The dollars—offers of them, that is—were flying at Constance Porter.
Comfortably situated in a prominent management consulting firm, she found herself the object of an unsolicited, escalating bidding war by two companies seeking to recruit her. The offers were growing increasingly attractive. Uncertain of how to respond, she sought her father for guidance. What she heard was the same message he had delivered to her many times before: “Do what you find fulfilling, not what pays the most. Follow your heart instead of the money.”
Two weeks after sharing his advice, Constance Porter’s father, Albert, died unexpectedly, leaving a void in her life—but a direction as well. She followed his suggestion and accepted the offer that felt like the best fit.
Two years passed, and another family member altered the course of Dr. Porter’s life. Her sister Monica received a mailing about The PhD Project—not the right career move for her, but she knew right away to pick up the phone and tell Constance. “I told her, ‘No way; it makes no sense financially,’” Dr. Porter says.
It wasn’t the first time Dr. Porter had rebuffed the idea of becoming a business professor. Eight years earlier while earning her MBA, a doctoral student observing her passion for researching, learning, and sharing knowledge, had offered exactly the same suggestion. On that occasion, she declined the advice on grounds that she believed in academia she would grow “out of touch with the real world.”
But now, after initially dismissing her sister’s call, Dr. Porter heard her father’s words replaying in her mind. Examining her career, she had to admit that corporate life might not be her true calling. “I asked myself, wasn’t there something a little more challenging and intellectually stimulating?” For Dr. Porter, the answer was “Yes!”
“I had done some soul-searching about the types of activities that ignited my passion. Learning was at the top of the list. Sharing knowledge was also there.”
Suddenly she had no doubts as to what step to take. “Sometimes,” she says, “you know it just feels right.” She attended The PhD Project conference. There, she met faculty members who were passionate about learning as scholars, and teaching as mentors. “Their excitement and passion, along with their willingness to explain the details of the Ph.D. process, hooked me. I knew, from the moment I left, that I was going to do it.
“I had never taught, but in consulting I was always teaching. And I was excited about research possibilities,” she explains. “It just made too much sense, and it wasn’t about the money. What got me to my decision was realizing I was not born a wealthy person. I wasn’t afraid of getting a smaller paycheck, and I knew there was something more important than a salary.”
Far from living in poverty, Dr. Porter is a professor at the University of Notre Dame, where her concerns about withdrawal from the business world have proved unfounded. She integrates “real world” examples into the classroom and her research consistently. The appreciative e-mails she receives from students, sometimes years after they have taken her class, attest to the impact she is already exerting. Female minority students tell her they are motivated simply by her presence. “I push my students to think as hard as they can, even if they hate it at the moment,” she says.
“People are surprised when I tell them I did not always have the dream of getting a Ph.D. I truly am the quintessential academic,” Dr. Porter says. “I love to be thinking about the ‘why’s of the world.”
“All I want to do in life is fulfill my greater purpose— God’s plan for me in the world. I understand that, via this profession, I am a positive influence on the lives of many others. Indeed, in my best moments in this profession, I act as a servant to others. I feel good about that.”
The dream continues…
Dr. Porter continues to influence students and bring real-world cases into her classroom, now at Rice University. She has conducted and published research on relationship marketing, virtual communities, and other topics. Since 2005, she has been a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Consumer Affairs, and she currently serves on the Board of Directors of KidsPeace, a nonprofit organization serving kids in crisis.
In March of 2021, Professor Connie Porter was named senior associate dean of our expanded office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.