Do MBAs rub you up the wrong way?

MBAs have a terrible reputation in some circles. I got the first major whiff of this a few weeks ago, when we ran an experiment for one of our classes. The experiment tested a potential future direction for my startup project, PreScouter. We asked engineering Phd students to sign up for daily emails, for the period of a week, with each email posing a challenging technical question. The best responses would win $50 Amazon gift cards.

The experiment was generally successful, and we learned a lot from it. Nevertheless, afterwards we sent a survey to the participants to collect more information on how we could increase engagement. One of the survey responses was particularly eye-opening. Here are the highlights of what the respondent had put in the "any other comments" box:
This entire idea rubbed me the wrong way and seemed exploitative [...] I'm underpaid and asked to do all kinds of work for free as a PhD student [...] Kellogg students have a terrible reputation in my department for exploiting PhD students. You need to overcome that for me to want to help you. There was no way I was going to create a login (or even worse, link my facebook account) without you giving me a better impression that this was mutually beneficial, particularly in the long term, and not just another way for me to be exploited and asked to do work for free.
Ouch! What we thought might be a fun experiment got interpreted in a bad way and seems to have reinforced some preconceptions that these PhD students have of MBAs.

Perhaps what is worse is that we can use social network analysis tools, taught in the very same MBA program that the PhD students have a distaste for, to identify our mistake. We attempted to broker into a closed clique (engineering PhD students) without having sufficient credibility to be accepted by the clique to do so. If we had instead portrayed the experiment as a joint effort between Kellogg and engineering PhD students (which it was), we would have been perceived differently - we would have been accepted by them and got a better response.

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