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Research Excellence Rewarded

Annual research awards bestowed on Professors Julian Barling and Matthias Spitzmuller

Julian Barling, Research Achievement Award recipient for 2016

Soon after he learned of his award, Julian Barling took out his CV and did a little math. Since establishing his academic career in Canada in 1984, after emigrating from South Africa, Julian has penned more than 150 journal articles and some 60 book chapters, and written or edited 12 books. Amongst that vast output, he found only five works that he produced as sole author, and four of those were editorials in journals he edited. 

“Every other article and book chapter that I’ve written has been with a current or former student,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to work with amazing grad students who, in many cases, have become colleagues and close friends.” 

Known for his research on transformational leadership, Julian is currently exploring the roots of leadership, specifically how growing up in poor socio-economic circumstances, or experiencing severe inequality, can affect the later emergence and nature of leadership. 

“I’m fascinated by how poverty affects the motivation to lead during one’s school years,” he says. “If you grow up in poverty, you end up in poorer quality schools. You will have a different quality of role model. Our first study was simply about whether you become a leader or not, and we found that you’re less likely to.”

Future studies will look at the effects of stereotypes of poverty and how selection biases of hiring committees can be overcome.

In a way, Julian is coming full circle from his own days as a graduate student. “My PhD was on child psychology,” he says. “I’m going back to my psychology roots.”


Matthias Spitzmuller, New Research Achievement Award recipient for 2016

Given his keen research interest in the field of helping behaviour, Matthias Spitzmuller probably sees the glass as being half full rather than half empty. 

Matthias has two main streams of research. The first investigates what happens when employees go above and beyond the call of duty. How does such behaviour affect them and the groups and organizations in which they work? The second focuses on what motivates teams and the link between these motivations and team performance.

One of his current research projects examines what happens when a team member from an ethnic minority offers to help a teammate. In a study of Caucasian-dominated teams with only one non-Caucasian member, individuals in the majority group tended to attribute the helping behaviour of the outsider to a desire to ingratiate him/herself rather than to genuine altruism. However, when a second minority member was added to a team, this negative effect disappeared. Suddenly, people were more careful in identifying the motives for others’ actions. “In the current political climate,” says Matthias, “this is an important finding.” 

Matthias joined the school in 2014, after four years as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore. He describes himself as a good conceptual thinker. “What I’ve been able to do is to integrate separate research streams and to push the boundaries in how we think about certain concepts or phenomena. That’s the skill most useful to me in my research.”