2020 Best Undergraduate Professors: Sarah Doyle, University of Arizona Eller College of Management

Sarah Doyle of the University of Arizona Eller College of Management is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Sarah Doyle

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations

University of Arizona (Eller)

Sarah Doyle has only been a professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management for a few years, but it hasn’t taken her long to win some awards. A student favorite, Doyle received the Eller College Student’s Choice Award for Most Engaging Faculty in 2019 and received many nominations from current and former students.

While Doyle’s research is young, it’s fascinating. “Broadly speaking, I study the ongoing tension between competition and cooperation in the workplace, with a particular focus on how hierarchical differentiation affects a variety of intra-group and/or interpersonal behaviors such as helping, effort, unethical behaviors, and other competitive behaviors.”

In one particular project, Doyle and her collaborators from Ohio State and INSEAD study the impact of hierarchical differentiation on inter-team collaboration.

“It is commonly suggested that organizations can improve inter-team collaboration through ensuring that each team is hierarchically organized (with a designated leader and a set of supporting team members),” Doyle continues. “In contrast to these suggestions, we detail how and why this common practice may actually be harming the teams’ ability to collaborate.”

Current age: 33

At current institution since what year? 2017

Education: Ph.D., Management and Human Resources, The Ohio State University, 2017;  BA, Psychology, Markets and Management certificate, Duke University, 2009

List of courses you currently teach: Organizational Behavior at the Undergraduate level


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… To be honest, I don’t think I really knew exactly what I was getting myself into until after I was in graduate school…backwards, right? After taking my first psychology class freshman year, I began to develop a strong interest in understanding why people think and behave the way that they do. I found it fascinating, declared psychology as my major, and spent the summer after my sophomore year working as a research assistant in Duke’s Psychology department. Admittedly, I wasn’t really thinking about how (or if at all) this would help me with my future career but rather, I thought it was fun. However, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Duke in 2009, the recession had decreased job opportunities for new graduates by 40%. In an effort to find employment after graduation, I reached out to one of the psychology faculty who told me that the behavioral lab at Duke’s Fuqua Business School needed a lab manager. I jumped on the opportunity, gained even more exposure to research, and after a couple years I decided to throw out a few applications to doctoral programs myself. Through some sort of miracle (my application would pale in comparison to the impressive doctoral student applications these days!), I got into Ohio State. Despite my experiences thus far, I still don’t think I had a comprehensive understanding about the life and job duties of an academic. 

It was really through my experiences at OSU with my advisor Robert Lount, that I truly began to discover how interesting this career could be. He’d say: “In what other industry can you make a career out of being curious, asking questions that are interesting to you, and then trying to figure them out?” Whether he saw a headline on the news that morning, or had an interesting interaction on the way to work, he was constantly trying to figure out why people behaved the way that they did and then how he could test his theory. These very questions were the reason that led me down this path in the first place. His curiosity and passion for the job was contagious and I am forever grateful to him for all that he has done for me and that he opened my eyes to how fun and fulfilling this career can be! 

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

In one of my current projects, my co-authors (Ohio State University PhD student Seunghoo Chung, Robert Lount at Ohio State University, and Roderick Swaab at INSEAD), and I study the impact of team hierarchical differentiation on inter-team negotiation outcomes. Although teams must collaborate frequently within organizations (e.g., two departments discussing, budget, space, and personnel needs), they often struggle to do so effectively. As a result, it is commonly suggested that organizations can improve inter-team collaboration through ensuring that each team is hierarchically organized (with a designated leader and a set of supporting team members). In contrast to these suggestions, in this research we detail how and why this common practice may actually be harming the teams’ ability to collaborate. Across multiple experiments, which involved video coded negotiations, we find that hierarchical teams behave more competitively towards other teams, and thus perform worse at the negotiation table than egalitarian teams.

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

Basketball Analytic Consultant (in my dreams, for Coach K). I love working with data and I love Duke basketball, so in all honesty, what could be better?!

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

My students are better equipped to answer this one, but if I had to guess, I’d say it is my use of experiential exercises and my openness within the classroom. After graduating, students frequently comment (usually in surprise) about how much of what they learned in Organizational Behavior applies to their current work experiences. This is because navigating groups, and their workplaces, is about dealing with and understanding people. In order to do so effectively, people need experiences to draw upon. For these reasons, I work very hard to create these experiences in the classroom. Despite the 230 person class size, I utilize some sort of experiential activity in almost every class. Equally as important as the exercise itself, however, is creating a culture in the classroom that is conducive to learning from one’s experiences. Because of social media, students (now, more than ever before) are continuously groomed to compare themselves to others, look to others for validation, and to only advertise their successes while concealing their ‘failures’ (which are ironically, one of the key ingredients to growth and success). In order to truly understand how and why people behave the way that they do, I believe it is critical to be honest with ourselves about our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and concerns, and to relate to others with honesty and humility as well. To set this tone, I strive to be emotionally accessible and open with my students, and do not shy away from revealing personal stories about my own setbacks and shortcomings and how I have navigated them throughout my career.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Clumsy. In an effort to walk around the classroom without turning my back to the students, I have a habit of inadvertently backing up into things. This has probably only improved slightly since my first time teaching…

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:  How fun it is! As I mentioned previously, I hadn’t even considered being a business school professor (until I actually had an understanding about what they do!).

Professor I most admire and why:

There are many people I admire, but without a doubt at the top of this list is Nathan Pettit at NYU’s Stern School of Business. I was given the opportunity to work with Nate as a first-year graduate student at Ohio State. Looking back, I honestly have no idea how I got so lucky: at the time, he was an Assistant Professor at NYU and not only did I likely provide zero benefit to him as a doctoral student at another university but if anything, I was probably a liability. Things inevitably take longer with doctoral students who are learning the ropes, and he was on the tenure clock at an extremely prestigious business school. I guess this was my first indicator about the type of person Nate is.

In every aspect, Nate is exceptional and I have learned (and continue to learn) so much from him. Not only is he brilliantly insightful and creative, but he is extremely humble. He has this ability to make everyone (no matter their rank) feel comfortable voicing their ideas and truly listens to what they are saying. He takes this information and transforms it into some creative idea or way forward. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt ‘stuck’ on a project; I ramble out some non-sensical thoughts that are jumbled in my head, Nate comes up with some brilliant solution and then somehow still makes you believe you actually had a hand in it. As a person and friend, he is exceptionally thoughtful, empathetic and funny. He truly cares about people and loves to see them succeed. He never hesitates to selflessly share anything that might be helpful to others, regardless of how much time and effort it took him to put together himself. He is the type of person who asks “How are you doing?” and actually means it, somehow giving you the time and space necessary to move beyond the customary (and often insincere) “things are great” response. He is one of my favorite people to see at conferences, never takes himself too seriously, and always makes me laugh.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

At Eller, we have a large degree of student diversity, including student backgrounds, religions, values, age, etc. Its been so fun getting to know our students and to learn from them. They consistently cause me to think about things in new ways and I love that.

What is most challenging?

For me, I find this job can be extremely emotionally taxing. I’ve always been an empathetic person, and while it can be a desirable quality at times, it can also be my Achilles heel. Our undergraduate business program is highly competitive and rigorous, forcing our students to grow through pushing them well beyond their comfort zones. It is difficult for me to detach myself from their experiences and I sometimes struggle finding that balance between investing time and energy into our students while also making sure to take care of myself.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Absent (physically or mentally)

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Tough, but transparent and fair. I set very clear expectations in the beginning of the semester and stick to them so there are no surprises.


What are your hobbies?

I love anything adventurous. In Tucson, this mostly includes hiking (which feels more like rock climbing), trail running, and exploring with my dog, Tucker. I also love skiing (both water skiing and snow skiing), although those activities are harder to find in the desert. Finally, I love the excitement of attending sporting events (particularly when it includes Duke basketball games in Cameron and OSU football games in the Shoe!)

How will you spend your summer?

Good question. Social distancing?

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Lake Leelanau in Northern Michigan: my family has a cottage that dates back multiple generations and we all have so many special memories up there. I also love snow skiing vacations: Breckenridge, Colorado might be my current favorite!

Favorite book(s): Currently, it’s Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

My favorite movie has to be Billy Madison. Admittedly, this might be because of the famous line: “O’DOYLE RULES”

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I listen to all kinds of music depending on the situation. It’s probably easier to name a genre of music that I do not particularly enjoy: heavy metal. It makes me anxious.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…

Isn’t this the billion-dollar question right now? The academic system is going to go through radical changes as we navigate COVID-19. The way students learn, the way that people work, and the content that we teach is likely going to be different moving forward. I just hope these changes don’t decrease the ‘human factor’ and personal hands-on experiences that are so critical to students’ learning environment.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at…

Now, more than ever, companies will need to improve the way that they support its employees. The coronavirus pandemic makes this need very salient. In my opinion, companies need to continue to take a holistic approach to employee well-being, focusing not only on physical health but emotional and mental health as well. With more employees working from home, and without regular peer and colleague interactions, companies also need to consider how they can maintain employee morale, engagement, and motivation.

I’m grateful for… The health and safety of my family and friends.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“I don’t even know where to begin when describing how wonderful Dr. Doyle is. She is someone that goes above and beyond both in and outside the classroom. She brings incredible warmth and energy into each and every class. There was never a dull lecture because she created the most fun and engaging class activities like her team-building treasure hunt around campus. But more importantly, Dr. Doyle is a deeply compassionate and kind person. She demonstrated this each week with her Weekly Acknowledgments where she gave students a chance to highlight and uplift their classmates. She also was very candid, sharing personal moments from her life to help teach us important life lessons about things like intrinsic value and being there for one another. Every part of her and her class made our 250 person lecture feel like one big, happy family. Being her student has made me a better person in so many ways and transformed my life perspective. I know that every one of her female students, myself included, saw her as an inspiration for what it means to be a strong, intelligent, and kindhearted woman. Dr. Doyle leaves a truly unforgettable, impactful mark on those that are lucky enough to meet her. This world could really use more people like Dr. Doyle.”  

“I would like to nominate Sarah she continues to enrich my learning, career, and overall life. I met Sarah when I was her student in her Leadership class at the University of Arizona. I was lucky enough to learn from her creative and engaging teaching style. In class, Sarah had hands on learning and real-life examples on leadership. My classmates and I were treated with the utmost respect that lead to deep discussions. Three years later, and I still remember the lessons and can apply them in my career. Overtime, my relationship with Sarah grew, and she became one of my most valued mentors. I graduated from U of A in 2018 and I am now working in corporate America where I face leadership and personal challenges. Sarah continues to teach, inspire, mentor, and help as I grow into becoming a young professional.”

“Dr. Doyle is an inspirational instructor who strives to give students an immersive classroom experience. Although I took her organizational behavior class with over 200 other students, her classroom management style allows for meaningful interactions with peers and the instructional team through weekly content-related activities, peer recognition moments, and the ability to actively answer questions posed in class. She also brings in career experts to bring new and diverse perspectives into her teaching. Dr. Doyle incorporates cutting edge research (both her own and other publications) to present fact-based arguments in her lectures. Students recognize the tremendous contributions that Dr. Doyle makes to the Eller College of Management. She won the student choice award for the “Most Engaging Faculty Member” for all of our business school. It is my honor to recommend Dr. Doyle for this recognition, as she deserves this and so much more!”

“The reason why I believe Sarah Doyle is most deserving of the Best Undergraduate Business School Professors award is because when I look back during my journey at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, Sarah was the most instrumental professor to my professional and personal development. Sarah’s teaching methods are informative, interactive and enjoyable. I always find myself learning a lot about professionalism in the business world after each class and learning more than just the lectures. She creates a learning environment where we can collaborate, have open-discussions and respectful debates about the material and related events. She always finds a way to make stressful classroom tasks such as research and projects a lot easier with her detailed suggestions, simplistic instructions and positive attitude. Formerly being the President of Eller Management Association (EMA) – a student-run organization at the University of Arizona and having Sarah as our club advisor has benefited our organization in a major way. We were able to make a positive impact in our college community and help students in their professional development. With all the hard work our club put in this semester, we were able to earned the award for the most outstanding student organization of the year for the business college and it could not have been possible without the endless support from Sarah. Sarah has been the best professor and advisor I can ask for during my time at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. Her passion for Eller students and their success is evident. I will truly value all the lessons and guidance I’ve learned from her throughout the semesters. I am appreciative of all of her hard work and devotion to my scholastic development. Sarah Doyle is an amazing professor and is worthy of this prestigious award.”

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