Robb is an associate professor of operations and supply chain management in the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University. This is his fifth year teaching at Tsinghua.
Q: What motivated you to be a professor?
A: I think my calling includes improving business operations and I do that through applied research, teaching and consulting. Those three things allow me to improve business operations and supply chains. In the fall I am teaching a new China supply chain research course, which is a way to provide synergy between my teaching and research interests.
Q: How does teaching at Tsinghua compare to teaching at other universities?
A: There are some extra challenges teaching here, including the higher diversity of the student body. Almost half are international. To some extent Chinese students come to learn about the world and international students come to learn about China. There are issues of face, and how to obtain the best from a class with multiple cultures present is more problematic than in a typical US school.
Q: How serious are the issues of plagiarism and academic integrity?
A: I think it’s a very serious problem everywhere. In China, it may be more likely to happen than it would be in the US. Many administrators are very serious about it, but some actually are not. I think that is highly driven by teacher evaluations. Face and shame are a big part of Chinese culture, so even if you found it you might not make an accusation because you don’t want to shame the student. I’ve heard some people excuse it as it is an honor to copy someone’s work, even without attribution. I don’t buy that at all. To honor the work you need to credit it.
Q: How does Tsinghua’s relationship with MIT affect the credibility of a Tsinghua degree outside of mainland China?
A: For the IMBA it gives some credibility. Some incorrectly think they are receiving a degree from MIT but in reality they are not. If I were picking an MBA program, the MIT partnership would not be the main reason for coming to Tsinghua. It would be related to the quality of the teaching, students, and faculty, along with the opportunities provided for going on exchange and the alumni network.
Q: How have MIT and Tsinghua benefited from the partnership?
A: Our relationship is deepening. When it first began it was pretty one-way: MIT was providing quite a lot of service to the faculty here. Now it is more of a partnership. While we still have people who go to MIT, now they are doing research as well as teaching, and MIT professors who come here are starting to do research. Student-wise, they still have visiting faculty come here for a few days or by video-conference. Joint student projects are increasing, where students here team up with students at MIT.