2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Robyn LeBoeuf, Washington University in St. Louis (Olin)

Robyn LeBoeuf

Associate Professor

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

Professor Robyn LeBoeuf is a world-recognized researcher in the area of consumer behaviors with research that has been published at top marketing and psychology journals. Her studies have examined how people’s choices, judgments, and behaviors can be biased by incidental factors such as question wording. Her recent projects have investigated how people plan for, and make decisions about, the future, and how people make decisions when giving gifts. LeBoeuf is also an admired teacher at Olin. The course that she teaches, Consumer Behavior, is one of the most popular courses, and consistently has the highest teaching rating evaluated by students.

Age: 43

Education: PhD, Psychology, Princeton University

At current institution since: 2014

List of courses you currently teach: Undergraduate: Consumer Behavior, MBA: Understanding and Influencing Consumer Behavior, PhD: Judgment and Decision Making

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I am proud to be teaching at one of the best schools in the country.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I realized that, although I was trained as a research psychologist, my research area (understanding biases in decision making) had many applications to marketing and organizational behavior.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Nervous!

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m interested in the factors that shape, and sometimes bias, our decisions.  It’s hard to know which finding is the most significant, but one that I find particularly interesting is the finding that people are more willing to save for the future when you describe the future in terms of a date (“can you put this money aside until 2028”) than when you describe it as an amount of time (“can you put this money aside for 10 years.”)

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? I won a teaching award in my second year of teaching.  That gave me confidence that I was on the right track, and it helped me decide what kind of teacher I wanted to be.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? There has been a tremendous increase in online learning; when I started, these ideas and programs were in their infancy.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” Traveling.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: Even if you’ve taught the class before, your students have never taken it before, so every year will be challenging in its own way.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Richard Lutz, at the University of Florida.  He has had a stellar research career and yet his teaching and his students are his top priorities.  He approaches teaching and mentoring with enthusiasm and dedication in a way that is inspirational.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? I love the smart and motivated students who seem genuinely interested in learning.

What’s the biggest challenge? Students are sometimes trying to balance so many things that it can be hard for them to commit as fully to their studies as they might aspire to.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done?  My students do so many impressive things that it is hard to pick one.  They get jobs that I would never have even dared to go after; they fearlessly start companies; they pursue advanced graduate degrees.  I am most impressed when they work hard and end up doing something that they love and that they are proud of.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? I don’t know if this is my absolute least favorite thing, but I strongly dislike it when students use their phones in class (for non-class related reasons). I don’t think students realize how easy this is for professors to spot, but it’s incredibly distracting and demoralizing. I’d rather a student be out of the room than be there and be on a phone.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? It’s hard to say.  It’s possible that they’ve become even more driven and focused. Generally that’s a good development, but I hope they’re still able to take time to enjoy their education and get something meaningful out of it.  

Also, as the old joke goes, every year it seems like they get younger.  When I first started teaching in 2002, we were just one year away from September 11th.  My current students were, at most, 5 years old when it happened.  Sometimes I have to stop to remind myself that almost a whole generation has gone by.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Come to class. Do the reading. Study for exams. Try to really understand the material, not just memorize it.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Middle of the road. I don’t think I’m the toughest grader out there, but I’m not a pushover, either. As with (almost) every professor, there are definitely times when some students think I’m being too picky, but I don’t usually hear too many complaints.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (the old classic Coke commercial).  We watch it every year in class when we talk about Coca Cola, and it always makes me—and the students—smile.

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

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

“If my students can think critically about the factors that shape and bias behavior, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I root for the New Orleans Saints, the LSU Tigers, and the Florida Gators. It’s tough each year when the Gators and Tigers play.

What are your hobbies? I love spending time with my husband and my six-year-old son.  Beyond that, I like to read, try interesting restaurants, and travel. I knit, but not very well and not very often.

How did you spend your summer? We visited my husband’s extended family in Italy. We have only met them twice before, but they were incredibly welcoming to us.

Favorite place to vacation: I have been to Australia once, but I would love to go back.

Favorite book: Asking me to pick a favorite book is like asking me to pick a favorite child (but at least I only have one child).  Some favorites include “Patient H.M.” by Luke Dittrich; “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote; “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson; “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles.  

Favorite movie and/or television show: Currently, it’s Better Call Saul. I’d have a hard time picking an all-time favorite.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Currently, the Hamilton soundtrack. Again, I’d have a hard time picking an all-time favorite.

Bucket list item #1: I hate being cold, but I’d love to see Antarctica.

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Figuring out what our students need.  Our world is changing so quickly that preparing our students for that world can feel daunting.  At the same time, certain skills, like critical thinking and clear writing, will always be necessary and in demand.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Reading and reflection

“And much less of this…” Stress

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: For me personally, success would not be defined by any particular career metric. It would be defined by questions like, “Is my family happy?” and “Am I doing what I can to make a difference?”  

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