When Professor Ayelet Fishbach moved to the U.S. in 2000 to complete her postdoc, she only intended to stay for a few years. Little did she know that 17 years later she would be the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at Chicago Booth and being interviewed by yours truly. She likens this outcome to the butterfly effect. “We often don’t realize how the small decisions we make end up shaping and changing our lives in the long run. These decisions are far more significant than we give them credit for at the time.”
Professor Fishbach didn’t always plan to study psychology. She initially tried sociology and political sciences before switching. “Intro to Psychology is a very popular course in undergrad institutions. Most students take the course and then move on with their lives. I just never did.”
Although teaching was never a part of her long-term plan, she found herself in the profession and enjoyed the research atmosphere. Chicago Booth was the only business school she considered because it was renowned for its psychology department and its research. Chicago, she said, is the one school that really focuses on research - very few of the faculty members leave for this reason.
While she clearly enjoys her role at Booth, when quizzed on the downsides, she quipped that unlike research where one has control over their own time, teaching is often an early morning to late night job! “While the academic lifestyle should give you more time, when you’re at a place like Chicago with a lot of research support and energetic PhD students, that’s not often the case, and you want to be at a place like that.” She sees a parallel between MBA students who flock towards jobs that will take over their lives rather than more relaxed options.
Outside of her job she considers herself a “boring academic” who likes to read books and hike occasionally. She likes to travel, but more often than not she only travels for work. “It’s a funny situation where I talk about work life balance in my class, but my life and work overlap to a great extent. Perhaps, I will develop more hobbies in my next life!”
Having been teaching for 15 years, she has had her fair share of interesting classroom incidents and I pushed her to quote one. “During one negotiations course, there was negotiation over $20 where the student involved took out a $20 bill from his pocket and proceeded to rip it up in front of the class to illustrate his point that it wasn’t about the money, but rather the principle involved. He clearly seemed to have understood what I was saying about committing to your position!”