Meet the Faculty: Nada Basir

Our “Meet the Faculty” interviews provide a window into the work lives of faculty across the University of Waterloo. Faculty members talk about the day-to-day joys and struggles, and share tips for getting the work done and staying mentally and physically healthy in academia.

Nada Basir is an assistant professor at the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.

What do you teach and research?

My PhD is in strategic management, but a lot of my research looks at entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social impact and change. I tend to make these worlds collide when I teach. I teach social entrepreneurship in our Master of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program, where I focus on building innovative, financially sustainable businesses to tackle pressing social problems. My entrepreneurial strategy undergraduate course is very much focused on business strategy but there is definitely an element of leveraging businesses for social good in there.

What else do you do on campus?

There are many exciting entrepreneurship initiatives happening at the University, and I think it’s important for someone like me, a female visible minority, to be present and involved in as many as I can. The start-up space has a diversity problem, especially when it comes to female representation. Things are starting to get better, but we are not there yet. I help judge some of the campus competitions, such as the Norman Esch Awards and the World’s Challenge Challenge, and I speak on panels and act as a mentor for some student-led entrepreneurship clubs. I see and hear first-hand some of the challenges the female entrepreneurial students face and this has shaped my research and community involvement. For example, a few years ago, I was involved in organizing the Waterloo Women: Ideas, Makers, and Innovators event.

I’ve been working on building a network for faculty across campus who research innovation and entrepreneurship. Since UW doesn’t have a business school, this incredibly interesting research is happening across campus, with few connections between projects and people working on very similar problems. We’ve been playing around with a few models of how we can build better connections between all of us.

What is it about your work that you’re really passionate or excited about?

The more I learn, the more excited and passionate I become about leveraging ‘business’ for social good. Whether you are a Walmart or a social enterprise developing an affordable infant incubator for rural India, there are diverse and creative ways to make a positive impact in this world. Capitalism is an incredible force—let’s unlock that force for good. My teaching revolves around this, and much of my research does too. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to come to work and spend my days asking questions that really excite me and working with students who are exploring how to make all of this happen.

Capitalism is an incredible force—let’s unlock that force for good.

How do you make your research relevant and accessible beyond your academic circle?

Twitter is becoming a popular way for academics to contribute to relevant discussions. I have started to really appreciate it as a medium for sharing my work and the work of others that I find interesting. I have found a great academic community on Twitter, but I am also connected to lots of non-academics, who are connected to others, and so on.

What’s your biggest struggle at work?

They say “the only constant is change”—well, for a working mother of three boys, I would say the only constant is guilt. Being an academic, especially pre-tenure, I am constantly feeling guilty when I don’t get enough work done during evenings, weekends, or even vacations. When I have to rush out of the office at 5:00 to pick up the youngest from daycare, passing colleagues who are still working away, I feel guilty because I’m not still working. But it goes the other way too: If I have to work late, or teach an evening class, or take some time on a weekend to finish some work, there is also a feeling of incredible guilt because I feel that is time I am robbing from my kids. I had my first official maternity leave with my third child last year, and not getting as much done as I wanted to during my maternity leave was incredibly stressful. It’s a struggle that I think most, if not all, working moms face. With a tenure clock ticking, I think it’s even more stressful for pre-tenure mothers.

When I see how motivated my students are to make a change in this world, I am incredibly humbled and inspired.

When was the last time you were really surprised about something at work?

I am constantly being surprised by my students. When I see the really cool things they are working on in addition to their studies, when I see how motivated they are to make a change in this world, I am incredibly humbled and inspired.

What does a good day at work look like? When and where do you do your best work?

Cal Newport (the author of Deep Work) labels our ability to work in a state of deep concentration and focus for a long period of time, without distraction or interruption, as “deep work.” A good day at work is when I feel like I have been able to get some deep work done. Even just a few hours of this kind of work makes me feel really good.

How do you stay healthy—mentally and/or physically?

Did I mention I have three young kids? Ha ha. I enjoy Pilates and try to get some sessions in every few weeks; it’s not enough, but it makes a difference. Having a young family also forces you to take a break from academic work once in a while and just turn it all off. I am grateful for that.

Are there any productivity tools or practices you find essential?

I use Trello to organize my life into index cards and to-do lists. I have an index card for each of my research projects, a card for each course, and for the home. I put items that need to be done sometime in the near future on this app.

But, to keep me productive and focused, I am a little old-school with a large weekly planner on my desk. Every Friday I make a to-do list for each day of the upcoming week. Monday may include “write introduction for x paper” and also “find case for first class assignment.” I check things off as I do them. I find that this keeps me focused and accountable.

What do you wish you’d known when you started your academic career?

It’s never perfect, so just submit the darn thing. I just came to this realization and wish I had known this when I first started.

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