The chair of Brandeis University’s business program, Professor Daniel Bergstresser, sat down with The Brandeis Hoot to shed a little light on the business program, its future and himself. This interview is the first in a series of interviews with the chairs of a plethora of different academic departments and programs at Brandeis.
Why did you choose to teach at Brandeis?
Brandeis has an unusual combination of a small size and research intensity. So it combines many of the things that are great about a larger research university with the things that I like about a small liberal arts college. So, that combination is attractive.
What is your favorite class to teach?
I don’t have one favorite class to teach. I enjoy variety, so I enjoy teaching a range of things. When I teach graduate students, I tend to teach a class called “Fixed Income Markets,” which is a class on how bond markets work. When I teach undergraduates, I teach “Introduction to Finance” and that’s also fun. So I think they’re both fun. It’s fun to do both.
If you could teach any class in any discipline, what would it be?
I think I would probably teach a class that is a lot like my “Introduction to Finance” class, but that would be a couple of semesters [in length] and would be able to move more slowly and do things in more detail. Undergraduate finance is really fun to teach. I think that if you gave me a magic wand to wave, I would take the class and I would take the same structure, but I would draw it out over a couple of semesters. There’s a lot that I think goes by very fast and I would take the time to actually go in great detail into things. Something that I’ve never taught before that would be fun for me to teach, but that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find anybody interested in, might be something like the economics and business of athletics and sports. I think I might irritate students with my grumpiness about a lot of the deals that municipalities give to build stadiums, I think a lot of those deals are pretty outrageous deals. So it would be a sports economics and sports business class from somebody who’s a little grumpy about some of the sweetheart deals that sports owners get.
What do you think that the business program does right?
We deliver on the mission of being a liberal arts business degree. We get right exposing students to the whole range of business disciplines. I think we do right making sure our students are exposed to things outside of the narrow business discipline. The business society courses, I think we do that right. In order to measure in business, you have to take [courses] not just within the narrow business disciplines, but you have to take a range of courses from outside of purely business, more of a “business in society.”
Is there anything that you think the business program does wrong?
I’ll tell you something that we used to not do that we’re doing now that I’m very glad we’re doing now. We have just introduced a business communication class which involves writing and speaking. And I think that that is a huge upgrade over where we were before. So I think that’s something where we were doing it wrong. If you had been interviewing me a year ago, I would’ve said I think we need to upgrade that. The change that I would make now [is that] I think we need to slow down some of our instruction in the quantitative disciplines. I think finance and accounting are perceived as very hard classes, and I think we would do better if we slowed those courses down. I would want to deepen what we do and also make it not as much of a rapid, forced march through a lot of material. I think that that takes some of the joy out of learning it. [I’d want to] go at a pace that is more reasonable for the instructor and for the students.
What do you wish that students knew about the business program?
I wish students knew how important it is as a business major to engage very early with [the] Hiatt [Career Center] and the job search side of things. Like I think if I could stand on a platform and tell everybody something, it would be, “what you do in the classroom is going hand-in-hand with looking for a summer internship that is a complement to what you’re doing in the classroom.” These things work together and build on each other. So I would try to highlight for our students how important that side of things is, because our students are very strong in the classroom, and I think that being aware of when recruiting starts for the roles that many of our students turn out to be interested in, [because] recruiting starts very early. You have to start from the end, you have to say, “well, if you wanna be getting a job in field X when you’re graduating, you kind of need to do an internship in that field.” The competition for those internships starts very early, so you need to start thinking concretely about these things pretty early.
If you could tell all the business students one thing, what would it be?
I think I’d say we understand how weird the last couple of years have been during the coronavirus [pandemic]. It’s been a weird couple years for all of us. So I think I would wanna say “one human being to another, these are weird times man.”
Why is there an application for this major?
When the program started, there was a limit put on the size of the program. We have to run the program in a size-limited way, there’s a limit on the size.
How has the business program changed over time?
Most business majors are double majors and the set of double majors that people are doing is drifting a little over time in the direction of computer science. So I think that maybe 10 years ago, I’d have to go back and get some numbers on this, but the business-computer science combination was probably not as common as it is today. So I think that combination changes some of the interests of the students … I think people have always been kind of interested in finance, but I think that especially with the explosion of interesting things to do related to financial technology, I think there’s just also interest. … [Additionally,] adding business communication is a big deal. I think we’re trying to do more across the curriculum to make sure that students can write and speak. One thing that’s really important to me … the first chair of the [business] program was Ed Bayone. I’m the chair of the program now, but I think what we’re doing is I think we’re very consistent with the vision that Ed had when he was leading the program for 10 years. I took over from him, but I think that we are executing, we’re doing things that are evolving, but I think that it is consistent with what was a very powerful vision that he had.
Have you noticed that the career paths that students are taking are changing along with the shift to computer science?
I’d want to get some data before saying anything concrete about that, but yeah. I think anecdotally, it seems like there’s some changes, but it’s also hard to [quantify]. I mean, the pandemic has been weird, and I think the pandemic kind of throws a lot of things in the air. So the last couple of years of data might be a little difficult to interpret.
How do you hope that the business program will continue to change into the future?
One of the most important things you get in college is you learn to work as part of a team. I hope that we will continue to help students develop the sets of tools and the sets of experiences that will enable them to work as parts of teams. I think doing more team projects [is something that] I hope we will continue. The last few years have been a little bit weird, but I think that now that things hopefully are going back to normal, I think it will be nice to return to having more of a campus community. I enjoy going to my students’ sporting events, nothing makes me happier than seeing my students playing soccer or basketball, or seeing my students involved in performances. So I think that that part of what we do as a community has been a little bit less [present] recently. And I think going back to sort of the whole of the campus experience, even though that’s not narrowly business, that’s an important part of what people are doing. So I’m looking forward to returning to more normal [environment] where you get a sense of the student as not just a student in your class, but somebody who writes for The Hoot or somebody who plays in the band, [I like] getting a sense of the whole person.
What is a typical day in your life like?
It starts kind of early because I’ve got kids and I’ve got goats and I’ve got a dog. So the goats and the dog, and the kids, everybody gets up early and has to be taken care of. So in terms of my job, some of the day will be spent teaching or getting ready to teach, some of the day will be spent working on long-term research projects, some of the day will be spent advising students and advising PhD students [and] some of the day will be spent organizing conferences. Outside of what I do at Brandeis, I try to be [with my family]. My kids are both involved in sports so I try to see their sports stuff but that’s kind of a typical day in the life. For myself, I try to run, bike or row for an hour every day. I try to clear my head with some kind of hard exercise.
What do you work towards in your free time?
I spend it with my kids, or taking care of my various animals or running. There’s a lot of really good places to run around Brandeis. I really enjoy running around the Prospect Hill area. Prospect Hill is just a jewel, it’s just a lovely place to run. I’m not very fast, but I really enjoy running in the outdoors. My daughter recently got me a banjo so I’m trying to learn to play the banjo.
Are you any good at the banjo?
Out of all of your work experiences, which one taught you the most?
I served from 2016 to 2019 as a faculty rep to the board of trustees at Brandeis, and I think that that was probably the role that I had where I learned the most new stuff [and] where I learned a lot of new stuff very quickly about how universities work.
Is there anything that you wish the students knew about you?