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From Denmark to the Farm, visiting scholar tackles ‘grand challenges’

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Madeleine Rauch, an assistant professor of strategy and innovation at Copenhagen Business School, is joining Stanford as a visiting scholar this fall. The Daily spoke with her about her work, her passion for academia and what she hopes to tackle next.

At the Copenhagen Business School, Rauch teaches and conducts research. She will be conducting research full-time at Stanford.

“I joined academia because I am very passionate about doing research,” she said. “I was very much intrigued by asking more questions and having the autonomy to really do research on a topic and really dig in deep.”

The focus of Rauch’s work is often tackling what she describes as “grand challenges.” This entails looking into “how to elevate suffering and what we can do as individuals, or even as a larger group, to help people.”  

“Madeleine likes taking on issues that matter, and conducting research that has impact and affects lives,” wrote Shahzad Ansari, professor of strategy and innovation at the University of Cambridge, and a close friend of Rauch’s. “That’s what she cares about and is driven by and it is clearly evidenced by the type of research she conducts and the lengths she goes to get a feel of the context.”

Recently, Rauch worked with Doctors Without Borders to investigate how people cope when working in extreme situations, such as war-torn Afghanistan. She was given access to diaries kept by individuals working in these environments, and after interviewing those individuals, Rauch and her colleagues joined missions to these locations.

“You don’t really understand extreme contexts if you haven’t seen them,” she said. “It is one thing to interview [these individuals] in London or New York, but then really observing them in the field is a whole different story.”

“Taking life-threatening risks to visit the type of places [Rauch] does and conduct research in extreme situations is a demanding commitment that requires a strong person with the right temperament and skill set,” Ansari wrote. “She gets a first-hand feel of these contexts and this is quite unique in our field.”

During this process, Rauch and her peers discovered what they call a “culture of silence,” in which people in extreme situations are constantly interacting with one another but never discuss “the emotional stress they feel from the work.” Instead, they write about how they are feeling in diaries, a generally private medium to which Rauch is bringing more attention.

That this is “just the beginning” for Rauch’s project, she said, but she will also be exploring other issues when she arrives on Stanford’s campus, including work with the U.S. military and NATO, as well as a project addressing the international lack of affordable healthcare. When choosing what issues to focus on, Rauch evaluates the impact her work could have on human lives.

“I think I look for projects and for papers that address a wider problem,” she said. “I don’t want to work on a project that increases the bottom line of a company by .0005%.”

The universities in England and Germany where Rauch pursued her education had a great influence on her later career in academia. She recalled having “the freedom to discover who [she was] as a researcher and what kind of questions she wanted to answer.” 

Having been so influenced and supported by these academic communities, Rauch decided to spend a year at Stanford to further her work.

“[Stanford] is a very inspiring environment and a great learning opportunity,” she said. “There are scholars there that I can learn from immensely and really take the next steps and grow as a scholar [myself].”

To young scholars seeking similar careers in research or academia, Rauch advised, “Choose a topic or work on something that you’re passionate about … because you will spend a lot of time with it.”

“Be persistent,” she added, “and even though somebody tells you ‘no’ and maybe it’s difficult, you can still do it.”

Contact Stella Pagkas at stellapagkas ‘at’ gmail.com.

Stella was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.