Marylène Gagné is a professor of organisational behaviour at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She also conducts research on family business succession and serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Organizational Behavior and the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.

Prof Gagné has a degree in psychology from McGill University in Montreal and a masters and PhD in social psychology from the University of Rochester in New York. She is also the recipient of two research awards, a Concordia University research award and a Canadian Psychological Association new researcher award.

Born in an industrial town in Montreal, Prof Gagné had a French education until moving to Morocco with her father. In Morocco, she attended an American school, becoming bilingual in English and French. She now lives in her hometown once more and enjoys dancing, cycling, yoga and horse riding, which was a childhood dream she finally realised at the age of 27.

1. When did you know you wanted to teach?

I didn’t want to teach! I didn’t think I had the courage to stand in front of a classroom. I could not do oral presentations at all during high school and even during my undergraduate years. I would completely freeze in front of an audience. Now I teach in front of 300 people, which I find simply unbelievable! I also didn’t know how much fun teaching could be before I did it. So I started teaching because it was part of the academic job and I was passionate about doing research. I learned to love teaching through doing it. Now I have flow experiences when I teach - I go way over time and speak to myself.

2. What is an average day at work like?

It’s never the same actually. This is the type of job where there is a lot of variety and flexibility. There are semesters where I teach and so I have a strict schedule to follow. There are other semesters when I only do research and then it’s all over the place. I usually work from 8am to 5pm and sometimes also a bit in the evening. But sometimes I’ll take a break during the day to walk the dog or have lunch with a friend. I need this especially when I’m writing, because writing is not something that can be done during eight-hour blocks. You need breaks to refuel.

My tasks including class preparation, teaching, meeting with students, grading, supervising graduate students in their research, doing my own research projects (which usually implies consulting with companies), data analysis, writing articles for academic journals, reviewing for them, sitting on committees at the university, attending academic and practitioner conferences, managing grants/expenses. My job is a lot like a project manager.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

The only good dissertation is a done dissertation!

4. What is the worst job you have ever had?

I had two: My very first job when I was 15 years old was working in a bingo, selling coffee on a cart when it was 30 degrees celsius outside and making 10 per cent on my sales! I could make about C$10 for four hours of work. The second was working as an admin assistant in a family business selling submersible pumps where the owner wanted me to dress sexy for the clients and his wife yelled at me all day long. It was painful.

5. What inspires you?

Buddhist monks inspire me. I wish I could be Zen like them, but I’m not that kind of person unfortunately.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

Listen to your heart. It’s very easy to fall into the achievement trap and lose sight of the important things in life. I was very stubborn. I had both my children while on academic probation (which typically lasts five to seven years in academia and is a stressful time) and people thought it was career suicide. But if I had waited, I would have been too old to have children. Life is about making tough choices and I realised you can’t have it all. I am not superwoman (and I found out the hard way).

7. What is your favourite memory of school?

Learning to read. I still remember my first moments and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Now I’m rediscovering this with my son who’s in first grade. Reading is the most magical thing!

8. What is the last book you read?

I’m reading many at the same time. Right now: a book by Konrad Lorenz called King Solomon’s Ring, a book by Cesar Millan about dogs (because I got one a year ago), and a book by David Servan-Schreiber called Healing (in French). The last novel I read was Dewey by Vicki Myron (about the life of a cat).

9. What is your favourite business book?

Right now, it’s Drive by Daniel Pink.

10. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Just do it! (the Nike motto). I was not someone who was very courageous, but I forced myself to do things that I was afraid to do by closing my eyes and running forward. I was always pleasantly surprised by the results. You have to keep your eyes open for doors that crack open and not be afraid to go through them…

Interview by Charlotte Clarke

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