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Two MIT Sloan doctoral students win awards

Michael Bikard and Ashley Brown
Michael Bikard and Ashley Brown

The first annual Doctoral Research Forum was held earlier this semester, in which nine MIT Sloan doctoral students presented brief talks about their job market/dissertation papers and two students received prizes for their work. First place, and an award of $3,000, went to Michael Bikard of the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management group, for his paper, “Is Knowledge Trapped Inside the Ivory Tower? Technology Spawning and the Genesis of New Science-Based Inventions.” Ashley Brown of the Organization Studies Group took second place, an award of $2,000 for her paper, “The Polarizing Effect of Arousal on Negotiation.” The thesis prize committee was comprised of MIT Sloan professors Lotte Bailyn, Glen Urban and Michael Scott Morton.

Bikard, originally from France, came to MIT because he was impressed by the Institute’s ability to turn scientific discoveries into apparent gains for the local economy. He was interested in studying the commercialization of scientific knowledge.

“Every year firms and nations invest billions of dollars to push the scientific frontier, allowing scientists to make breakthrough discoveries. Yet economic returns from investments in scientific research are often disappointing,” he says. “I was interested in studying why so many firms and countries fail to create the kind of economic growth that we see here, around Kendall Square.”

As a PhD student at MIT Sloan, Bikard tackled the fundamental challenge of investigating whether a scientific discovery would have a different economic impact depending on where it was made — and if so, why.

“We can measure performance in coming up with new discoveries by looking at — say — scientific publications or Nobel Prizes,” he says. “But we currently have no way to measure the extent to which those discoveries get used relative to their economic potential. As an example, is MIT successful because it produces extraordinary science or because it provides such a nurturing environment? And how does MIT’s environment compare with that of Harvard or Novartis for instance?”

Bikard created a new method to measure the extent to which scientific discoveries are put to use. Specifically, he studied simultaneous discoveries and used them to conduct the first “twin studies” of new scientific knowledge. To do so, he developed an algorithm that can analyze millions of scientific publications and automatically reveal those simultaneous discoveries. He found that simultaneous discoveries are frequent occurrences, therefore “providing sufficient material to study a number of fascinating questions.”

After he graduates in June, Bikard will begin an assistant professorship at the London Business School, where he will teach a class on the discovery of entrepreneurial opportunities.

Brown, who is from Pittsburgh, Penn., came to MIT Sloan to study the social psychology of negotiation. As part of her dissertation, she researched the effects of physiological activation, such as heightened heart rate, in negotiations.

“Often times, when we negotiate, we feel our hearts start to race or our palms start to sweat. And, much of the existing prescriptive advice suggests that such reactions are harmful for our performance in negotiations. In my dissertation, I wanted to systematically explore whether the effect of a racing heart, for example, is necessarily detrimental,” Brown says. “It turns out that the effect depends on whether you are someone who dreads or looks forward to negotiating. It’s not inherently harmful.”

Brown studied the effect of heightened physiological activation in interpersonal negotiations taking place between two people. In one study, she had participants complete mock negotiations over the price of a used car while walking on a treadmill at different speeds in order to manipulate their heart rate. In another study, participants completed a mock employment negotiation either while walking or while being seated. She then measured the impact of heightened physiological arousal on both social psychological and economic outcomes.

Her research indicates that people should consider whether they are someone who generally dreads or looks forward to negotiating as part of their preparation. If you dread it, then Brown suggests trying to stay relaxed as such individuals tend to feel worse and not perform as well when their heart rate increases. Yet, if you look forward to negotiating, then you might want to go for a quick walk beforehand, or even during your negotiation, since these individuals tend to benefit from getting revved up.

After she graduates in June, Brown will be a research associate in the Psychology Department at Stanford University.

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