Tom Kochan

Sloan School of Management
Modeling mentorship

Known for his scholarship and activism at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Tom Kochan is also lauded by students for his caring mentorship.  In a C2C nomination letter, one student cites Kochan as “a model for the type of scholar, teacher, and mentor I would like to someday be.”

Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research, and the Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His research focuses on updating America’s work and employment policies, institutions, and practices to keep up with a changing workforce and economy. His work calls attention to the challenges facing working families in meeting their responsibilities at work, at home, and in their communities.

Listening and learning

In his advising, Kochan actively listens (a Mentoring Guidepost identified by the C2C program).  He devotes time and energy to engage with his students and gives students an opportunity to express any obstacles they might be facing. One student remarks that Kochan “can always find time to hear you out and talk about your next move.”

Students say that they feel relieved after talking through their research problems with Kochan. “Not only did he help me work out a plan to address the struggles I was having with my work, but he also let me know that I was not in it alone.” Kochan helps students to work through research problems “without being judged negatively for mistakes.” Instead, he focuses on what is going well in the research. “He always sees the good–the best, the positive–in all of us.”

In graduate school, Kochan remembers that he was torn about whether to expand his studies of traditional industrial relations to include organizational behavior. “My mentors urged me to do so  and at first the activist side of my brain resisted.” Giving into his practical and intellectually curious sides, Kochan ended up following his advisors’ guidance. “It added a year to my graduate studies but it was the best investment I could ever have made.”

Supporting collaborative scholarship

Because Sloan students study topics covering multiple disciplines, Kochan says, they have a special challenge of identifying the parameters of their research questions and meeting the varied expectations and practices of each field. For instance, a student might approach a research question about work conditions in America by using theories and methods established in Sociology, Economics, Law, and History.

Depending on where they would like to publish, Kochan notes, it is also challenging for students to craft their writing into a new field-specific tone and format. Kochan says that there is no single model for how to best move forward with such complicated research questions. “Each student has to find their own way and we as advisors have to help them do so.”

Working together and learning from peers is an important step in this process. Kochan has worked hard to build a cohesive community of scholars at the Institute for Work and Employment Research that help each other to develop and then lead the field in new directions. Kochan remarks that building and sustaining a collaborative community of students, faculty, and alumni is the most important part of his job. “Nothing is more satisfying than to see how members of our community go on to do great research, lead our field in new directions, and work together.”