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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Ashley Hardin

“I grew up loving this place. I’ve always felt at home here.” And that makes sense: Ashley’s been wandering around Ann Arbor since she was a little kid. Growing up only an hour north of Ann Arbor and as the fifth member of her immediate family to attend U-M, she is familiar with what it means to be a Wolverine. Now, as a doctoral candidate in Business Adminstration, concentrating in Management & Organizations, she’s deepened what that means to her.

As an undergraduate student at U-M, Ashley studied Finance and Operations in the business school and pursued a career in consulting after graduation, working in both Chicago and Boston. She recalls, “It was not quite the long-term career I was looking for; it was missing something. Fortunately, I maintained great relationships with my professors, and one in particular, Scott DeRue, helped me reflect on my values and guided me to studying organizational behavior in a Ph.D. program. While deciding what path to pursue, I read research by Jane Dutton on compassion in organizations. This research deeply resonated with me based on the experiences I’ve had and my perspective has been inspired by her work on the importance of relationships in organizations. This has motivated me to study relationships in the workplace, first understanding them more deeply from an academic standpoint and then teaching others who will have a chance to enact better management practices after their graduation.”

Ashley continues, “Upon first entering the program, I wanted to understand compassion in organizations, how individuals respond to the suffering of their colleagues. How do we notice that people around us are suffering and what are the effects when others respond compassionately?” Her research has evolved more to include a broader perspective: How and why does what we learn about our colleague’s personal life influence the way we treat that colleague at work. She explains, “I want to investigate when learning about colleagues’ personal lives leads to better interpersonal treatment, but also when it leads to more negative treatment like backstabbing or blackmailing. There are a lot of fears about letting people get to know the real us at work, and I want to explore when these fears are merited and when they are not.”

For her dissertation, Ashley is zeroing in on specific aspects of this research, particularly looking at the nonconscious processes impacting how colleagues treat one another. She states, “One of these processes is individuation: do I see you as a unique individual or as a typical group member; another is humanization: do I see you as a human or more like a robot or an animal. When personal knowledge leads to seeing colleagues as humanized, they will be more likely to be responsive to their needs; however, when personal knowledge leads to seeing colleagues as dehumanized, they will be more likely to see the colleagues as a tool to use for their own personal gain.”

It is crunch time for Ashley. She’ll be undertaking the bulk of her research this summer and hopes to have preliminary results that support her hypotheses so she can begin an academic job market search in September. She shares, “I hope I get a job as tenure track professor at a university that values research and teaching. Both are very important to me. Also, it would be great to be at an institution that has Ph.D. students because I’d like to pay forward the mentoring I’ve benefited from as a grad student.”

She considers herself lucky to end up back here in Ann Arbor: “It feels like home here. The people in my department are the perfect scholars for me to learn from and collaborate with. I feel very supported. Being a U-M student again, this time as a grad student, is an entirely different experience. It is weird to walk the same halls and see very few of the same people. But, it still has the same vitality, the same life. This is a great institution and it will be hard to leave this community.”

Since she knows what great things the area has to offer, Ashley has tried to be a Michigan ambassador to her Ph.D. friends. She explains, “Ann Arbor, and Michigan more broadly, is a beautiful place. Grad students are not exposed to all this region has to offer, so I try to expose them by taking them to apple orchards, home with me for Snow Fest, and up to the lake for a long weekend so that they too will realize the gem that we have here.”

Two of her siblings live in Ann Arbor, so Ashley fits in doses of family time, particularly with her two young nephews. Knowing what Ann Arbor has to offer, she also takes good advantage of it, attending AFC soccer games, exploring the downtown food scene, kayaking on the Huron River, and attending all home football games.

In other spare time, she coordinates weekly student lunches for her department’s doctoral program. She explains, “My love of food plays into organizing these lunches, and more importantly they give us a chance to build our student community.” She also helps organize a yearly collaborative data collection effort that provides an extensive data set for faculty and students graduate students to use.

Her experience in grad school has been ideal: “I love how interdisciplinary Michigan is. I can take courses in psychology and political science, and get to know other grad students from different parts of the university. It makes our perspective more broad and enables us to explore ideas in a different way. Not only do we have this ability, but so many of the areas of the university are top programs, that we are able to learn from the best of the best across the board.”

One of those resources is the great funding packages she’s received. She says, “I’m incredibly grateful for the Predoctoral Fellowship. It is really exciting and quite an honor to receive it. The funding allows me to focus on my dissertation, without worrying about taking on additional responsibilities to fund my education. Along with the financial recognition, it is also wonderful to have an outside group see promise and importance in what I’m doing. We, as Ph.D. students, get so down in the weeds with research, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture; this fellowship has created an opportunity for me to look up and remember the value in what I am doing, and to feel validated by an outside group; for that I’m extremely appreciative.”

We are delight to share that Ashley has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis's Olin Business School. She will defend her dissertation in May.