October 21, 2018

October 21, 2018


McDermott Fellow Earns Awards for Teaching, Research Pursuits

Blair Flicker MBA’12 always had the teaching bug. Back in high school, he would volunteer to help when a classmate struggled to understand a concept.

“I would ask the teacher, ‘Can I try to explain it?’ and I’d go up to the board. I’m sure it was pretty annoying to teachers, but helping others learn is just satisfying to me,” Flicker said.

outdoor portrait of Blair Flicker

Blair Flicker MBA’12

Now he is on track to complete his doctoral degree in the Naveen Jindal School of Management by August 2019 before he will seek a job as an assistant professor of operations management at a research university.

Flicker’s research pursuits and ability to teach others have garnered awards this year that include the $10,000 Dissertation Fellowship from the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the $10,000 Golden Key Graduate Scholar Award and the $23,000 Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation.

Flicker, a McDermott Graduate Fellow, began his doctoral program in August 2012. He is concurrently working as an assistant provost at UT Dallas and raising two daughters, ages 1 and 4, with his wife, Kim, who works at UT Dallas with the McDermott Scholars Program.

“I have had an incredible amount of support, from Kim and the girls at home to champions at work like (Executive Vice President) Hobson Wildenthal, who has been exceedingly patient with me, and now (Provost) Inga Musselman. They appreciate how difficult it is to get a PhD. While they expect me to get my work done, they also make space for me to be a successful student, because ultimately, that’s also good for the University,” Flicker said.

Flicker’s research focuses on the best ways to integrate human insight into mathematical models of economic decision-making. He used his NSF grant to provide a token sum for 2,000 subjects who participated in making real-life economic decisions such as ordering products and figuring out costs for his behavioral operations management research.

He said researchers have to consider the human factor in business decisions.

“When you’re representing business decisions in mathematical terms, you have to model humans mathematically, as if they are always rational beings who act consistently,” Flicker said. “But human decision-making is very nuanced. It’s more complicated. Behavioral economics gives you a more subtle appreciation for how humans behave in economic settings, how they are going to act and respond.”

I have had an incredible amount of support. ... They appreciate how difficult it is to get a PhD. While they expect me to get my work done, they also make space for me to be a successful student, because ultimately, that’s also good for the University.

Blair Flicker MBA’12, assistant provost and doctoral student at UT Dallas

Flicker admires the work of behavioral economists such as Dr. Richard Thaler, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to the study of how humans may not always act as rationally as economists’ models assume, and Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences laureate who went on to write the 2011 best-seller Thinking Fast and Slow.

“I try to argue that humans observe so much more about the world than mathematical models and computers. How can we use this broad understanding of the world to communicate with mathematical models to make better decisions?” Flicker said.

In addition to his research, Flicker taught an undergraduate operations management course as part of his doctoral work. “I just had so much fun, putting the information together in such a way that it was understandable from the ground up. It makes you look at concepts in a new way,” he said.

Flicker earned his bachelor’s degrees in computer science and psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His double major was an early attempt to put together his own human-computer interaction degree, which is now called user experience design.

While taking a course in operations management on his MBA path, Flicker was surprised to see the use of analytical methods that mirrored what he had learned in his computer science classes. When UT Dallas recruited renowned behavioral operations management professors Dr. Elena Katok, Ashbel Smith Professor of Management, and Dr. Gary Bolton, O.P. Jindal Distinguished Chair, Flicker knew he was in the right place at the right time.

“Overnight, we became one of the top schools in the field, which was very convenient for me,” Flicker said.

He credits Katok as being especially supportive of his multiple roles as an employee, student and parent while pursuing his doctorate.

“Not all PhD advisors could handle a candidate who is not always able to do research. I also had to work and be a dad,” Flicker said. “I do one thing at a time. It just takes me a little longer. I’m just grateful that so many have been willing to put up with it.”

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

facebook icon twitter icon linkedin icon email icon

© The University of Texas at Dallas 800 West Campbell Road, Richardson, Texas 75080 (972) 883-2111