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‘Hanging On and Seeing It Through’


‘Hanging On and Seeing It Through’

Quinetta M. Roberson
: Associate Professor, Human Resource
Studies, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Education: Ph.D., Organizational Behavior,
University of Maryland; MBA, Finance and Strategic
Planning, University of Pittsburgh; B.S., Finance and
Accounting, University of Delaware
Age: 35

Dr. Quinetta Roberson wanted to have an MBA before she turned 21, and to become a tenured professor by the age of 35. She did both.
“I’ve always been an over-achiever,” she says.

Roberson says once she realized that she was passionate about research and writing, all she had to do was figure out how to be in school for the rest of her life. So she took a severance package from the bank where she worked and returned to the world of academia, first to the University of Pittsburgh for her MBA, then to the University of Maryland for a doctorate.

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach at an Ivy League institution,” says Roberson, who also had a job offer from the University of Delaware, her alma mater. “It’s a lot easier to go down than go up. But in this publish or perish environment, I knew there would be challenges.”

As a research professor at Cornell who wanted tenure, Roberson knew she’d not only have to get published, but published in top-tier journals. “I knew I had to have 10 articles published, half of them in the top five or six journals,” she says.

She did it, and in 2005 she became the first Black professor to receive tenure at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It wasn’t easy. Roberson had to juggle at least 15 studies at a time. “The key,” she says, “is having them at different stages and to work with co-authors. That makes it more manageable.”

When advising tenure-track professors, she also stresses the importance of maintaining balance between teaching and service. Roberson, who also chooses to mentor minority and female students, says she encourages both groups to be persistent, but to also take time out for the sake of their sanity.

For Roberson, taking time out means whitewater rafting, bungee jumping or skydiving. As the only Cornell faculty member with skydiving experience, she’s also taken on the role of adviser to the university’s skydiving team. But whether jumping from planes or safely on the ground, a mentor should be experienced and easy to talk to, says Roberson. She is a product of The PhD Project, which helps promote diversity among business school faculty by increasing the number of minority doctoral candidates.

“What is most impressive about Quinetta is that, despite her extraordinary achievements, she is known for ‘keeping it real;’ just ask any of The PhD Project doctoral students who were amazed to learn that the fun sister they were hanging with was the very same ‘Roberson et al’ that they cited in their research,” says Dr. Olenda Johnson, who mentored Roberson while they both attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.

Johnson, an assistant professor of business administration at North Carolina A&T University, says the student she once mentored “has far exceeded anything I could have accomplished.”

Now that she’s tenured, Roberson says she has more flexibility in terms of her research. Her primary area of expertise remains organizational justice — the study of how fairly people are treated in the work place — but she’s added diversity as a secondary specialization. In addition to her teaching duties, she’s also found time to travel to Milan, Italy, and is serving as an expert witness in a class action lawsuit involving workplace bias.

Research and teaching, however, remain Roberson’s passions.
“Teaching is gratifying,” she says, “because I get to see students learn and apply what they’ve learned in corporate America.”

— By Tracie Powell

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