How Riding in a Helicopter Taught Me to Make a Positive Difference Through Research


By Christopher Myers, PhD ‘15

As a PhD candidate at Ross, I have spent the last five years learning and working with faculty to produce cutting-edge research. This is true of most PhD programs at leading research universities like U-M, but what is unique about research at Michigan Ross – and what I will take with me from my time here – is that here, the emphasis is on research that makes a positive difference in the world of work.

While at Ross, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct research alongside air medical transport teams, exploring how these teams learn and develop in the context of their challenging work experiences. These teams travel by helicopter to pick up patients from the scene of an accident, or from a small community hospital, and bring them to a larger hospital for advanced care.

Speaking at a conference held by the Center for Positive Organizations

My research involved riding along with these teams and gathering data on how they learn to care for their critical patients. This revealed important insight about how people develop their knowledge and skills at work by learning vicariously from others’ experiences (in addition to learning from their own experiences).

A lot of the research at Ross spans these types of domains and boundaries, and speaks to multiple audiences. Beyond just specialized academic sub-fields or “traditional” business settings (think Fortune 500), research at Ross is being informed by and applied to a broad variety of settings – from education to non-profits, start-ups to multinationals, and public policy to medical practice – increasing the impact this research can make on the world.

Conducting this research with air medical teams allowed me to not only explore a topic (workplace learning and development) that is important for many organizations, but also to have an impact in a domain (medical practice) that might not normally be considered part of “business” research. Indeed, research in a setting like air medical teams seems, at first glance, to not fit in a business school. But the faculty at Ross encourage this kind of research as an opportunity to update our understanding of “traditional” business practices from a new vantage point while also expanding the impact of business research to a broader audience of organizations.

In many ways, Michigan Ross is uniquely positioned to enable this kind of research to have a broad, positive impact. Ross encourages a strong interdisciplinary approach to research – whether on PhD dissertation committees (mine includes faculty of management, strategy, psychology, and medicine), or in the weekly ICOS seminar series (which brings together faculty and students from across the university to share diverse perspectives on organizational research).

At the same time, groups like the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross bring together faculty, students, and practitioners to better understand how research can enhance and enable the positive aspects of work. Listening to others’ research and sharing my own work at the Center’s biennial Positive Organizational Scholarship Research Conference helped me tremendously in bringing out the potential positive impact of my research for organizations and medical teams.

As I prepare to depart Ross and begin my career as a professor, it is this positive, impactful approach to research that I will carry with me. Making a positive difference through research isn’t always obvious or straightforward, but the training and encouragement I’ve received at Ross – to pursue boundary-spanning research that focuses on the positive possibilities of business to shape the broad world of work – has certainly started me on the right path.

Christopher Myers (@ChrisGMyers) is graduating from Ross this year with his PhD in Management & Organizations. Starting this summer, he will be an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School. His research and teaching focus on how people learn, develop, and innovate in organizations.

This is just one in a series of #RossGrad posts from students graduating this Spring.

Click here to see the entire collection