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  • Writer's pictureLina Altenburg

The Top 5 Things I Learned From Els Gijsbrechts

Written by Lina Altenburg, Ph.D candidate at KU Leuven (Belgium)

Who wouldn't want to have lunch with Els Gijsbrechts?

Did you ever answer the famous question “Who would you like to have lunch with?” I did! And for me, that was Els Gijsbrechts. I have been wanting to talk to Els for some time. She is one of those academics whose name I came across multiple times during my studies and had written many times (although it took me some time as a non-Dutch native to spell it correctly and learn how to pronounce it) to reference her great work.

Els Gijsbrechts is a Full Professor of Marketing at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands. On her university’s personal profile page, she summarises her research as “modeling consumers' shopping behavior and their responses to retailer and manufacturer decisions and characteristics, such as stockouts, shelf layout, price (promotions), branding, and assortment decisions”. This translates into 64 papers over her more than 40 years of research career. Out of these articles, 18 are published at IJRM and one of these papers was even awarded with the IJRM Best Paper award. During the EMAC conference in Odense (Denmark), Els also received the EMAC Distinguished Marketing Scholar Award 2023.

Secrets shared over a cup of tea

Just when I started my PhD, I followed a methodology course taught by her. She was very thoughtful in making sure that everyone could follow her interesting but complex lectures on Attraction Models, Models of Choice, and other market response models. I hope for every other PhD to have teachers as great as Els to introduce them to the key methodologies of their research domain.

Unfortunately, the course took place during the peak time of COVID, and therefore was fully online. Thus, when I got the chance to interview Els for the IJRM newsletter, I was more than happy to travel the one hour by train from Antwerp (Belgium) to Tilburg (the Netherlands) to meet her in person.

In the end, our meeting was too early for lunch, but we did have a cup of tea (from the coffee machine in the hallways, as basically everything else on the university campus was closed during the summer break when we met for the interview).

These are my top 5 insights that I want to share with you from our conversation:

1. Work with co-authors that do not resent your stupid ideas

Trusting your co-authors is very important. It seems a very obvious recommendation that you should be able to trust your co-authors that they are knowledgeable about a topic and honest in doing their part of the research project in the correct way. However, next to these common aspects of trust, Els also defined trust as trusting your co-authors to take you seriously and not make fun of you for stupid suggestions.

“I want people that I can freely speak to, that I am not afraid of saying the wrong things to… otherwise you don’t end up with a paper that you feel good about.”

- Els Gijsbrechts

2. Do the things you like and are good at; find co-authors who are good at and like doing other things (grit your teeth and do the things neither of you like together)

People have different expertise. And that is totally fine! In fact, it can even be a great advantage in our work. Since in academia, we can often choose who to work with, we can also choose our co-authors based on the complementarity of our skills. Els’s strengths certainly lie within the modeling aspects of research and she told me that these are the parts that she usually likes to do in a project.

“It does happen on projects that there are parts that I wouldn’t be able to do... I am willing to learn but if we have someone in the team who is used to doing it, who has the expertise, I am more than happy to have that person do it.”

- Els Gijsbrechts

This works well very often. Until you get to the tasks that no one likes to do. Well, in those cases, and let’s hope there are just a few of them, there is nothing else left to do except grit your teeth and get over it. Together.

3. Your co-authors are your first reviewers

Another aspect that your co-authors are good for is checking the quality of your work. Els explains that this can concern many different aspects of your paper. You could discuss the suitable methodological approaches and let them double-check your estimations. But they are also more than suitable to act as a proofreader for text you have written.

“If your co-author doesn’t understand, you have a problem”

- Els Gijsbrechts

This might not improve the speed of the project in the first place, as you might end up spending more time adjusting your methodology or re-writing your text. However, it will most likely pay off during the review process: the better the quality of the manuscript you submit, the more likely you will be to proceed to the next round of the review process. Use your co-authors as reviewers to improve your work!

4. Pick your fights

I was really surprised to hear the recommendation from Els:

“Pick your fight! … You just have to be novel on some stuff and then do the accepted, tried-out and tested approaches on other aspects”

- Els Gijsbrechts

Thinking about it, this was a really eye-opener to me. Trying to reinvent the whole wheel is not going to make the review process easier, as convincing reviewers of the correctness of your approach will be more difficult. It is, therefore, more important to have one clear and strong theoretical or methodological contribution. There will always be a “future research” section in our papers, so let’s leave some room for others to build on and expand our research.

5. Rejections will never be fun

I thought that by having more experience with the world of academic publishing, rejections would become easier. But apparently, this is not the case.

When a reject comes in… after having read the word “reject” I put the whole thing aside and I allow myself to cry for a whole day [laughs].”

- Els Gijsbrechts

According to Els, it is okay to be disappointed by rejection and let emotions calm down before getting back to the paper. She further recommends: “When the dust is settled, it’s time to start reading the stuff in detail and try to figure out what the key message is. And then the key question is ‘Are they right? Do they have a point?’ It is difficult to admit, but often they do.”

These are the top 5 insights I gained during my interview with Els Gijsbrechts. I am only left to thank Els for the great interview that we had and the cup of tea. It was a great pleasure to talk to her and learn from her!


This article was written by

Lina Altenburg

Ph.D. candidate at the KU Leuven (Belgium)

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