by Sarah Marten
Originally from Croatia, Dr Josko Brakus worked in upstate New York until 2008, as Assistant Professor at the prestigious Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester. He is now based in the UK, working at Brunel University in their Business School as a Lecturer in Marketing. Josko’s research interests include consumer behaviour, experiential marketing and branding practices and decision processes from a consumer and managerial viewpoint. He recently talked to Sarah Marten about his interesting time spent working in the United States of America.
Why did you choose to work in America?
It is relatively common for better students from Croatia to apply for a PhD in the USA. My background had been in civil engineering, but I had decided to change direction after meeting one marketing professor during my master’s course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Until that point I had not thought about a career in business, although I knew that I wanted an academic career. The opportunities within civil engineering academia are very limited in the USA.
Did you have to arrange your own accommodation?
Yes, I had to arrange my own accommodation when I started at Rochester. However, that was an easy thing to do because accommodation was relatively cheap. It was quite easy for me to rent a large flat or a house in Rochester.
Was there an orientation programme for new staff?
When I started at the University of Rochester there was not a staff orientation program as such – it was a case of learning as I went along. However, I was provided with a very helpful personal assistant/secretary, who assisted me with all the paperwork newly appointed staff need to complete. Additionally, the Human Resources Department offered short workshops to help me with the administration of my insurance, payroll, retirement fund, social security and so on. There was also help with email and general IT support, provided by the school’s internal IT support team.
How did you find the Higher Education sector in the United States?
The University of Rochester is a very small university by American standards, with just over 4500 undergraduates and a low student to teacher ratio of 9:1. It is also a private university, and its Simon Graduate School of Business is one of the top-rated business schools in the USA. Private business schools in the USA essentially operate for a profit, and as a result they have a degree of freedom concerning the students they recruit. Much of their funding comes from substantial endowments, often from wealthy business-people who were themselves former students.
Students at the Simon Graduate School of Business are all studying at postgraduate level, including full and part-time MBA and Master of Science courses.
What sort of work were you engaged in?
My work included lecturing as part of a team of 55 staff with only 250 to about 330 full-time students, in the field of marketing and market research. Teaching students occupied between 100-120 hours of my time in each academic year, which for me is broadly similar to my teaching commitment in the UK. Lectures typically comprised about 20 to 60 postgraduate students, comparatively small by most standards.
What about your research?
Research is of paramount importance at the Simon Graduate School, and as well as this I also supervised a small number of PhD students. My research is in the field of social psychology, and is mostly lab-based experimental research. I find that students can be ideal scientific subjects, although if necessary I recruit other subjects, perhaps in a shopping mall.
One area of my research focuses on self regulation theory. People normally fall into one of two groups, either promotion-orientated or prevention-orientated. When individuals regulate their behaviour in order to reach a particular goal, those who are promotion-orientated are concerned with positive outcomes and they tend to maximise the likelihood that a positive outcome will materialize. The second group of people, the prevention-orientated group, are concerned with negative outcomes and they prefer to minimise the likelihood that a negative outcome will materialize. Compared to prevention-orientated consumers, promotion-oriented consumers are more likely to take and tolerate risks.
In a study conducted with real consumers in a shopping mall we have found that consumers who were chronically promotion-orientated were more likely to actually own new products in a number of categories (from DVDs, flat screen TVs and camcorders to teeth whitening strips and home dry-cleaning products) compared to chronically prevention-orientated consumers who were more likely to think whether they would be able to master the new technology and were less tolerant of the potential risks associated with the new technology. The results of this research have implications for new product positioning and promotion.
How many hours did you work in an average week?
My working hours could be anything between 40 and 80 per week, which is fairly typical for any new academic in a school like Simon. So this can mean working during the evenings and at weekends at times. For me an average working day starts at 10 am and finishes at 10 pm, although the arrival of our baby son meant that I had to make adjustments at times. I was very fortunate in that the University of Rochester were extremely flexible.
The academic year at Rochester is broken up into four quarters, and for one year, after the birth of my son, I was able to fit all my teaching into one quarter. My wife had to return to full-time work very shortly after the birth, and so I was able to fit my research work around our new arrival, whilst also engaging additional childcare. The employment policies at the University of Rochester were certainly family friendly and I have also found the same level of support since starting work at Brunel University.
What is life like for a junior academic in the US?
During your initial years as an academic in the States you need to work exceptionally hard in order to progress. At somewhere like Rochester it is expected that you will publish work in the most prestigious academic journals. In my discipline, which is relatively young, seven or eight journals are considered to be A-level and only four or five to be the really top journals and so the competition is fierce. Long hours are necessary until you reach a tenured position as an Associate Professor, a process which normally takes about six years in most business schools in the U.S. For some this pressure is too much, and they may move to lower-tier schools or into industry, leaving the academic world behind them.
As well as achieving a portfolio of published work of a high standard, junior academics also need to maintain their teaching standards. Your teaching is evaluated regularly by senior colleagues during your first three years.
What was the social life like?
I tended to work really long hours whilst working in the States, and any social life tended to revolve around academic colleagues and events such as conferences. However, I travelled extensively during my time in this part of America – from Australia to Mexico and to most parts of the US.
In addition, Rochester is an old American industrial city (Xerox and Kodak were founded there and their headquarters are still in Rochester) and a culturally a very vibrant area, with a varied cultural life which includes an important jazz festival, a symphony orchestra, a cinematheque (a combination of film archive and movie theater) with one of the largest archives in the world (thanks to Kodak), many exciting museums and a few really good live music clubs. If anything, all this proved to be a distraction from my work.
What made you leave the USA?
My wife and I both come from Croatia and we wanted to be nearer to our parents who live there. I also found that my experience gained in the US made me an attractive prospect to UK universities.
How easy is it to get a work permit for the USA?
Obtaining a work permit for the USA can be difficult. Universities must ensure that there is no suitable home applicant available before offering a post to someone from overseas. However, American universities want to recruit the very best applicants, and for this reason it is often quite a straightforward process. I was fortunate in being able to obtain a Green Card because my wife had started working in the U.S. before I did and she already applied for one.
What about the American students?
The MBA students I worked with were extremely focussed, and many had their hearts set on a career in Wall Street. Some of the students initially had a negative view of marketing, seeing it as perhaps a soft or” fluffy” subject. Their position usually changed once they appreciated the value that effective marketing can add to business.
Marketing embraces not only quantitative analysis but also, and most importantly human psychology and qualitative analysis; because the students arrived with an existing interest in finance, they could appreciate the first and soon embraced the latter. After the Wall Street recession during 2002-3, applications for courses in marketing surged and its popularity as a future career option for graduates, especially in brand management, also increased.
About 50% of the students at the Simon Graduate Business School would be classed as international, coming mostly from South-East Asia, China, India, Russia and South America. Their standard of written and spoken English was very good. Both overseas and home students pay the same tuition fees, set close to $40,000 a year at the time. Some of the students were funded by large companies or government.
Because the fees were very high the students had high expectations, both of themselves and the course. This made them very ambitious and hard-working.
How has working in the USA helped your career?
PhD students in the USA have the benefit of a formal training in how to become a researcher. I was offered 16 courses which included experimental design, research methodology and statistical analysis as well as specialist PhD-level courses in Consumer Behaviour, Judgment and Decision Making, Marketing Models, and Choice Models. At the end of the second year an eight-hour examination is taken, and you also sit an oral exam at this stage, all of which helped to prepare me for my future career.
The teaching I did in the States has also been beneficial to me here in the UK. I was able to bring all my lecture notes, slides and other materials over, which enabled me to start teaching straight away. Also, my colleagues at Brunel were also extremely helpful and they shared their teaching materials with me. Academic teaching experience gained in the USA is highly valued in the UK, and American HE applicants are often seen as an attractive option by UK universities. The Simon Graduate Business School has a high ranking alongside other American business schools, and this in combination with a track-record of successful publications in esteemed journals has ensured my credibility with colleagues in Britain.
What did you enjoy most about your work in America?
During my time at the Simon Graduate Business School I really felt that I had won over the students and that we had established good rapport – something that can be difficult to achieve in the States. The feedback I received from students was also very encouraging, and made all my hard work worthwhile. Being appreciated makes a big difference.
Is there anything that you did not enjoy as much?
The pressure to publish in the top academic journals in the USA can be intense, particularly in those early years when you are establishing your reputation. The phrase “publish or perish” aptly sums up the situation for young academics, who may also face critique from colleagues at other universities and that critique can be harsh. The resultant stress can sometimes be hard to deal with.
Have you got any advice for other academics planning to work overseas?
Be ready to “suffer” during your PhD program and until you get promoted to a tenured Associate Professor level. Also, try to hook up with as many smart and experienced people in your field by visiting other universities and presenting your work there and at conferences. In doing so, you will be able to generate good research ideas, to collect data and to write papers that have potential to go to the top journals. Learn how to take a critique in a public forum. Also, try to have a life outside your work.
Dr Josko Brakus studied Civil Engineering for his first degree in Croatia before moving to the US to embark on his Master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During his master’s course he met academics involved in marketing and became fascinated by this field. Josko then obtained graduate scholarship from Columbia Business School to undertake a PhD in marketing there. Whilst studying for his PhD he also worked as a marketing and branding consultant, and then after completing his PhD Josko was appointed to the Simon Graduate School of Business as an Assistant Professor. Josko now works as a Lecturer in Marketing at Brunel Business School, Brunel University.