Academic journeys and collaborative pursuits: Faculty in conversation

Raji and Nazli
Raji and Nazli

Raji Jayaraman is an associate professor of economics and the academic director of the FUTURE Institute for Sustainable Transformation at ESMT. She joined ESMT in 2007. Nazlı Sönmez joined ESMT as an assistant professor of management science just this year. The two share their thoughts on academia, research, and collaboration in the making of their careers. 

Please tell us about yourself, your role, and your area of expertise.  

Raji: I’ve been at ESMT since the summer of 2007. My research is in labor economics and development economics. I work with data to answer questions related to the effect of various types of policies on labor market and education outcomes, especially for women and children. And I teach data analytics, econometrics, and sustainability in our degree programs. For the past three years, I have been at the University of Toronto and I am now back at ESMT. In addition to my teaching and research, I am now the academic director of the FUTURE Institute for Sustainable Transformation.  

Nazlı: I joined ESMT in August last year. Before that, I did my PhD in operations management at London Business School, and I worked as an assistant professor at Bilkent University Faculty of Business Administration for one year. My research is mainly on different operational innovations in healthcare, as well as empirical work, so I investigate different ways of healthcare delivery and their impact on hospital operations. For the ESMT MIM program, I will teach operations management. 

What made you choose ESMT? What did the chance to work at ESMT represent for you? 

Raji: Coming to ESMT was first luck and second insistence. We lived in Munich back then, and my husband got a job offer at the Charité in Berlin. So, I looked around at places in Berlin and was delighted to find ESMT. ESMT is very much on the map now, but it really was not in 2006. Once I came to ESMT, I was sure I wanted to be here. My husband, in the meantime, got cold feet and did not want to move to Berlin. But I had gotten to know ESMT by that stage. So, I learned about ESMT by accident, thanks to my spouse, but came here because it was a fabulous place. And it’s in Berlin. 

Nazlı: For me, ESMT is famous in the operations management field. If you want to stay in Europe as an assistant professor, there are very few top business schools, and ESMT is one of them. Also, after living in London for six years, I wanted to be in a good city, as good as London, if not even better than London. I found Berlin, and Berlin is wonderful. 

You both already mentioned Berlin. What is it like to come and live here – especially compared to other places you have lived in the world? 

Nazlı: I lived in London and Ankara, Turkey, and I can already tell that Berlin is very similar to London. You can just find anything you like. You can go to many concerts, galleries, parks, and restaurants. I like Berlin because you can always find what you are looking for.  

Raji: My parents worked for the UN. I’ve lived in many cities, but Berlin is my favorite city in the world. That’s saying something. It’s livable. It has a great classical music scene, theater, art… Berlin just has everything, and the countryside around Berlin is the most underestimated in Germany. We might not have mountains, but the lakes are fantastic and can be reached by public transportation. I just love the city. 

What do you expect or hope for in the future regarding your professional path at ESMT? 

Raji: I became an academic because I love research. When you are younger, I thought that was how I was going to change the world: through research. As you get older, you realize you do research because you love research. I realized that I probably will not make the big impact I thought of by writing a paper that takes years to write and that few people actually read. The way I am going to make an impact is by taking whatever academic rigor I have and apply it to policy. This is why I am really excited about the FUTURE Institute to get in touch with people who have the power to actually change things, to change things for the better. Of course, the other way you make an impact as an academic, is through your students. I didn’t become an academic because I love teaching, but my students are pretty amazing. I enjoy having them in the classroom and marvel at what they go on to accomplish. 

Nazlı: Ideally, I would like to publish good papers, make an impact in my field, and get tenure at this institution. Like Raji, I became an academic because I love research. And I already love teaching so far. It is so satisfying to see how your students are improving and to see how their visions are developing. I hope, one day I will be an impactful professor and teacher. And since I do applied research and can actually see the consequences of the research I am doing, I would love to make an impact and see those impacts in the hospitals, in other healthcare institutions in the world, or maybe even on the policy side. If I see any changes in how people do their healthcare operations through my research, I would be so happy. It would show me that my research is meaningful.  

What does collaboration mean for you? 

Nazlı: I think, first of all, academia can be a very lonely place when you do research and you are alone. It helps me so much to discuss my ideas, my analysis, and just general thoughts with my coauthors in the US and UK. We learn so much from each other when we collaborate: We learn different perspectives, different ideas, and broaden our horizon. Academia needs collaboration.

Raji: I completely agree – collaboration opens us up to new perspectives and new skills. I think both of those things are important, and technology makes this so easy nowadays. I remember professors telling me they had to submit their manuscripts via post after they dictated it to their secretary on their typewriters. We have made so much progress. We have so many opportunities. And we have to make the most of them.   

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