everyone told me I could get a job with an engineering degree. After earning a master’s in engineering, I was working at Quaker Oats, and took a night class in social psychology. It changed my life. I knew what I wanted to do—study human behavior in the workplace. So, the short answer is, “no,” it wasn’t a childhood dream, but a lucky set of circumstances.

What do you like most about our profession?

I love two things: getting to study what I’m interested in and getting to pass that on to students.

Where did you get your first academic position and what attracted you to that school/university?

My first academic job was at Emory University. It was in the warmest climate of any school that offered me a job.

What attracted you to your current school/university?

I wanted to live in Northern California, and did my Ph.D. at Stanford. Love the culture, the climate, and entrepreneurial spirit of people in Nor Cal. Love the family vibe at UC Davis.

You have been impressively productive and creative in your research. How do you sustain such high levels of productivity over time? Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your research?

I am always working on multiple studies simultaneously. You never know what’s going to pan out and what isn’t, and you also don’t know how long something might take when you first start—at least I don’t. I also always say “yes” when someone asks me to join them on a study, write a book chapter or read a manuscript. I joke that all my research ideas come from TV, but in fact, that’s pretty close to the truth. When I see something interesting on TV, I start to ask questions and that leads me to formulate research questions.

Professor Kimberly Elsbach Awarded JMI Scholar award at WAM 2023 Reno
At the WAM 2023 conference, Elsbach accepts the JMI Scholar award from Lori Peterson, WAM 2023 president elect and program chair.

What are you most proud of in your career so far? What do you see as your greatest accomplishments?

I’m most proud of building a community of qualitative scholars through the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s Qualitative Research Conference. I co-founded it with Professor Emeritus Nicole Biggart in 2001, and Professor Beth Bechky joined in 2003. It has been going on for over 25 years now, and the community is hundreds of scholars strong.

How do you manage the multiple demands on your time? Do you have specific strategies to stay on top of everything on a daily basis?

I have certain things I do every day, first thing. For research, I write for an hour, at least and call one person related to a field study I am doing to schedule an interview or talk to an expert. For teaching, I read papers on topic I’m teaching about at least once a week. For administrative responsibilities, I do that in the evening, when I’m too tired to think about research.

How do you spend your spare time? What are your favorite people, activities or hobbies?

I spend all my spare time at the swimming pool—either swimming, coaching or teaching Adult Learn to Swim. Open water swimming is my passion and teaching adults to swim who are terrified of the water has been hugely rewarding.

What else would you like to share with us?

I think if I was to give one piece of advice to a junior scholar or doctoral student, it would be “always say yes.”  I’ve never regretted it—except maybe that one time I tried smoked walrus in Canada.