Interview 1

Full Interview with Dr. Scott Bryant

Dr. Scott Bryant received his Ph.D. in management, with an emphasis in strategy and entrepreneurship, from the University of Oregon in 2002.  He has a BA (1990) and an MBA (1998) from Seattle Pacific University.  He is currently a professor of management at Montana State University and also serves as the Executive Director of the Jake Jabs College of Business & Entrepreneurship (JJCBE).  

Academic Connections, International (ACI) conducted this interview via FaceTime and this edited transcript was produced from the conversation and notes:

ACIDid you have your eyes on that “prize” of being a full-professor when you started as an assistant professor?

Dr. Scott BryantYou know I think my best answer to that is, yes and no (laugh).  I wasn’t really thinking about becoming a full professor as much as I was pretty focused on getting tenure and promotion to associate professor—that was my immediate goal. But I realized that being a motivated person who likes to continue to achieve I think I had it in the back of my mind that I would like to become a full professor.  So when I started the process I don’t think so, but part of me was just working my way up the ladder.

ACIWhat are some lessons you think you might have learned along the way through this process?

SB: I think the first lesson I learned is that becoming a full professor is really more about desiring to be a leader in the college and willing to be more of a servant to your colleagues.  I think the tenure hurdle is already over, so it’s totally optional and I needed a good reason to pursue it.  And…I needed to examine my own motives as to why—merely for the title of full professor or other reasons—and it took me a couple of years to sort through that.  Fortunately several of my more senior colleagues who were full professors encouraged me to pursue going up for full professor because I had been successful on the teaching and research side, they suggested I do it…and I’m glad I did. Now that I’m there I found I definitely do desire to serve my colleagues and provide them support in their teaching and research.  And I view my role being less about my accomplishments and more figuring out how I can make them more successful.  That’s definitely my main motivation now.

ACI: Do you think there is an advantage for a professor to charting their course in academe over just letting it develop as it does?

SB: Um, yes…I don’t know about charting the course in terms of aiming constantly for promotion and heading in that direction as much as I think the key—my sense to the key to the whole process is to keep your eyes focused on your research.  And I think for me that has been the biggest lesson.  I think of myself as more of a teacher than a researcher, but when you get a Ph.D. it’s about research—you’re a scholar and you’ve got to make sure you are doing those things that keep you moving down that path.  Even at MSU, which is a place where you can go up based on excellence in teaching, research is still the critical part of it. You have to have an active research stream. You have to have publications—regular peer reviewed journals kinds of things to do that—and that’s true to get to tenure and it’s also true to get to full professor.  So it’s a long-term process but basically every year you have to be chipping away at your research to make sure all those kinds of pieces are in place.  

And I think then along with that I learned that research is not a solo enterprise.  It’s not something you do alone.  I basically collaborated with other researchers on all but one of my articles.  Other colleagues provide different skill sets to round out my skills and create a better research project and articles.  Plus it’s just a lot more fun.  It gives me an excuse to stay in regular contact with people I like.   

Not every institution appreciates co-authored articles…I mean there are definitely places where you have to be solo author; you’ve got to be first author.  You know, you’ve got to be the ‘person’ in every article you do and so that’s something you need to know about if that’s an expectation.  That’s not true at MSU as long as you are a significant contributor to the article.  It’s fine for you to co-author with other contributors.

ACIAs you look back over your experience, are there any spiritual lessons or insights that you think you’ve discovered in this process?

SB: Sure…you know as I think about it, I think that life is a journey and being a professor is no different.  There are distinct stages to an academic career and some of those coincide with stages in life.  So when you are getting your Ph.D. you’re wondering if you can do it.  Am I smart enough and am I willing to work hard enough to get a Ph.D.? And I have to say that was a faith stretching experience.  I did a lot of praying during my Ph.D. program (laugh), and I think in part because you have so little control over what’s going on.  You have classes but by the time it gets to your dissertation you have a committee of folks that review you and they have 100% of the power to decide whether you go on or not.  Ultimately you have to turn it over to God.  So I think at every stage in the ‘game’ you have limited control.  You have your stuff where you work hard and you hope you have been working on the right kind of research projects and you hope you are teaching in a way that you are helping students learn.  But the large amount of unknowns helps force you to pray.  And once you have the degree you wonder if you can find a tenure track job.  Then you wonder if you will get tenure.  So I’ve observed there’s a lot of stress at every stage of this deal.  Having your faith to turn to was certainly helpful in my case.  

And once I received tenure I found it a huge let down. It was really anticlimactic. I had been working for 10 years on my research and teaching between grad school and six years at MSU as an assistant professor. And I was tired. And the tenure process takes so long and is so stressful and exhausting that the main thing I felt was relief. I don’t have to leave! But that’s not the elation that I expected to feel for getting the “prize” of tenure.

I was also in my early 40s and I think I experienced a mid-life crisis as well. I had as much success as I could have hoped for, but I just didn’t feel excited about it. Looking ahead felt like years of research, teaching, stress and trying to pay for college, etc. Even with my faith in God, I still felt some emptiness and restlessness and dissatisfaction with life. I finally realized I was depressed and sought counseling. Between counseling and some diet and exercise changes I was able to work through my depression, but it took a couple years of ups and downs. I knew God was with me on the journey, but I didn’t sense his presence at times. My wife, Kristin, has also been a huge support throughout the journey and has been God’s hand and feet over and over again to me.

Looking back I can see all the small ways He was meeting my needs and I am so grateful for my faith. I know that one of the big things I have taken away from my experience is to be more empathetic with my colleagues and my students (and everyone I meet with). Depression is very humbling. It’s hard to admit that I have limits and I can’t pull myself up by my own bootstraps. So, I now have a little more grace for me and for others and a lot more empathy for my students.

ACI: Were there any mentors you had in helping with your navigation process?

SB: Yes, many…many, many.  I wouldn’t be able to identify all of them.  Going all the way back to by undergraduate years at Seattle Pacific I really had two mentors there.  My first mentor was Gary Karns who was a marketing professor.  He was the first person to plant the seed that maybe I should be a professor.  It wasn’t until many years later and after I started my MBA that his advice returned to me.

I also had a philosophy professor, Steve Layman, who advised me on my honor thesis as an undergrad who recognized that I had a sort of scholarly thing going on, and that I should be thinking about that.  Those kind of planted the seeds, but it took a while.  It wasn’t until eight or nine years later that I actually went back to grad school to get a Ph.D.  As a matter of fact, I was nearing the end of my MBA and trying to decide where to work, when my best friend, Mark Dinham, suggested I consider going on for a Ph.D.  He said I could go to work for a few years and then go back to school or you could just go back to school now…because you need to be a professor (laughs). 

I was like, I don’t think so and Kristin (his wife) was “I really don't think so.”  We talked about it and prayed about it and as I prayed about it I began to actually realize that yeah, it’s probably true.  I did like the teaching part and the scholar part and that I actually needed to pursue that.  So we bit the bullet and applied to ten grad schools including the University of Oregon and we packed up the family—our three year old and our six month old—and packed up everything and moved down to Eugene.  

At Oregon I had some great mentors including Jim Terborg who served as my dissertation advisor.  He was an advocate and kind critic of my work.  He also helped me become a better teacher in many ways including sharing teaching materials.  The other mentor was my cohort-mate, Thang Nguyen.  He is one of the smartest, kindest, hardest working people I know.  He helped me through stats, seminars and teaching.  He remains a close friend and collaborator on projects.

I eventually ended up at Montana State University because of another mentor, Dan Moshavi.  Dan graduated from Oregon right before I arrived.  He was an assistant professor at MSU and I had met him at a couple of conferences.  When the job came open he let me know.  Dan is one of the most incredibly supportive people I know.  And once I was here he helped me at every step of the way—from choosing where to live in Bozeman to what to include in my dossiers for retention and tenure.   He provided teaching help and research collaboration.  He’s no longer at MSU, he’s back in California working at a university but we still stay in touch.  There are many more people that have helped me in my journey.

ACI: I imagine some of those who will read this will be wondering, how do I find a mentor?  They sometimes don't know where to look and what to look for.

SB: Yeah, right.  I think there are two things that come to mind that are helpful.  One is that it’s a person who is respected in your department or among your colleagues.  They need to be a person who is doing teaching and research effectively as a faculty member.  And it needs to be a person with whom you have an interpersonal connection.  In my case, MSU actually formally assigns you to a more senior faculty member.  It happened to be Dr. Bill Brown and he was very helpful to me.  So I think you have to confidence that they are good at what they do and therefore you can trust their advice and you have some connection with them.  

I guess I would also say that sometimes that person is not always in your department.  Sometimes you can connect with others, for instance at a Christian faculty fellowship or you serve on a committee with someone who seems, wow, she certainly has something together or she is good at what she does.  People are generally pretty open to serving as an advisor or mentor.  You don’t always need to label it as a mentoring relationship.  You could just ask, “Could we just get together, have some coffee and talk about things?”  You could ask about how their process of going through tenure was like.  You may not ‘strike it rich’ the first time for whatever reason and you just don’t mesh. That’s okay.  

The last piece of advice I’d give is that you may have multiple mentors.  You may have a peer or colleague at the same stage of career that is going through similar things.  You may have someone who is a step behind you, but they’re really good at teaching or technology or some skills that you could use.  And/or having someone who is ahead of you.  It’s just great to have mentors at whatever stage you are.  

ACI: Were there any surprises in clearing this last ‘hurdle’ to attaining full professor status?

SBWell I think the biggest surprise for me personally was that I wasn’t ready to go up when I was available for it.  So typically you get promoted to associate professor, you get tenure, our policy is written so that in about four years or so you [can] go up for full [professor].  It was a combination of depression and some other frustrations that took away my desire to take on big hurdles.  I wasn’t psychologically ready to be evaluated again by my colleagues; I wasn’t sure how I would feel if they said no.  So, it took me a couple of [extra] years to decide that I wanted to go up.  I needed to have the energy and inner reserves to create another dossier and to deal with the possibility of rejection.  Fortunately, my promotion was accepted and I’m really glad I went up. But it is not an easy decision to go up for an optional promotion.  I had to really examine my motives.  Why was I doing it?  In the end I felt ready to be a leader and a servant of my colleagues in the College.

ACI: Do you have any insights you might want to offer for our diverse readership?

SB: Sure.  I don’t feel I that I have a whole lot to add to this conversation as a white middle-aged male guy.  But I do think, as I mentioned earlier the battling of depression has certainly made me more empathetic to the variety of challenges that people face in academe.  You know, health issues and psychological issues and certainly through conversations I have had with colleagues, particularly female colleagues and others…there are some hidden biases and prejudices among students and faculty and others that make their lives more difficult.  And I don’t think I had fully appreciated that until I had seen conversations and read teacher reviews—the kind of comments they make, some of which are personal attacks even on the way they look and what they’re wearing.  I think those comments were so unprofessional and unfair and if my students were to say that about me that would hurt…and I wasn’t seeing these comments.  So I realized evaluations are sometimes not based on how they are teaching or what’s going on in the classroom in a way I wasn’t earlier tracking with.  All that to say I’m much more empathetic to the challenges that others face in the classroom. 

And I’ve read a fair amount of research that shows this is the case in teacher evaluations and clearly there is a bias, certainly against female professors that shows up in the research.  And so we need to find ways that account for that and measurements that do a better job of assessing teaching quality.  And as a result I saw my need to be more empathetic and supportive, and so I’ve worked hard on that to build bridges.    

ACI: How has “fitting in” with your colleagues played a role, positive or negative, in your journey?

SB: Professors are in a pretty small tight-knit club in many ways.  We spend a lot of time together working on research and teaching and serving on committees.  So it has been important to me to build good relationships with my colleagues.  I certainly want to be someone they can come to for support and encouragement and advice as someone who does his job well.  I also want to be someone who has a reputation for integrity and working hard.  So, I think have fit in with my colleagues in that way.  I feel that my faith has guided me and influences my work ethic and my care for students and other faculty members.  In the end, I don’t think there has been much tension between my faith in Jesus and the way I have interacted and tried to serve my colleagues and students.

ACI: I know you have talked about this some earlier, but besides the academic hurdles, do you have anything to say about personal hurdles outside of academe that affected you and what you learned from that?

SB: I really think it’s worth hitting again that battling depression has been one of the biggest hurdles and biggest blessings—now that I’m mostly through it—that I’ve ever faced.  I’ve learned so much about what my limits are and what I need to do to be healthy.  I’ve had to say no to more activities, commitments and service opportunities, because they drain me too much.  But I’ve also added more exercise, prayer and meditation into my routine to keep up my energy and attitude.  I’ve seen so many connections between my spiritual, physical and emotional health.

I’m now planning to leverage my experience into research on emotional intelligence.  I’ve learned a lot personally but have so much more to learn as a researcher and teacher.  It’s a long journey and I’ve been blessed to have good colleagues and a wonderful wife to walk through it with.  


Academic Connections, International wants to thank Scott for his contribution to this informative interview.  We hope our readers will profit from such things.  We also want to encourage our readers to be sure to check out our next interview in this series of three interviews that looks at the process of reaching full professorship.  Our next interview is with Dr. Edwin Chong of Colorado State University. © Academic Connections, International