Soon after joining the faculty of Villanova School of Business (VSB) in 2014, Sutirtha Bagchi began working with students in his research.
Bagchi studies state and local public finance as well as the political economy, delving into questions about how governments raise revenue, how they spend it, and what impacts those decisions have on people on economies. Much of his research involves scraping individual websites for relevant data, cleaning it, entering it into spreadsheets, and analyzing it. For example, one project he’s been working on since 2016 is a study of the partisan make-up for local school boards and how that affects the size of school budgets and student outcomes.
To help, he employs undergraduate research assistants to help scrape data from each web page of all the individual county Board of Elections he’s incorporating in his research.
“While the work itself is very interesting and can give rise to findings that can be published in reputed outlets, a key challenge is that the data collection is very very arduous,” says Bagchi, an associate professor in economics.
“I think it does give students a flavor of the kind of work that they will be doing at their first jobs or in research. There is also a more formal nature of the work, the stakes are maybe slightly higher than in the case of their coursework.”
UNDERGRADS AS RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
In his time at Villanova, Bagchi has worked with more than 15 student research assistants, many of them undergraduates, in the school’s various programs that promote student collaboration in the research process. Those include the Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellowship (VURF), First Year Match, the Davis Scholars and others.
Early this month, Bagchi was also the first winner of the new Faculty-Student Collaboration Award, an honor bestowed to a faculty member that engages in “active, ongoing, and sustained research collaboration with student/s.”
He’s hardly alone. Research has long been central to the mission of the Villanova School of Business, and offering research opportunities for undergrad business students is one of its key distinguishing factors. Meaningful collaboration between faculty researchers and students, both graduate and undergraduate, are central to the school’s commitment to the teacher-scholar model.
“These faculty-student partnerships vary a lot. Sometimes, it’s students supporting the faculty member in his or her research. Sometimes, it’s a true collaboration. And sometimes, it’s the student coming up with a research idea that a faculty member becomes interested in,” says Jonathan Doh, associate dean for research and global engagement.
THE VSB HONORS INITIATIVE
About five years ago, in crafting its new strategic plan, VSB outlined three research priorities as central to its mission: 1) Encourage and incentivize the highest quality faculty research as reflected in publication in the best journals with the most citations; 2) Support and disseminate research with real-world impact; and, 3) Formalize and nurture faculty/student research collaborations.
To achieve the third priority, VSB embarked on a redesign of its honors program in 2017. One element was the introduction of VSB 2121, the Business Scholars Seminar, required of all VSB honors freshmen. Each week, a faculty member from one of nine different business disciplines shares with the class his or her research and other interesting research from their fields. Students then complete a literature review on one of the disciplines under that faculty member’s supervision and are qualified to serve as a research assistant in future semesters.
More than 80 undergraduate honor students have been placed as research assistants since the VSB honors program was restructured, Doh tells Poets&Quants. Several of them have co-authored research papers published in peer-review journals.
“Some of the students get really jazzed about research, and they do go on to further research work, including pursuing PhDs,” Doh says. “Some of them don’t, necessarily, but they do get this interesting exposure and something a little bit different for their CVs.”
FOSTERING FACULTY-STUDENT RESEARCH
This fall, VSB highlighted several of these partnerships in its publication: Inspiring Minds: The Power of Faculty-Student Collaboration For Research With Impact. Profiles include Class of 2024 students Jessica Mok and Esha Baxi who are studying financial barriers to female entrepreneurship with faculty advisor Thomas Griffin, assistant professor of finance and real estate. Their research uncovered that until the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, some states wouldn’t grant women business loans without male co-signers. The team is studying the economic impact of the legislation.
“For the longest time, I knew that I wanted to have a career in the business world, but I never knew research could be one of those careers,” Mok says in the publication. “I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity and I am looking forward to using the skills I developed as a research assistant in my future endeavors.”
Addison Drone, class of 2022, has long had an interest in the movie Moneyball and sports, but he was not sure how to apply it to his business education. As a freshman, he approached Narda Quigley, VSB’s Mahoney Family Professor in Business, and started a research collaboration that spanned four years. The pair, along with a colleague from California State University Sacramento, coded more than 300 studies in major management, organizational behavior, human resource management journals to better understand how sport teams samples have been used in business theory over the last 50 years.
“His enthusiasm for this research led me to reflect on why sports teams seem to be such a compelling sample for management research, and that helped spark this collaborative project,” Quigley says.
Their peer-reviewed paper, “50 Years of Sports Teams in Work Teams Research,” was published in the March 2022 issue of Group & Organization Management.
“Dr. Quigley has taken me under her wing with our literature review covering the intersection between sports and team and team effectiveness,” Drone says. “I have learned how to analyze prior research, organize key ideas, and synthesize tangible applications.”
‘LIKE THE OSCARS’
Bagchi’s research assistants do more than scrape data. Especially with the older undergraduates who have worked with him longer, he’s very keen to help them further develop their data skills, particularly in coding and in the data programs required for analyzing complex economic data. It’s the kind of mentorship he appreciated as a student himself.
For example, Bagchi worked several years with a one particular student on research in monetary growth and wealth inequality. Bagchi describes the student–Matthew Fagerstrom, a Villanova Falvey Scholar majoring in economics and political science–as a “brilliant student” whose ideas and contributions led to a co-authored paper published in the September 2019 issue of Economics Letters. Fagerstrom has gone on to earn an M.S. in Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is now a research analyst at the Wharton School.
“It was unusual for an undergraduate to have a publication in a highly-respected journal,” Bagchi tells Poets&Quants, and the two are now working on a paper examining the relationship between wealth inequality and democracy.
While he knew he had been nominated for VSB’s inaugural Faculty-Student Collaboration Award, Bagchi had no idea he would actually win until the ceremony.
“It was like the Oscars,” he says of hearing his name called out before the crowd. “I was hoping I would be a strong contender because I’ve worked with undergraduates a lot over the past several years, but I was absolutely thrilled to win it.
“It’s nice because it marries two of the most important aspects of our job: teaching and research. Undergraduate students’ involvement in research speaks to our advising and mentorship role, which I take pretty seriously.”