By Caroline Brooks
The college’s emerging thought-leaders are at the forefront of higher education’s movement in inventive research, and making an impact on how the public understands the industry that is, quite literally, the thread running through our economy.
Jason Miller joined the Broad College as assistant professor in 2016, and in his short time on Broad’s faculty has published logistics research using theories and perspectives from psychology, sociology, and criminology. He specializes in studying motor carrier safety, and applies these theories – along with complex statistics – to identify patterns across the global supply chain.
Broad: What got you interested in logistics, supply chain, and transportation in the first place?
JM: My father was a truck driver in the late 1970s and early 1980s and then went to work for Navistar (International), where he was a sales engineer for semi-trucks. As such, I grew up around the industry and majored in logistics in undergrad.
As a researcher, I’ve focused on the field for a few reasons. First, it has an immense impact on the economy and the welfare of the general public. Next, because there are many questions left unanswered! What people don’t know is that the motor carrier industry been the bane of economic theories for years because it doesn’t fit into mainstream theoretical predictions. Lastly, the type of data readily available in the industry (which is quantitative, very complex, and longitudinal) falls within the statistical skillset I received during my doctoral program at Ohio State University – and complements my quantitative psychology minor.
Broad: When people hear “logistics management,” oftentimes the thought of a long-haul truck or freight rail comes to mind. How does your research demonstrate innovation or creativity in this area?
JM: As background, my primary research area concerns understanding various facets of firm-level safety in the for-hire motor carrier industry. My coauthors and I try our best (we like to think we have had a few modest successes) to bring creativity and innovation to this area in a few ways.
If I had to sum up the ways my coauthors and I have tried to be innovative, I would say: first, by looking through different theoretical lenses for new perspectives on issues of motor carrier safety; by developing very precise predictions/hypotheses that have not been tested before; and by taking statistical approaches to data that aren’t commonly observed in logistics research to expand the array of questions that can be answered.
Recently, we’ve examined how motor carriers’ safety has evolved following a regulatory change that took place a few years ago. Doing so, we used statistical techniques more often in quantitative psychology or in biostatistics to answer questions that have not been examined before. In a manuscript that published in the September 2016 Journal of Business Logistics, we used strain theory, seen most often in sociology and criminology, to find correlations between motor carriers’ financial performance and their safety. Similarly, in a forthcoming manuscript in Journal of Business Logistics, I’m utilizing sociology principles and theories to explain why carriers’ longitudinal safety trajectories change when looking at them through various safety behavior categories tracked by the federal government.
Broad: Even in the short time you’ve been at the Broad College, there have been some major changes to the global economy. How has this shaped your research?
JM: The primary change that has occurred since I’ve been at Broad is increased uncertainty regarding the regulatory environment. This has created a few potential new research questions, and the result of the new safety regulations has created some pressure for us to preserve industry data. As such, I have worked extensively with my coauthors to archive this data for research purposes.
Broad: What differentiates what you do at the Broad College from universities before (I stalked on LinkedIn. Guilty)? Or perhaps: how have you advanced/grown at Broad?
JM: The greatest change I’ve felt at Broad is the dense concentration of logistics experts. Rare is it to have so many experts in the same field, but bringing different perspectives to the program. From a research standpoint, having a critical mass of folks trained in, and applying, techniques from the same general research tradition enhances the idea generation process, as well as streamlining communication.
What about your research or your field (and even teaching) motivates you to keep striving to the next big thing?
JM: Research is mentally stimulating and interesting because every project, paper, or manuscript is different. As a purely quantitative empirical researcher (meaning, I’m a numbers-guy), I enjoy that research pushes me to continuously improve my writing, rhetorical skills, and learn new statistical techniques. It requires both right- and left-brained activity, which is always a challenge.