Interview with Dr. Nancy

posted September 15th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I wanted to talk to Nancy about her recent decision to complete her doctorate in corporate governance because I’m interested in people who make transitions in their lives, in particular women. I want to understand what motivates them to do it, what sustains them while they’re doing it and how they feel about it once it is completed.


The first question I asked Nancy was what made her decide to pursue a doctorate and what compelled her to stick with it. She said: “I had wanted to do the doctorate from my late 30’s, early 40’s.  In fact, I went to Ivey and talked to a few people about it but I wanted to do my doctorate in corporate governance and this subject wasn’t well developed at all at the time.  As a result, it had always been in the back of my mind over the years.  I’d always wanted to do it, wasn’t able to do it and really wished I could.  When my two sons went off to university and a very active board role I had finished because the company was taken over/merged I began to think about it seriously again. I had coffee with the Associate Dean at Ivey and we talked about my being an executive in residence at the school and about my wanting to do the doctorate and the fact that York had declined me for the PhD program. He looked at me and said, ‘you don’t want to do a normal PhD program, you want to do a practitioner-oriented program, so look at the Case-Western program, it’s got a great reputation, etc’. I went home and I looked at the program and it was expensive but luckily my board role had paid out quite nicely so I could fund it and it was everything I wanted.  Why did I do it?  I’d always wanted to do it and everything in my life kind of came together to make it easy to do at that time and my husband was totally supportive and my kids thought it was a riot.”


I asked Nancy where she thought the desire to do her doctorate had come from. She said: “I don’t know.  I did my MBA because I didn’t want…this is how selfish I am…I didn’t want people moving faster in their careers than I did. I was in HR and I was watching all these new recruits and they were all MBA’s and I thought you’d better get moving girl because you’re going to be left behind.  So I took that step and when I came out of MBA I had really enjoyed it.  It was stimulating and fun; it was simply great. And I have to admit when I went back into the working world, although I had a very interesting job over in London and I was lucky to be working there, it wasn’t at all intellectually stimulating. And when I went to work at OSFI, it was as exciting as heck because the head of it had been told to develop a new regulatory structure as a result of two bank failures out in the western provinces, so that was quite challenging, intellectually challenging, but after a while I thought there’s got to be more than this, there’s got to be more.  I was looking for something more than any of the jobs I was doing offered me in terms of intellectual stimulation.”


I asked Nancy to tell me about some of the challenges she faced in her pursuit of her doctorate. She said: “I’ve always been a hard worker and I guess I didn’t anticipate the amount of work involved. I literally worked from morning to night.  I’d wake up at four o’clock in the morning and I’d just start my homework.  Some of my class mates were cutting corners of course, everybody had to cut corners, but I didn’t have to cut corners because I wasn’t working full time.  I could enjoy every minute of it and I wanted to. In fact, I took a year’s break between the qualitative work and quantitative work because I just thought I was moving too fast.  They really push you through the program, you know, baboom, baboom, baboom, baboom and I felt like I was drinking a bottle of really good red wine with a straw.  I wanted to get more out of it.”


I asked Nancy what she considered some of her successes coming out of the program and she said: “One, that I finished, that I survived.  Survival, certainly for most of us, was one of the biggies.  I have such an enormous respect for good research now and I have such a level of suspicion for bad research.  When I read a statement like ‘when women are on boards the financial position of the company is going to improve’ I think to myself there is no research which could prove this claim to be true.  These are ridiculous statements. Most serious researchers would say you can’t make an extrapolation like that because you can’t control all the factors that would impact the financial bottom line of any corporation.  The most you could say is that women add wonderful diversity to the equation and because of their inclusion, issues are generally more broadly considered and debated leading to better decision making.  I found the rigour of the research process impressive. One of the guys in my class was ex-McKinsey  and brainy, brainy, brainy and really good at statistics. Of course, I went into the program with great trepidation about statistics and was quite surprised at how much I was able to master. When I finished the final model from my quantitative research which was so, so important to the work I had done, I had one finding that kind of blew me away and my advisors away and they kept asking me to go back at it to make sure the stats were right, go back, go back, and I kept going back and back and back, so I finally e-mailed my class mate and asked him to audit my research for me to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. He did it for me and came back and said no, I got the same answer.  So it was really important to me that my work and my model could withstand a lot of pulling apart, whatever, because that’s what research is about, right?”


I asked Nancy how she thought her pursuit of this goal impacted her and her family. She said: “Oh, I think it brought our family together.  My husband was so amazing through the whole thing and my level of respect for him, which was always high,  improved because I saw so many women in our program that were getting such grief from their spouses and their family because, of course, now the women were spending time on themselves. One poor woman, I don’t know how she finished.  We just kept telling her ignore it, ignore it, when her husband was having hissy fits and tantrums.  Tantrums!  This is a grown man.  Tantrums when she was doing her homework!  So I tell you, I felt so lucky, and my kids were so supportive.  I mean, my son used to walk by my office and make gestures which indicated he thought I was crazy.  He couldn’t figure out why I was working so hard but it was important to me and I got a lot of support. My mother and my sisters gave me no grief about not visiting as often as I should, no grief about anything, simply no grief.  It was wonderful.”


I asked Nancy if she had to do it again whether she would and she said: “Absolutely, no question!  Absolutely!”


What Strikes Me?

Sometimes our jobs don’t provide the level of intellectual stimulation we require


We can teach our children things by our actions, we can’t teach them with our words


Those we love can choose to support us in our pursuits or stand in our way


It takes a great deal of self discipline to slow down and savour an experience which brings us great pleasure


Many people struggle with determining what the substance of the “next” phase of their life will be and it is often a long held talent, interest or passion which holds the key


What Strikes You?


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