Qi Zhang arrived at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate pursuing a biology major. After taking a few psychology classes, her inspiration for human behaviors and thoughts grew, eventually leading her to research employees’ experiences in the workforce. Zhang’s dissertation focuses on why people either fit or not fit in their jobs, and how that can induce a high turnover rate for employers.
Zhang, selected for the Vice President for Research’s Dare to Discover campaign, has worked on her dissertation research through the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Tippie College of Business. With the help of her adviser, professors from the department, and several fellowships from the Graduate College, Zhang is set to graduate with her PhD management and organizations in May 2021.
Q: Why did you pursue graduate school / become a researcher?
A: When I was a sophomore studying biology, I took a few psychology courses due to my interests in human thoughts and behaviors. My interest kept growing as I continued to take psychology courses, which lead me to declare psychology as my second major. Eventually, I shifted my career into becoming a researcher studying organizational behavior and human resource management. As I now reflect on my curiosity in people at work, doing research in this field seems a very instinctive choice to me.
Q: Describe your research in non-expert language?
A: Broadly speaking, I study people’s experiences of fitting in with their work environments, which can be with their coworkers, supervisors, work teams, organizations, etc. I am interested in exploring why people fit in or do not fit in their work environments, what they could do to improve those experiences, and how employees’ levels of fitting in impact their attitudes and performance at work. In my dissertation research, I plan to track the evolution of social networks among team members in organizations, and will use that information to explain and predict employees’ experiences in their work teams.
Q: What impact has your work had on the field/world? What impact do you hope to have on your field/world?
A: Organizations typically “hire for fit” and expect employees to quickly get on board and fit in with their supervisors, teams or departments. However, many people feel that they don’t fit in to their work environments, which creates stress, hurts morale, impedes performance, and increases the turnover rate. By focusing on reasons why people perceive fit or misfit and strategies they use to improve fitting in or deal with not fitting in, I hope my research can disclose the cause, process, and outcome of fit experiences. In the end, I hope that the knowledge generated by my work can help employees fit better into their work environments, and help organizations better socialize, manage, and retain their talented employees.
Q: What programs or resources (on or off campus) have influenced or supported your academic goals?
A: I have received tremendous help and support from my program––the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Tippie College of Business. I have had opportunities to learn from the best in the field through coursework, collaborative research projects, and friendly reviews and comments. For example, my dissertation committee, which includes five professors from the department, encouraged me to have bold ideas and simultaneously mentored me to make feasible verification plans. I have enjoyed great guidance, resources and support from them for my dissertation proposal. I have also been financially supported by my department and by fellowships from the Graduate College, which helped me focus on research without worrying about living expenses.
Q: Do you have any role models, mentors, or inspirational people who have encouraged you to pursue your work?
A: My adviser, Rong Su, has been my greatest role model, mentor, and inspiration. She has encouraged me to pursue my research and provided me immense help. Her passion and insight for research, rigorous and diligent work style, and caring and respectable personality have inspired me to become a better researcher and a better person.
Q: How has your graduate experience shaped your career goals?
A: Through interacting with and learning from professors and other PhD students in the program, I gained a better understanding of myself. I have started recognizing my strengths, and more importantly, my limitations and directions to work towards as a researcher. In the meanwhile, I also obtained a better understanding of research. Seeing impacts our research has on people’s work lives has greatly strengthened my conviction that being a researcher in the management field is going to be my career.
Q: If you could go back to a time at the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?
A: I appreciate all the accomplishments and setbacks I have experienced, and all the help I have received from many amazing people. But if I were to go back, I would probably emphasize the importance of eating healthy food and getting good sleep. I would have found a good habit for eating and sleeping helpful for my life as a researcher and a person in general.