At first the idea of Michael Kimbrough, rising star at a leading accounting firm, becoming a business school professor seemed just about half right to him.
Conducting research and delving into analyses of business issues had always appealed to him, but opportunities to do so in the deadline-delineated life of corporate client service were limited.
Still, as he considered a possible career switch to academia, Kimbrough hesitated. He had always thought of professors as extroverts—larger-than-life theatrical performers enthralling students with their dynamic presentation style. And Michael Kimbrough thought of himself as the less outgoing sort.
Then Kimbrough did his own research and dug deeper. As he reflected, he saw that “different types and styles work in a classroom.” Moreover, he found the traits needed for the self- driven dynamics of earning a doctorate and in performing academic research as a professor, matched his own contemplative temperament ideally.
“I realized that being a professor requires you to call on skills and traits I did have,” says Dr. Kimbrough.
In becoming a professor, Dr. Kimbrough has found the opportunity to embrace dual sources of satisfaction—the intense yet different kinds of personal rewards he attains by teaching and working with others, and by conducting and publishing research in his own name on the topics that most intrigue him.
“Being in the classroom,” he explains, “is all about the students, and making sure they are ‘getting it.’ Research gives me the satisfaction of doing something that is purely my effort, my ideas, and my direction.”
Dr. Kimbrough received five job offers after completing his doctoral studies, and he has published two articles, with others in the pipeline. Despite his early successes, he might not have become a professor had it not been for a role model who worked down the hall from him in the accounting firm.
“I was at that stage in my career where it was time to think about how to best leverage my experience for the next stage of my career. Now that I knew that life, did I want to invest in it for the long haul?”
As those thoughts turned over in his mind, office colleague Nicole Thorne Jenkins was attending The PhD Project’s annual conference and starting out on the road that would eventually lead her to a professorship at Washington University. She shared her plans with Kimbrough, and he immediately felt it resonate within.
After exploring and resolving his “extrovert-introvert” preconceptions, he followed down the same path, attending the following year’s PhD Project conference. The decision came at that critical early-career juncture “where you think the path of your life has been set.” But after attending the conference, he recalls, “it was as if I was eighteen again, where your life feels like it is wide open before you.”
Dr. Kimbrough also had to overcome his initial assumptions that the competitive nature of doctoral program admissions significantly limited the number of schools to which he should apply. At the conference, academics looked at his background and, based on his credentials, persuaded him to apply to a more ambitious set of schools than he might have initially.
The dream continues…
Dr. Kimbrough taught at Harvard and now is at the University of Maryland, College Park. He has published extensively, in several journals, as he continues to develop both the research and teaching aspects of his position. Teaching an advanced MBA course has enabled him to integrate his research interests into the classroom through cases he writes specifically for the class.