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Meet Cameron McAlpine, Ivey PhD candidate

  • Cam Buchan
  • |
  • Aug 28, 2020
Meet Cameron McAlpine, Ivey PhD candidate

Cameron McAlpine

Ivey’s PhD Program in Business Administration is a full-time research-based program designed to develop scholars and to place graduates at high-quality research universities around the world. Our PhD candidates are showcased at conferences around the world, and regularly featured in top-tier academic and industry publications.

To help you get to know them, we’ve asked them about their academic and personal interests.

Get to know: Cameron McAlpine, PhD candidate

Living and working in the communications industry in Washington, D.C. gave Cameron McAlpine a keen interest in politics, and a desire to dig into the power and politics that take place within organizations and teams.

Like many parents, the Peterborough native has been pressed into service as an elementary school teacher for his two children. He has also complemented his academic skills as an avid DIYer. Learn more about McAlpine in this Q&A.

Q&A with Cameron McAlpine

What attracted you to Ivey’s program?

I met with several Organizational Behaviour professors and was very excited about the quality of scholarships and the opportunities for mentorship at Ivey. My wife and I are Western grads, so we knew about the community and the School.

What is your research focus?

I study organizational power and politics, and creativity and innovation. I am especially interested in the social negotiations that go on within complex social processes, such as the creative process. Organizational members engage in all sorts of complex processes, such as learning, creativity, and decision-making. We tend to think those processes are: (a) rational; and, (b) merit-based. But the individuals in them have all sorts of competing preferences, goals, self-concepts, and constraints. Power and politics within organizations are a key component of those constraints. The creativity literature tends to use creative performance as a dependent (outcome) variable, most commonly based on supervisor ratings. What if the supervisor doesn’t have an eye for good work? What if the supervisor is worried about getting credit? How might supervisors game the system or the outcomes? How do their employees react? How does that knowledge carry forward into the next iteration of the process? Those are just some of the questions I examine in my research.

Why is that area appealing to you? What big problems/issues need to be addressed?

I was a communication and marketing executive for a long time and have always been politically active. My motivation for returning to academia and the research above has always been to make some sense of my experience in organizations and offer practical advice to practitioners.

How do you see your research making an impact?

I argue that the literature is insufficiently attentive to these social complexities. Or, in more academic terms, we’re missing out on explaining a great deal of variance by limiting the model to the rational elements in the foreground and missing a lot of mess that gets pushed to the background. Organizations can benefit from a better understanding of that mess, how to manage through it, and where it might show up in day-to-day experiences.

How do you see research as an aid to business improvement?

Finding novel ways to help practitioners manage those processes more effectively may benefit everything from organizational culture and climate to job satisfaction and retention.

What previous experience prepared you for this?

I went to Washington to study political communication at Georgetown University. Then I worked in consulting and did some lobbying for a few years. After returning to Canada, I spent time in the PR business before switching to health-care trade associations. As I got more and more senior at work, I realized I was much more interested in the operation of teams and these social processes than in craft.

Where did you grow up and what was it like there?

I grew up in Peterborough, Ont. It’s a wonderful place to grow up. My upbringing was made a bit more interesting because my dad was the local chief of police. Summers at the cottage. I was incredibly lucky.

Who have been your strongest influences in life?

My parents, and a series of incredible mentors. Kathleen Wallman, a former Deputy White House Counsel and Federal Communications Commission bureau chief, had a huge impact on my life and career. We met when I was a student at Georgetown, and she was teaching there. I have often reflected that she’s the one who taught me how to be myself and a professional at the same time. That’s an important transition.

What do you like to do outside of the PhD program?

Thanks to COVID-19, I have become an elementary school teacher to my son and daughter. Henry is eight and Alice is three. I also took up painting recently. I’ve always wanted to give it a try. Something about the stress of this environment got me to act. My deep gratitude to American painter and TV host, Bob Ross.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I am an avid DIYer. We put a deck on the house last year and built a COVID-19 park in the backyard this summer.

What is the most played song on your playlist as of now?

Satisfied from Hamilton. And Billy Joel has been therapeutic. I find it very comforting to know that Vienna waits for us.

What is your best podcast recommendation?

I love The West Wing Weekly. Also, Citizen Chef by Tom Colicchio (of Top Chef) is off to an interesting start.

What book would you recommend to others? Why?

French Exit and Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. And I love Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises is both a good read and a useful mantra.

What tips have you learned for staying connected in an online learning environment?

Make the time to call friends and family. Check in on colleagues for no instrumental reason. Just show concern. We’re all in this together.