Zhuoxin (Allen) Li
Carroll School of Management, Boston College
“I took Professor Li’s Digital Tech class my freshman fall semester, and he was the first professor I ever met with in office hours. I was nervous going into it, but I remember how thoughtful he was with his instruction in making sure all of my questions were answered and then some. Having a positive impression of one’s teacher really makes you want to learn more and actually learn better than the opposite case, and I had an incredibly positive impression of Professor Li.”
Zhuoxin (Allen) Li, 38, is Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management where he’s been since 2015. He currently teaches Digital Technologies and Strategy and Use.
He has a PhD in Information, Risk, and Operations Management from the University of Texas at Austin.
“I grew up in a rural village in southern China, where few people finished high school and none had attended college. My parents barely completed middle school, but they worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week to send me to college,” Li tells Poets&Quants. “When I finished my Ph.D., I knew I wanted to be a professor and devote my whole life to the education of the next generation, just like my parents. My passion has influenced 800 students I have taught in the last six years.”
In 2020, Li was honored with a Teaching Stars award by the Carroll School of Management at Boston College for “earning the most favorable evaluations from their students while also challenging the students intellectually.” For his outstanding research in digital platforms, he was one of five scholars in the world awarded the Gordon B. Davis Young Scholar Award from the INFORMS Information Systems Society in 2020.
LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I studied computer science in college and management science in the master’s program. I was fascinated by how information technology is shaping our economy and society, so I decided to pursue a doctoral degree researching the intersection between technology and business.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research focuses on the digital economy, particularly regarding how businesses create and capture value from their partnership with big tech platforms such as Apple and Google. I recently received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for my research on delivery platforms (e.g., DoorDash and Grubhub). The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted restaurant operations and restaurants have to offer delivery, primarily through the partnership with third-party delivery platforms. My research finds that the benefits of using delivery platforms don’t outweigh the costs for many small, local restaurants—those hardest hit by the pandemic. Chain restaurants turn out the winners by leveraging delivery platforms. My research investigates whether governmental regulations of delivery platforms can help local restaurants.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Software engineer
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I believe in the idea of integrating research with teaching. I am fascinated by how digital technologies are shaping the landscape of our economy. When designing course modules, I choose emerging topics in digital technologies that have not been covered in textbooks because I would like my students to be ahead of the game. Engaging students with frontier technologies has been rewarding. Some of my students have launched successful tech startups while on campus or shortly after they graduate.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Cool
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I spent my first two years trying to follow the “best practices” of teaching before I realized that I should perhaps just be myself. This also reminds me to focus on students’ strengths when providing advice to them.
Professor I most admire and why: I am indebted to the guidance of Ashish Agarwal, Steve Gilbert and Sirkka Jarvenpaa. They are not only great researchers but also fantastic mentors. I wouldn’t be who I am without their support.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy learning many real examples and different perspectives my students bring to the class. I never feel bored even after teaching the same course for several years.
What is most challenging? Grading is extremely time consuming and intellectually challenging. I expect students to apply the concepts/frameworks they have learned in class, but I also encourage them to think outside the box. It is not unusual that I spend one hour just trying to understand how a student approaches the problem from a different perspective I have never thought about.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Enthusiastic
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Self-serving
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? Hiking and Playing Video Games
How will you spend your summer? My family are planning for a roast trip from the east coast to the west coast this summer.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Places for hiking: Acadia, Maine and San Diego, California, etc.
Favorite book(s): The Little Prince
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I love science fiction films. My favorite movie has been The Matrix. The story of a “intelligent system” is just mind-blowing.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Rock. My favorite was a Hong Kong rock band named “Beyond.”
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Teach students how to learn by themselves. Technology and business practices are evolving really fast. Personal development requires lifelong, self-initiated education.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing more social responsibility. One stream of my research studies how organizations can be “doing well by doing good.”
I’m grateful for… The last two years have been difficult for many people. I am grateful for my family, colleagues, friends, and many others who support me.
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