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Author: Megan Nash

Meet Andra Serban, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at VCU Business. A finance graduate turned Auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC); Andra realized her true passion was in the social side of corporations. Fast forward to today, she spearheads research focusing on organizational behavior and leadership, was recently promoted to Associate Professor and holds close an old UK memory that proves to “knock” louder than a thumbs up or down … 

Let’s get started!

Where would Google drop a pin to find you on campus?

VCU Business, Snead Hall, Room B4111

Where did you go to school, what did you major in?

I earned my BS and MS degrees from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, Romania and my PhD degree from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.

What inspired you to pursue a career in your field, and how has your journey evolved over the years?

My experience working in the professional services industry has inspired me to pursue a career in academia. My journey has been somewhat sinuous. After graduating with a finance degree from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, Romania, I worked as an Auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers. During my two years with them, I realized that auditing work wasn’t my true passion but, while working with various clients, I did get very interested in the social side of corporations. That’s how I decided to pursue a PhD in Organizational Behavior (OB). I was accepted in the OB and Leadership Program at Binghamton University (BU) in New York the following year.

That was a major turning point in my career and personal life, and I see it as one of the best things that happened to me careerwise. I became almost immediately very fond of the program and passionate about doing research, especially in the area of leadership. I was very excited to work with faculty members there who are still valued co-authors and friends. 

After graduating from BU, I was offered a job at the University of Warwick, a top research school in the United Kingdom (UK), and was there for three years. I missed being in the U.S. though and felt that the culture here is a better fit for me. So, I decided to come back and joined the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at VCU Business in 2016. 

I’ve been really happy with my decision since, as the culture in the department is very friendly and collegial and fosters exciting research collaborations. I’ve also been assigned to teach courses I am passionate about, another great plus. Overall, my experience here has been very rewarding. I was recently promoted to Associate Professor and am excited for the next steps of my career journey as an academic.

Could you describe your current research or projects? What excites you most about them?

Sure! As I am a co-author on quite a few projects, I will only describe the ones I currently lead. 

Most of them focus on organizational behavior topics, especially leadership-related ones, and what excites me about them is their potential to contribute, even to a small extent, to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. 

One project reviews various studies that have a social network approach to examine leadership phenomena, as much recent research highlights the importance of enhancing social networks for leadership effectiveness. 

Another focuses on the glass ceiling effect in academia and attempts to uncover leadership challenges and other types of micro-aggression women face in their journey to the full professor rank. 

A third aims to identify factors affecting one’s sense of belonging in the workplace and how sense of belonging, in turn, impacts various workplace relevant outcomes, such as one’s performance. 

A fourth aims to determine the threshold pay employees must reach to become meaningful and have a motivational effect, and factors that may affect this threshold. 

Last, a project conducted at the country-level examines governance-related characteristics that impact national innovation and the mechanisms through which they do so. 

All these projects can be useful to policy-makers, scholars and managers alike. I am passionate about the opportunity to highlight major governance issues, at the organizational level and beyond, and about the possibility to contribute to bringing real positive change to people’s lives. These are the drivers behind every project I start or accept to be a part of.

Switching gears, how about some lighthearted questions …

What’s the quirkiest or most interesting research experiment or project you’ve been a part of?

Two that I can think of have been fairly quirky. 

A few years back I worked on a project focused on uncovering factors leading to assassinations and attempted assassinations of political leaders, such as leadership style and several characteristics of the leaders’ environment. We also examined some assassin characteristics. 

Some interesting findings emerged from this research. For instance, certain types of leaders (socialized as well as pragmatic and ideological ones) were the most frequent victims of assassinations, and factors such as national culture, environmental constraints and social conflict also predicted leader assassination. This project resulted in two publications in the Leadership Quarterly, a prestigious journal within the field of leadership.

In a more recent project, my co-authors and I examined the effects of attire style (i.e., business formal, business casual, casual) on perceptions of employee ethicality. What was interesting about this project was that, even though participants stated that they believed you shouldn’t judge an employee based on attire, they still did. We found that, among the three attire styles we examined, business casual resulted in the most favorable judgements regarding one’s workplace ethicality. This study was published last year in the Journal of Business Ethics.

Can you share a surprising or funny classroom moment that has happened during your teaching career?

There have been many over the years. 

The first such moment was at the end of my first semester teaching as a doctoral student. As I entered the classroom for the last teaching day, my students surprised me with festive décor and a card with thank you notes and wishes. Some of them took the time to organize this special moment and it was an incredibly emotional and rewarding experience for me. A few reached out after class and kept in touch with me years after graduation. 

I had a few funny moments in the UK, when I had to teach much larger classes (well over 300 students). It was a scary experience at first, speaking in front of such a large crowd. I still remember feeling my knees melting as I started my first lecture, forgetting most of what I had prepared and freestyling in a shaky voice for the first few minutes. The students sitting in the front rows were so compassionate, they smiled kindly and nodded “yes” the entire time, and that really helped me get from panic mode back to teaching mode. 

Other surprising moments there were due to cultural differences. For instance, I didn’t know that, at the end of each lecture, students, as a class, signal if they liked your lecture or not. They do so by applauding or knocking their desks, collectively. I was surprised and exhilarated when it happened the first time within one of these extremely large classes. I didn’t really know how to react. The downside of this practice is that, when you don’t get the applause, it’s a bit heartbreaking, as you know you haven’t done a very good job at getting them engaged. It does have a motivational effect though – you work hard to make your next lecture the best it can be! 

Overheard at VCU Business
“We’re very fortunate to have Dr. Serban as part of our VCU community. I first met Dr. Serban when she was interviewing for a position in the School of Business, and my admiration for her has continued to grow. She is held in high regard by her peers, not only for her impactful research in leadership, but also for her dedication as a kind and inspiring instructor– her commitment to fostering leadership skills in her students is truly commendable. Dr. Serban enriches our community with her expertise and her warmth, and I’m grateful to have her as a friend and colleague!”

 Susan Coombes, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Management and Entrepreneurship, VCU Business

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