The Never-Ending Pursuit of Wisdom
Indulging in Reminiscence
Dr. Gawande’s childhood in the cosmopolitan city of Jamshedpur strongly influenced his life values and choices. Growing up in the first industrial metropolis of a relatively young democracy, he recalls hearing stories of reverence for Freedom Fighters who sacrificed their lives for the independence of India. His fascination with how people can shape institutions and transform lives on the individual level cultivated his respect for upperclassmen from his school. Inspired by the upperclassmen’s exemplary efforts in supporting younger students from K-12, Dr. Gawande decided to expand his learning beyond the classroom. The years he spent living in the ‘Steel City of India’ allowed him to observe the economic and cultural interdependence between business and its surrounding community first-handedly. His upbringing in the ecosystem maintained by Tata Steel — the company that established and has since shaped Jamshedpur — stimulated his interest in the integrative nature of economics. This, in combination with the lasting impressions made by his role models (the Indian Freedom Fighters and the upperclassmen from school), motivated Dr. Gawande to study Economics at St. Stephen’s College.
The Journey to Knowledge
Despite having the passion and drive to study Economics, Dr. Gawande experienced a degree of career uncertainty in college. Knowing what he did not want to do more than what he wanted to do, he followed his peers into the workforce as a junior marketing manager upon graduating. It was this work experience that helped him identify his desire to broaden his knowledge by pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics. Aware of the United States’ prominence in academic research, Dr. Gawande decided to attend UCLA’s renowned Economics program. With a one-way ticket to the U.S. at hand, he embarked on his journey away from home.
It was emotionally challenging to be over eight thousand miles away from his family and hometown. He distinctly remembered budgeting $15 weekly for three-minute overseas phone calls home. Looking back, he laughs at his efforts to maximize the call by allocating a one-minute time limit for his mother to cry. Although he regrets not having spent more time with his family, Dr. Gawande knows how fortunate he was to be able to study the field of his interest at the school of his first preference. Incredibly grateful for the opportunities presented to him throughout his doctoral candidacy, he insisted that all the hardships in graduate school were worth it in the end. One of those hardships that took him a decade to overcome was writing publishable research, because of this Dr. Gawande always makes sure to remind students that persistence to learn the trade will eventually lead to success. Although it has become significantly easier for him to convey his knowledge into words, he is still on the mission to continuously learn and improve.
To Educate and to be Educated
As an educator, Dr. Gawande believes that the workforce of tomorrow deserves to learn with the most up-to-date materials. With the determination to always make class content relevant for his students, he is constantly searching for new things to discuss with them and applying new knowledge into his lessons. By employing the flipped classroom format he has created an environment for students to freely exchange their ideas and opinions, and given himself the opportunity to learn about our world through the lens of the younger generations. Amused by how much he can gain from trusting and listening to his students, Dr. Gawande finds himself learning different applications and fresh perspectives of the economics concepts he has taught for years. For example, through the class discussion on global regulations in the music industry, and has learned how to make money on Spotify.
Dr. Gawande has found that actively listening to his students’ personal experiences has not only transformed the way he approaches the content he teaches but has also led him to different research directions. Working on research that drew inspiration from his students, he has found himself endlessly fascinated by the honesty of data. With that, he compared the likeness of data and babies by noting how direct and honest both are in expressing needs. Like babies, data isn’t purposely hiding anything from those who are analyzing it. One must treat it with a loving and patient heart to hear what the data has to say and move forward with the message statistically. Even if the results aren’t statistically significant, the honesty of data proves that “no result is [also] a result.” Relaying the message that we might not always see what we want to see from our data, Dr. Gawande tells students to stay immensely curious about the hidden — and underrated — truths and questions.
An advocate for lifelong learning, Dr. Gawande recognizes the relentless search for truth to be the main driver of academia. Learning this valuable lesson from his time as visiting associate professor at the University of Chicago, he took note of how public workshops and seminars foster the spirit of curiosity and the significance of sharing knowledge. With symposiums opened to students and faculty members from various departments, conversations emerge from the exchanges between people with different ideologies and academic backgrounds. Taking from this experience, Dr. Gawande hopes to kindle a similar enthusiasm for the sharing and discussion of new knowledge at UT Austin.
Looking Forward, Not Backward
“There is no part of my career that I look back on with regret. Dr. Gawande is grateful to have been made the chair of the Business Government & Society department at McCombs and is convinced that each of the different parts of his career has led him here. With the ability to implement changes, he looks forward to putting new ideas into practice and leading the department in a new direction. Simultaneously, as a lecturing professor, Dr. Gawande looks forward to the day when he can take his MBA students to India and show them the many things his home country has to offer.
On a more personal note, he is thankful for how flexible academia is when it comes to balancing work and life. Able to schedule his own work hours and take university-wide breaks, Dr. Gawande expresses how he always looks forward to spending more quality time with his wife and children.
Written by Juolin Tsai, Intern at the Center for Global Business