I was born and raised in Bulgaria during a particularly tumultuous time in the nation's history. Communism collapsed the very year I entered elementary school, and over the subsequent decade I witnessed much social, economic and political upheaval. It piqued my interest in social sciences and history while opening opportunities that my parent's generation would not have dreamed of - like studying abroad in the US. After high school I was fortunate to be accepted at Duke, where I pursued my passion of interdisciplinary social studies with my dual major in economics and sociology. I also got a taste of research with my honors thesis on the impact of different types of reputation on the academic labor markets.
I was pretty sure early on that I was interested in an academic career, I wanted first some experience outside the ivory tower. The three years I spent at McKinsey were a great experience, exposing me to a large variety of industries, from healthcare to mining to financial services, and a fascinating array of problems. I ended up specializing in financial risk management, helping banks and asset managers from Toronto and Sao Paolo revamp their risk management practices in response to the crisis of 2008. However, I always knew I would like to go back to academia, and I chose organizational behavior, as a truly interdisciplinary subject that would allow me to examine human behavior from a variety of perspectives.
My research interests have been evolving ever since starting the program: something that you should expect too! My early interest was the interaction of interpersonal and interorganizational relationships: for example, how the moves of consultants from one place to another can establish connections between their former organizations and their new workplaces. Seeing that it was already a well-exploited topic, I switched to other ideas, such as the impact of interpersonal relationships between mutual fund managers on their trading behavior; how problems of cooperation and coordination with one’s partners shape strategic alliance trajectories; and how the behavior of venture capitalists within investment partnerships affects their future access to investment opportunities. One of the wonderful aspects of the program is the ability to combine my interests in ways I have not anticipated — for example, apply my interest for interorganizational and interpersonal relationships with my background in finance and investment services. The breadth of mentors I was able to find at HBS — such as Ranjay Gulati (Organizational Behavior) and Paul Gompers (Entrepreneurship and Finance) made it all possible.
The Organizational Behavior Program
The OB program stands out among peer business school programs thanks to the deep disciplinary grounding in sociology that it provides. The first year is spent almost exclusively taking core classes with the sociology graduate students, and preparing for the sociology general exam. This gives us a foothold in the two worlds, and membership in a second wonderful cohort in addition to the HBS doctoral one. The access to distinguished faculty in the sociology program, and the vibrant intellectual life of the department — including the Economic Sociology seminar, cosponsored with MIT Sloan — gives much intellectual and career flexibility, especially for those who prefer to stay closer to sociology than to management.
The HBS Experience
One of the biggest differences between my work at McKinsey and my graduate studies is the possibility to sit down and read or think for hours at the time. In the hustle of consulting, much of my day passed in jumping from one meeting, one crisis, one short-term assignment to another. Graduate study is no less busy, but much more long-term in its orientation, and gives much greater flexibility in how you organize your day to reduce distractions.
Advice for prospective doctoral students
Early on it is important to preserve flexibility, for it is far from obvious from which direction the winning idea will come from. The important thing is to pursue topics you enjoy, and fill out enough lottery tickets to get to the winning one.
Do not be afraid to take risks with your research, but also be prepared to cut your losses when an idea is simply not working out. It is too easy to get attached to research ideas that simply refuse to work out, and continue throwing good efforts after bad despite your knowledge of the sunk cost fallacy.