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October 6, 2022

Ph.D. Program Prepares Mbaraonye to Lead as Faculty

Ph.D. Student Gets Hands-On Experience with Support of Faculty Mentors
Ph.D. Program Prepares Mbaraonye to Lead as Faculty
Izu Mbaraonye (center), Ph.D. student in management, feels prepared to lead as a faculty member due to the research opportunities and mentorship he received from Varkey Titus Jr. (left), associate professor of management, and Mirzokhidjon Abdurakhmonov (right), assistant professor of management.

Izu Mbaraonye, Ph.D. candidate in management, hoped to satisfy his own curiosities about management practices within companies by pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business. Now in his fifth year and in the job market, Mbaraonye feels more prepared than ever to serve in a faculty role thanks to the mentorship and research opportunities he received at Nebraska.

“I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in management because I wanted an area that allowed for a more holistic understanding of companies. Management is uniquely positioned in that management research seeks to understand companies at all levels of analysis,” he said.

From day one, the Department of Management supported Mbaraonye, connecting him with Varkey Titus Jr., associate professor of management, who helped hone his research efforts and served as a teaching mentor. Even as a new member in the department, the first-year graduate student felt like a peer among the faculty.

“My first year working with Varkey, I found I had very good chemistry with him. He was always open to new ideas and easy to work with. He treated me like a colleague instead of a student,” Mbaraonye said.

Mbaraonye’s research interests led him to collaborate with Mirzokhidjon Abdurakhmonov, assistant professor of management. With an environment that encourages collaboration between Ph.D. students and faculty members, Mbaraonye found opportunities to work on high-level research projects with tenure-track professors.

“I was interested in understanding corporate political activities, like lobbying or political action committee contributions, and Mirzo did just that, so I was able to connect with him. Working with him and Varkey, I got to understand how research works, what’s feasible and what has or has not been done,” Mbaraonye said. “It's helpful to work with more senior professors like Varkey or Mirzo because they help point you in the right direction.”

With a 2-1 ratio of tenure-track faculty to Ph.D. students at the College of Business, students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with renowned industry thought leaders and learn from them.

“One of the most important things we offer is mentorship and hands-on experience. Engaging in the activities of being a professor is critical, but it is also important to have conversations with people who have gone before you to help you make sense of it all. That sense of ‘we’re all in it together’ is a big part of developing as a professional, as it reminds you of the importance of your input into a broader process,” Titus said.

The College of Business employs more than 80 tenure-track faculty who have authored 172 articles in top peer-reviewed journals since 2017. Ph.D. students often co-author these articles.

“Students in our department have the freedom to identify faculty with whom they are interested in working. We encourage this—a student taking initiative by reaching out to a faculty member and saying ‘I have an idea for a research project,’ can be a win-win for the student and faculty member,” Titus said.

Currently, Abdurakhmonov, Mbaraonye and Titus are researching variables that predict why firms engage in political activities, such as lobbying. An uncommonly discussed topic in academic literature, the relevant research could impact government and the public.

“The societal impact of our research is to ensure that the public knows how firms behave in political arenas and what are the (un)intended consequences of a firm’s decision to engage in political activity. Together, we use a computer-aided tax analysis to code from 10K reports for information about why firms engage in lobbying and how it affects their operations,” Abdurakhmonov said.

Mbaraonye working at a white board with Titus and Abdurakhmonov.
As a Ph.D. student, Mbaraonye works with senior faculty like Titus and Abdurakhmonov on high-level research projects. Currently, the three are researching variables that predict why firms engage in political activities, such as lobbying.

Mbaraonye plays a significant role on the research team by ideating and identifying data sources, as well as collecting, cleaning, coding and analyzing the data, theorizing and developing conceptual models. This hands-on approach provides him valuable experience in the research process.

“As a Ph.D. student, I’ve gained the skills to develop research questions and obtained applicable data while writing manuscripts with top management journals. I’ve also enjoyed learning how to complete the correct statistical analysis to examine research questions,” Mbaraonye said.

Having a Ph.D. student like Mbaraonye assisting in research proves beneficial, according to Titus.

“Izu’s creativity and reliability has made substantial contributions to my own research. I sometimes joke with him that he enables some of my more unorthodox ideas, as he’s got a real strength thinking through ways to find and collect data that help us address different kinds of research questions,” he said.

With the college's 100% post-graduation placement of Ph.D. students in recent years, Abdurakhmonov envisions a bright future for Mbaraonye.

"Izu’s work clearly shows that in a short amount of time he has demonstrated the ability to lead projects and overall been very productive in the research arena. This speaks to the drive, ambition and work ethic Izu possesses," Abdurakhmonov said. "While working closely together on our research, Dr. Varkey Titus Jr. and I have watched Izu develop the skills needed to become a professor in management."

Mbaraonye also attends several conferences with faculty to present on research and network with faculty and students from other institutions, making invaluable connections.

“Through conferences, I’ve met people who showed interest in my research and my teaching skills. I recently met a co-author from Canada at a conference who came to my presentation, liked my work and asked if I could help with a research paper,” he said. “Two of my job interviews so far happened because of people I met at conferences. When I applied to the schools formally, they were able to put a face to my name.”

As Mbaraonye continues to search in the job market, he feels confident in his abilities to lead in any capacity as a faculty member. Until then, he remains committed to numerous ongoing research efforts at Nebraska Business.

“My time as a Ph.D. student at Nebraska has allowed me to develop the skills necessary to succeed as a faculty member in management. Thanks to supportive faculty members in the Department of Management and the abundance of resources at the College of Business, I now possess the research and teaching skills that I need to find success at any institution,” Mbaraonye said.

To learn more about the Ph.D. programs at the College of Business, visit: https://business.unl.edu/phd.

Ph.D. Student Fellowship Funds

Join our community of alumni and friends who are helping boost financial support for Ph.D. students – beyond what they received as research and teaching assistants – so they can focus their attention on innovative research projects with their mentors. The fellowship funds also help attract the brightest students from around the world.

Six Ph.D. funds can be designated using the link below:

  • School of Accountancy Fund
  • Economics Department Fund
  • Finance Department Fund
  • Management Department Fund
  • Marketing Department Fund
  • Supply Chain Management & Analytics Fund

Through ample opportunities for research, publication and teaching, they are honing their skills to make a positive impact as university professors, leading economists and business leaders in Nebraska and beyond.

Donate to the fund at: go.unl.edu/cobphd