2022 Best Undergraduate Professors: Minjae Kim, Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business

Minjae Kim
Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business

“Professor [Kim] was fantastic at inspiring us to think deeper and think from more than our own perspective about situations in this class. I would recommend this class to anyone at Rice since just improving critical thinking skills is so invaluable and this class/professor are so great for this.” – Student evaluation

Minjae Kim, 34, is Assistant Professor of Management, Organizational Behavior, at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

His research focuses on commitment as a coordination device. He studies diverse contexts – such as startups, labor markets, workplace dynamics, cultural markets, politics, and police – to identify what causes commitment despite alternative options and risks of betrayal and how actors respond to others’ commitment.

His research has been published or is forthcoming in academic journals such as Organization Science, American Sociological Review, Sociological Science, Social Science Research, and Annual Review of Sociology. He is the winner of several best papers and other research awards from Academy of Management, American Sociological Association, and other organizations.


At current institution since what year? 2020
Education: PhD and MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan School of Management), BA from University of Chicago (Political Science)
List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Leading People in Organizations (core class in Organizational Behavior)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I learned from attending academic seminars at University of Chicago that studying social dynamics in organizations and markets can be a job.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I study a wide variety of things, such as startup expansion and pivot, social networks, organizational norms, labor market, politics, and police, but all of my research concerns commitment. That is, we often expect our exchange partners (e.g., employees-employers; customers-producers) to be committed to us, but we often want to be flexible and have a choice of a different exchange partner! So I study how individuals and organizations can appear committed to their exchange partners even though everyone knows of this dilemma and what consequences such commitments may elicit. I often discover that some “irrational” actions that people and organizations take are actually outcomes of careful and strategic calculations.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… a lawyer. I’ve always found it fascinating how people can remain free by obeying their own law, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s terms. Probably would have made a lousy lawyer.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I try my best to have students question arguments raised in class, including my own. My hope is not just that students memorize some theories or arguments from books and articles (although that also is important) but that students acquire the ability to think through an argument and critically raise issues on logical steps and assumptions in that argument. Though, I don’t know if this is what makes me “stand out,” since I think most of professors teach such critical thinking in various disciplines too.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Experimental

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Wear a mic when lecturing in a big hall

Professor I most admire and why: Ezra Zuckerman at MIT. I could not ask for a better advisor who nurtured me to grow as a researcher and pushed me to develop my own area of expertise at the same time. His unending inquiries about the world always remind me that we are surrounded by (but often do not notice) social phenomena that we do not yet understand very well. Plus, he is a great human being to be around!


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They are problem-solvers

What is most challenging? Putting them in the shoes of decision-makers in organizations (rather than observers)

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…actively anti-rubric (for better or worse)


What are your hobbies? Running

How will you spend your summer? Doing research and hosting a family’s visit from Korea

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Colorado

Favorite book(s): The Unbearable Lightness of Being (by Milan Kundera)

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? When Harry Met Sally. You see new things in the movie every time you watch it.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Country-pop, especially that by Ian Munsick (disclosure: he is a friend of mine from high school).


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… students doing research. Contrary to the common misperception, it is a great way of learning how to solve real-world problems.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at…admitting that they did wrong, when they did wrong.

I’m grateful for… academia as a profession. As imperfect as it is, I am grateful to be part of this community that advances our understanding of the world and strives to correct its own and the world’s shortcomings.


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