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Inaugural PhD colloquium pairs students with senior scholars

Graduate | May 10, 2017 |

How do you turn a PhD student into a successful academic?

At the inaugural PhD colloquium held at the Gabelli School of Business, students and professors from Fordham University and institutions around the world took part in one step of the process.

Keynote speaker Shiva Rajgopal, Kester and Byrnes Professor of Accounting and Auditing at Columbia Business School, told students that while there’s no single path that works for everyone, there are certain shared factors that can help prepare them for a successful academic career. Some, like IQ or the school one attends, may be unchangeable, but, Rajgopal argued, “the intangible factors can make up for deficiencies” in these areas.

What are the intangible factors? Passion. Courage. Focus. Perseverance. Creativity.

Certainly, Rajgopal pointed out, “all of this is complicated.” That’s because “academia is a strange place where you have to be flexible and rigorous at the same time.”

These coexisting characteristics of flexibility and rigor were demonstrated repeatedly over the two-day colloquium through sessions chaired by experienced professors. The PhD students, who had been selected from a competitive applicant pool, presented their working research papers. Then, advanced academics discussed strengths and weaknesses and offered feedback on how both the research itself and the papers could be improved.

For example, Benjamin Segal, associate professor at the Gabelli School, suggested an alternative perspective on an accounting paper: a look at the larger picture. Following another presentation, Qiang Wu, associate professor at the Lally School of Management, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, offered a student the advice to “keep the focus on one thing.”

After observing the helpful questions and discussions stemming from the presentations, Dean Donna Rapaccioli expressed that “it’s like a moment of magic when you see a discussant force a presenter to think of a new idea about their own work.”

But the students starting out their scholarly careers weren’t the only ones to get something out of the colloquium.

Iftekhar Hasan, Gabelli School finance professor and Corrigan Chair in International Business and Finance, explained that the benefits were really for all, because as you move through your journey of becoming an academic, “you always look forward to seeing the next generation is better than you.”

Or, as Rapaccioli put it to the PhD students gathered from around the globe, “You are our future.”

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