2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Jingjing Zhang, Indiana University (Kelley)

Jingjing Zhang

Assistant Professor of Information Systems

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Jingjing Zhang is a widely recognized scholar in the area of computational solutions that aid decision-making in data-intensive environments. More specifically, this information systems professor centers her research on algorithmic techniques from computer science and theories from social sciences to understand and address emerging issues in recommender systems. Issues such as stability of recommendation algorithms, anchoring effects in recommender systems, impact of data characteristics on recommendation accuracy, and longitudinal dynamics of recommender systems performance. She has received numerous “best paper” awards for her analytics research from peers at top information systems conferences and organizations. In the classroom, students in Professor Zhang’s data management and business analytics classes praise her as an effective instructor. She’s described as passionate about developing learning opportunities for students. This year, she received Indiana University’s highest honor for teaching.

Age: 34

Education: PhD in Information Systems, University of Minnesota

At current institution since: 2012

List of courses you currently teach: Data Management, Big Data Technologies

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I received the INFORMS Information Systems Society Nunamaker-Chen Dissertation Award, which is a competitive award that recognizes top doctoral graduates in my discipline. I also received the Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award, which honors outstanding teachers at Indiana University. I am greatly encouraged by the recognition from both my colleagues and my students.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I have always wanted to be a professor, but I initially thought I would work in hard science (either physics or computer science). During my master’s studies, I joined a research lab and worked on several research projects that focused on image recognition and knowledge discovery. It was at that time I became fascinated by how technologies can extend the boundaries of individual and organizational capabilities.  So, I applied for an Information Systems doctoral program and eventually became a professor at the Kelley School of Business.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Inspiring

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My current research focuses on personalization and recommender systems.  Recommender systems are applications that provide personalized suggestions to consumers and help them to discover items that are most relevant to their interests and needs.  Examples include those that help consumers to find books on Amazon, movies on Netflix, restaurants on Yelp, music on Spotify, friends on Facebook and job opportunities on LinkedIn.  In my work, I strive to provide computational solutions (e.g., algorithms, frameworks) to improve the functional performance of the recommender systems as well as to expand our understanding of the implications of these solutions on consumers, retailers and social welfare.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? There are lots of great moments. Each time I receive appreciative notes from my students truly cheers me up.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? In the past few years, the evolving job market demands the top candidates to not only have knowledge and skills, but also the capacity to apply these skills to solve real problems in the business world. Therefore, I have increasingly put more emphasis on the development of critical thinking and hands-on problem-solving skills. Such an approach ensures that students not only learn the high-level abstract concepts but also can apply these concepts and technologies to solve real problems.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” I would like to be an astrophysicist seeking to understand how the universe works.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: Teaching is a highly enjoyable and rewarding career (although demanding and exhausting at times!).

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Chien-Shiung Wu. She is an excellent example of how an intelligent and dedicated woman can influence the world.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? They are creative, enthusiastic and always see the world with an open mind.

What’s the biggest challenge? One challenge of teaching advanced technical courses is how tricky it is to carry a wide range of students with diversified learning goals and academic backgrounds.  Students enrolled in my classes, especially graduate courses, often have a variety of prior experiences and training. It is vital to tailor teaching approach to accommodate people with different backgrounds.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? Not sure.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Trying to multitask in my classroom

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? The students have become more and more well versed with technology.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Stay curious, be passionate and work hard.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Demanding but fair

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “With A Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles (this one is for the occasional downs)

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Dedicated

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Free-rider

Fill in the blank: “If my students can solve a problem at work utilizing what they learned in my class, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I was born right before an earthquake.

What are your hobbies? Reading, traveling, kayaking

How did you spend your summer? Worked on research projects and travel with family

Favorite place to vacation: beach, mountain

Favorite book: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

Favorite movie and/or television show: a toss-up between “12 Angry Men” and The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: classical, county, and blues

Bucket list item #1: learning a new language

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? There is an increasing demand for business education, but an inadequate supply of qualified professors.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” More opportunities for students to get immersive experiences with international companies

“And much less of this…” Less tuition hikes

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: Being a productive researcher, an effective teacher, and an active contributor to the community