Laura Berdish is a both a professor and a librarian at The Ross School at The University of Michigan. Before her career in academia, she worked in technology, publishing and as a librarian/research assistant for the Transportation Research Department at General Motors.
Q. You have worked in the technology and media fields prior to academics. How does that color how you approach what you do today?
A. In general, the industry experience and the fact that I was able to work in all kinds of organizations (from a startup to General Motors, as I like to say) has been invaluable when working with student teams that are working on "consulting" projects with a wide variety of corporate sponsors. In particular, the time that I spent in the computer industry building internal information resources for marketing and sales staff gave me direct experience with the templates, frameworks and concepts that we are teaching here at Ross every day that has been invaluable as I help students find and use the correct information and data, and work on research projects with Ross faculty.
Q. Your current job is unusual in that it straddles both teaching and research/information. Can you talk about how that is structured and what an average year looks like for you at school?
A. I have been teaching as part of a team of faculty on one of our core courses: BA 200 Business and Leaders: A Positive Difference, which is required for all of our sophomore BBAs. The course is only offered in the fall term, so I've been essentially working on two jobs during the fall terms, because the two aren't directly related, although the teaching opportunity grew out of my work with the course as a librarian. The students in my section, however, do get to hear me talk about the importance of business research, and probably get a bit more information on what's in those databases we buy that can help them. And my teaching has definitely informed my library gig and vice versa; I spend a lot more time thinking about how I communicate, whether in person, Zooming or with our research guides and other online assistance we offer to students, and less on what I'm telling them - and also how to focus more specifically on what they need to know and how they can directly apply it to their project or problem. Sometimes as librarians we try to tell everyone everything - we have bought a lot of databases in the past here at the University of Michigan, and we don't want you to miss anything! Teaching and working in the businesses requires a more focused approach that looks at the process and the connections between the specific needs of a business plan, or long-term strategy document and the information that helps you make the case.
Q. Tell us about the MAP projects at Michigan and the roles played by librarians?
A. Multidisciplinary Action Projects is the founding program for our broader-based Action-based Learning Activities at Ross. The program began with full-time MBAs, and is a required program for all graduates. Each year, all of the MBA first year students are placed in teams (the number of teams varies - last year I think we had 84), and each team is assigned one of our librarians. I've had from 11 to 17 teams assigned through the years for research support, including some general introduction to our Ross and UM database resources based on the project requirements, industry focus, type of organization etc. Ongoing research support throughout the half semester course, which is about 8 weeks, varies with the team and the project, as does the complexity - and how much work I have with each is highly dependent on the resources we've got to help them, too.
It's a lot of work, but it's the best work we have, and in the 15 years I've been here we've grown to include action-based learning at all levels in our program, from the BBAs to the Execs, so we've always got some kind of team work on a year-round basis these days!
Q. What are the topics your students are most interested in right now in the sports business?
We have projects in all aspects of sports management through the years. Most every student team needs consumer/user/fan data, however, including professional team and college fan buying, attendance and viewership. More recently, there’s been interest in the social media fan data and multiscreen viewing data, too. We had someone researching a Peleton competitor and wanted to know how many people cycle at home. Other students were interested in the sports marketing contracts that universities sign with big companies. I tell our students to use SBRnet rather than Google because it’s focused strictly on the sports business.