2020 Best Undergraduate Professors: Liuba Belkin, Lehigh University

Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Liuba Y. Belkin

Associate Professor 

Lehigh University, College of Business

Lehigh University’s Liuba Belkin is a leading researcher in how emotions play roles in business and negotiations.

“I study how emotions that we feel and express, as well as our cognitive biases, shape our behavior and decision-making, as well as the behavior of others,” Belkin says. “I particularly focus on feelings and expressions of gratitude in the workplace and beyond, as I believe in the power of self-transcendent emotions – emotions, such as gratitude, compassion, and awe, that not only elevate people who experience them but also promote prosocial behaviors towards others (e.g., helping friends, co-workers, strangers).”

Besides leading some very fascinating research that has been featured in major publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times, among many others, Belkin has received many teaching awards from Lehigh and the College of Business. That blend of teaching prowess and impactful research is exactly what we set out to find among professors included on this year’s list.

Current age: Young

At current institution since what year? 2007

Education: Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, Rutgers University

List of courses you currently teach: Negotiations and Conflict Management

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when I met some excellent professors during my MBA studies. Their passion for the subject and love for teaching was contagious – I was hooked.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I study how emotions that we feel and express, as well as our cognitive biases, shape our behavior and decision-making, as well as the behavior of others. I particularly focus on feelings and expressions of gratitude in the workplace and beyond, as I believe in the power of self-transcendent emotions – emotions, such as gratitude, compassion and awe, that not only elevate people who experience them, but also promote prosocial behaviors towards others (e.g., helping friends, co-workers, strangers). I also examine trust in the workplace. Finally, I study how modern technology, and the organizational norms surrounding its use, shape employee attitudes and behavior, both at work and at home. Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S., I have applied my expertise in these areas to examine its effects on people and the workplace. My colleague and I specifically looked at how supervisors’ expressions of care, tenderness, and compassion during this crisis, lead to feelings of gratitude in their subordinates and promote prosocial behaviors at work that may help organizational survival during this crisis. I also collected some data to examine how employee trust in the supervisor and the supervisor’s use of various emotional management tactics during this crisis can lead to employees going above and beyond their job responsibilities and decrease interpersonal deviance. Our findings indicate that in times of crisis, even when emotional strain is high and people are on the edge, self-transcendent emotions and trust relationships have the power to inspire people to be more proactive and help organizations to cope with crisis. I am very encouraged by these findings.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… an abstract expressionist

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My sense of humor, passion for the subject I teach, very interactive and no-nonsense teaching style.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: Mortified

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Students are amazingly kind and forgiving. So, relax and be your true self – authenticity is the key to successful teaching.

Professor I most admire and why: Too many to name! I have hundreds of role models in the field, starting from my mentor and dissertation advisor, Terri Kurtzberg (Rutgers University). In her and others, I admire the following qualities that I strive to emulate: curiosity, kindness, passion for the subject and strong work ethic.

TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? How energetic, creative, and smart they are. I put a lot of energy into preparing for classes and teaching my students, but I still always leave the classroom energized – their enthusiasm is contagious.

What is most challenging? To get students to open up. I love when they let their guard down, share some facts about themselves, and show who they really are to me and to other classmates. In order to do so, they need to trust me as a teacher and as a person. So, every semester, I let my guard down and share some awkward moments from my life in order to show my (authentic) vulnerability. Opening up is challenging and scary, but is rewarding, because it builds trust among all of us. It also always makes a class, and a semester, fun and memorable. 

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: open-minded

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: arrogant

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… fair and straightforward

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? My research (even though it is a part of my job, I truly feel it is my hobby because I am happy to spend my day writing and researching things), exercising, and traveling

How will you spend your summer? Given the current situation with COVID-19, I will be at home with my family, writing articles and conducting research.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Hands down – Puglia, Italy – I love to come back there again and again. Everything is just amazing there – the people, history, nature, food. Also, I have been fortunate to travel a lot around the world and visited many wonderful countries and places. The top three most memorable trips I had were in Iceland, India, and Kenya. I would love to come back there one day.

Favorite book(s): A Primate’s Memoire (by Robert Sapolsky), The Short History of Nearly Everything (by Bill Bryson), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (by Douglas Adams), and almost every book by Victor Pelevin.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Movie to watch again and again: Forrest Gump – it is sweet and funny. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – love his sense of humor, as well as the unbelievable job he is doing to bring attention to the people who are forgotten by everyone and to critical issues that are either hidden from view or poorly understood by many.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? It’s hard to pick one genre – definitely a classic rock (from Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd to Queen – do I really need to explain why I love them?), but I also like almost every other type of music, as it depends on the artist, as well as my mood and the situation at the moment. In fact, for me, it is not about the type of music, but about what the artist is trying to convey. It is about their energy and their emotions. I recently discovered neo-shamanic music and I am a big fan (Olox duo are my favorites).

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this: I wish the business school of the future would be more welcoming to creativity and would have a better ability to uncover and reward all the raw talent our students have. Also, a less rigid curriculum and more applied “real-life” classes. Importantly, there would be an emphasis on ethics and compassion as two core qualities for leaders of the future.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… cultivating positive organizational environment – creating a culture of high ethical standards, care, compassion, and friendship.

I’m grateful for… I am incredibly grateful for everything I have in my life: for my wonderful husband and kids, for my amazing students and great colleagues, for the incredibly kind (and patient) mentors that I’ve had since the beginning of my Ph.D. studies, and for all my friends who make my life so exciting and fun.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say: (Please gather quotes or endorsements from the groups listed above, otherwise we’ll take them from the nomination forms.) 

Here at quotes from Spring 2020 student evaluation forms:

– This class has literally been a godsend in learning especially since It can potentially save me (whether that’s money or time) in future events.

 – Prof. Belkin is very interactive and lively, she knows how to get a class’s attention and make learning fun, we need more Profs like her! 

– I loved this class and Professor Belkin is amazing. She has been very accommodating and fair with grading. She is allowing us all to do well considering the circumstances, knowing we are all working hard to make a class that should be in person to work online. I have already recommended this class to my friends. 

– The course was very interactive. We participated in negotiations weekly. I think Professor Belkin is great and I truly learned a lot! 

– The way that the instructor gave us just enough information to be able to learn new negotiation concepts and tactics, let us negotiate with each other, and then wrapped up and gave us feedback on our negotiations allowed us to learn in practice. This, in my opinion, was the best way to host this course because it allowed us students to be able to use what we were learning in real time and get feedback on how well we executed on them in a safe, no-risk environment. 

– Her energy was very determined and very infectious that it made me want to do more and learn better.

– Remote learning made all the classes I took worse off – when remote learning started I was worried this class (my favorite that I was taking) would be ruined but I was wrong – the students I negotiated against still put in effort and the class was still great.

 – I would not change a thing. I think the way that she set up the course when we were still having in-person classes was perfect, and the way that she was able to adapt this course to still be successful as online was impressive. Although the only thing I might change, which isn’t directly related to the material of the class, is how/where students negotiate when we were in person. Within the room that the class was in, it was hard to find a spot that we could break into groups at without our negotiation either being swayed or influenced by other groups.