Olivier Roche completed his PhD in Management in 2008 from the Desautels Faculty of Management. He is currently a Professor and the Dean of the School of Business and Economics in Tashkent.
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a PhD?
Well, I have an unusual profile. I’m a former practitioner, so the first 20 years or so of my career, I was an investment banker and worked for corporations and banks. At one point in time, I decided that I was interested in academia and wanted to become a professor. Even at the World Bank and at the investment banks, I was in charge of writing research, but a different type of research. But my main motivation was to become a professor in order to teach and write research.
Q: And are you now a professor?
Yes, I’m a full professor and Dean of the Business School.
Q: Are you enjoying your job?
Yes, I think one of the best decisions in my life was to move into academia. After so many years, I still love to teach. I also have a group of people I write research with—I find it very interesting. It’s not only doing research, but also working with other researchers, attending conferences, and teaching. So I like the whole package.
Q: What was the most valuable thing you learned during your PhD that you use in your current job?
I use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in my research—that’s a must. That’s something that, you know, I’ve seen too many PhD graduates from schools that don’t teach research properly who are unable to write research. I think one of the main objectives of a PhD program is to provide students with the tools that they need to actually write research. So the two courses that I found the most useful to me today were the courses on qualitative and quantitative methodologies.
Q: What kind of support or mentorship did you receive during your PhD program?
I had a thesis supervisor, Jan Jorgensen. I still have a good relationship with him now. He wrote a recommendation letter for my promotion to associate professor and also wrote a recommendation letter for my Fulbright grant. So the relationship with your supervisor is important not only during the PhD but also after graduation.
Q: What were the main challenges that you faced when you were completing your studies?
The main challenge is that either you will have a topic that is interesting to you and also of interest to a specific professor, and that tends to go fairly well. Or your topic is not of particular interest to a specific professor and then you end up in the pool of PhD candidates supervised by the same supervisor. And I ended up with a very nice and supportive supervisor. But in terms of publications, it’s harder if you don’t have the same area of research interest as your professor. I think that the support from the faculty has to be a bit more. They should either provide more support for the students that are accepted or limit the number of students in the program. It’s not so much lack of material or resources, it’s more of the support you have from a mentor who will guide you through your research and will encourage you. I think that’s the core of the difficulty of a PhD and the reason why so many people just drop out.
Q: Do you think you would have benefitted from more support and more guidance in your research?
Yes, I think if I had to improve something for McGill that would be it. Very early on in your PhD program you have this relationship that will guide you through, and provide connections amongst other universities.
For example, my specialty is corporate governance. So we had a corporate governance institute at McGill, which was helpful for completing my thesis, but at the same, Concordia and UQAM also have professors with the same passion or research interests. And it would have been really nice to have this network where you are not struggling as a student who has to make cold calls to find somebody who may or may not be interested in what you do.
Q: Did you have other challenges, such as working long hours?
I used to be an investment banker, so I’m used to very long hours. I think a big plus of being a former professional is that we know how to work long hours. We are extremely focused. In other words, we start doing research and we don’t stop. I had a life outside of work, but most of my family was in Washington, D.C. and I was alone in Montreal. I think the combination of the long winters and being alone made me very productive in terms of making sure I was putting the work to finish as quickly as possible. I started my PhD in 2002 and became an associate professor in 2012. So within 10 years, I completed my PhD and got my tenure, and that is fast by academic standards.
Q: Did you have a family when you were a student? Was it hard to be away from them?
On one hand, it was hard. You miss your family and young kids. On the other hand, it was a plus because I did actually work seven days a week, as quick as possible. So it’s a motivation and a pain at the same time.
Q: Have you ever thought about pursuing a career outside academia?
I was very clearly motivated to be a professor. I wanted the teaching, the research, and the lifestyle—the whole package was very attractive to me. I was not disappointed when I started to work. I’m still happy with my job 14 years later. I still believe I made the best choice in my life by moving into academia. Being a professor is the best job in the world. You have so much freedom to choose your research topic—if you have the passion for something interesting, you can really go for it. You get to meet people who share the same passion or the same interests. And you travel all over the world for conferences. What is there not to like?
Q: If you had not found a job in academia, what would you be doing?
I could have gone back to work at the bank and do equity research. I used to be an equity analyst writing commercial research. I could have been an administrator. But I’m actually an administrator as a Dean. In the commercial world, I think I would have gone back to the bank because that’s where the money is.
Q: Is there something you wish you knew before starting your PhD?
I think I underestimated the difficulty of the PhD. It’s not a degree—a PhD is a relationship with many stakeholders, including your committee, your thesis supervisor, and whatnot. So it’s no wonder that you have so many people who start a PhD but never finish it. I thought it was a degree but no, it’s a lot more than that. It’s a relationship, it’s long, it’s hard, and it will test how persistent you are.
Q: Lastly, is there something else you want to say?
When I joined the PhD at McGill, what I enjoyed the most was the diversity of the student profile—you had the young, the not-so-young, the more mature—and that was a great mix. McGill has this ability to provide not only quantitative but qualitative research methods. When I finished my PhD, I had three job offers. I didn’t have to fight very hard to find a job because McGill carries some weight. My daughter also graduated from McGill. She joined Goldman Sachs after graduation, and she is now doing an MBA at Oxford. We are both proud graduates from McGill.
Many thanks to Olivier for sharing his PhD narrative! You can find more about him and his work at Westminster International University at Tashkent.
This interview took place in March 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.