Scholarly Pursuits

By Hollingsworth, Chauncey | PM Network, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Scholarly Pursuits


Hollingsworth, Chauncey, PM Network


Here's a lesson on climbing out of the project management trenches and into the ivory tower.

You've bee You've been a project manager for a while now. while now. You allocate resources like a Russian grandmaster playing chess. You move mountains with little more than a BlackBerry. You tame angry stakeholders with just one e-mail. So now what? You need a new horizon to conquer. Could it be time to hang your shield in the halls of academia?

You certainly have something to offer. It's one thing for students to read case studies of what went right and what went wrong on a project. But a seasoned project manager can breathe life into textbook examples and provide boots-on-the-ground framework for theoretical knowledge.

The trick is to marry what needs to be taught in the classroom to what you've gleaned from your time in the field.

The position of practitioner-turnedprofessor offers an unusual vantage point to "compare what is written in the books with how the real world works," says Rafael Prikladnicki, PhD, PMP, professor and project management office coordinator at Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. "I can understand the books and theory in a different way because I have lots of experience from the companies I've worked with."

That mix of knowledge can produce gold in the classroom. Christina Outlay, PhD, PMP, relies on her project management experience to provide practical context to course materials.

"The students learn from die textbooks about more traditional project management concepts: change management, risk management or the project life cycle," says Dr. Outlay, an instructor of management information systems at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA. "I'll give them examples of how these things might play out in real life. I often get questions from students regarding what's theory and what's really done in practice."

A stint in the trenches gives professors the means to deliver a dose of the real world.

"I like to give examples based on the different companies I've worked for, either in alignment or not in alignment with what we learn in the book," she says.

THE DOCTORATE IS IN

Just as organizations may be reluctant to hire academics - there's many a new PhD struggling to find work - breaking into the academic realm can be a challenge for those who cut their teeth on projects instead of thesis papers.

"It's hard to get into academia. It's competitive," says Garry Miller, senior tutor, department of civil and environmental engineering, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. "It's perhaps a bit unusual in that most people who come into academia go straight through the university, get their doctorate and then do further research."

That wasn't his own career path, and not having a research track record was an issue when applying for his first academic position. That's where networking played its part.

"The way in is, largely, having personal contacts," he explains. "In many ways it's who you know that's to your advantage."

Connections will only get you so far, though. Pursuing a doctorate is widely seen as a prerequisite for a full-time teaching gig. The process can take four or more years, which means it can be difficult for part-timers to balance work and school.

Bill Youngdahl, PhD, PMP, started as a manufacturing engineer working on projects at Xerox in the 1980s before moving to project management at Hughes Aircraft Co. While still in the corporate world, he decided to go back to school.

"They were exciting years, for sure, and I really loved the work in the industry and within a part-time master of business administration program," he says. "But I found it very difficult to do the project management work during the day and study at night."

Dr. Youngdahl decided to quit his job and pursue his doctorate hill-time. He intended to return to project management but found he thoroughly enjoyed teaching.

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