Terry Esper, professor of logistics in the Department of Marketing and Logistics at the Fisher College of Business, joins the podcast to talk about his educational and professional journey, and how his trajectory was enhanced when he stepped back to focus on his "Why?"
Episode 1 transcript
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Patrick Louchouarn: Well, good morning, Terry.
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Terry Esper: Thank you. Thank you. So good to be a part of this discussion.
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Patrick Louchouarn: So you and I had a discussion not too long ago, and I really enjoyed both the discussion. And of course, your Ted talk and I I would like to elevate that work in that conversation and your experience, and for the benefit of others. So I hope you don't mind sharing with me a little bit of that story of yours. So we can actually, the purpose of our conversation is to help other faculty understand how to build their own
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Patrick Louchouarn: story and how to identify more importantly, not so much to what they do, but the why they do it. So if you don't mind introducing yourself and also when you join, when did you join us? You?
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Terry Esper: Yeah, hey? So thank you. Thank you for that. so, Terry. As for I'm on faculty in the Fisher College of business, I'm in the department of marketing and logistics, and I joined Ohio State in 2,017 My background was such that I spent a lot of my
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Terry Esper: my educational train my my years in educational training as well as in my career as a part of the Walmart ecosystem. So northwest Arkansas and and and Bittenville, Arkansas, where you know, of course, the world's largest retailer kind of hails from small town America. So I spent a lot of my years
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Terry Esper: navigating through Northwest Arkansas. And really, you know, leaning into issues associated with retail and how retail is done and really getting into the, if you will, the the, the quote unquote guts of retail right? So I am in logistics and supply chain management. So you know my area. A focus is, you know, center on how products get to the marketplace
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Terry Esper: and how we go about making sure that products stay on shelves. And how do we prevent stock outs and shortages? But at the same time make sure that we don't have too much.
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Terry Esper: And So so thinking about concepts such as inventory and and transportation, and, you know, merchandising of product at retail. And so so that's been kind of my my narrative, and the things that have made me tick throughout my career. even in my industry experience, before I decided to become an academic and I I would say that over the years I've looked at that that whole area of
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Terry Esper: from the the company side of things, right? As a business scholar, really thinking about the retail companies themselves, and how they can best and most effectively execute But then, you know, there has been another side of of the work that I've done that has looked at that whole conversation from this perspective of the consumer. So thinking about people like you and I, and how we engage with retail, and how we go about getting the products
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and merchandise that we need in order to live our lives. And so that's been a a part of kind of what I've built over my years as an academic, in fact. I'm celebrating 20
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Terry Esper: 20 years of post. Phd. Got my Phd. In 2,003, and of course in between 2,003 and 2,017. When I arrived here at Ohio State, I spent some time navigating through a few other universities to kind of build up that body of work that I brought with me to to Osu and and built on since I've been here.
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Patrick Louchouarn: Wow! Fascinated. Thank you so much for sharing your journey both from you know. corporate American professional world, and you know not directly into
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Patrick Louchouarn: into academia. By the way, congratulations you are celebrating being promoted to full professor as well. I'm not mistaken, absolutely. Yeah. This is something that I don't want to forget to mention. because your work is a recognized for its scholarship.
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Patrick Louchouarn: and you know, as an instructor, and also as this caller.
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Patrick Louchouarn: I am really fascinated by what you work. Of course. The last few years have taught us 2 words that used to be embedded within either corporate America or Academia. One is epidemiology, and the other one is logistics and supply chain. And you're you know, you're pretty in engaged in the second one and it's a relatively small field, if I understand correctly, in terms of research
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Patrick Louchouarn: in academia, I'm both, you know, with at the Us. And and you know internationally. so would you mind sharing with us your why? Why is it that you went that way, particularly with respect to the research
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Terry Esper: and And how did you discover that? Why, I know you make a very compelling case in your Ted Talk, but that's like it for you to share it, if you don't mind. No, it's a it's a great question, thank you. And in fact, I'll even take you back. even back to a time when I was early in my career and I was actually at a truck stop
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Terry Esper: in a a way station in a small town called Fordice, Arkansas. Okay? I would. At the time I was working, doing some work for the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway administration.
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and I was early in my career, and I was doing a surveys of truck drivers, and I was in small town 4 dice Arkansas pulling trucks off of the highway and doing what was called a commodity flow study. So you know, asking about the various products and commodities that they were hauling over those highways and where they were headed. And so so we. I was doing some work to kind of look at traffic patterns within transportation.
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Terry Esper: and at that time I was solely focused on transportation. That was kind of my area and in the process of you know, asking these truck drivers. You know what they were calling, and such one of them said, Hey, you know, can you speed this up? You know. I've got somewhere I have to be.
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Terry Esper: And honestly, that was a light bulb, because I just I I I guess it. It never occurred to me that they that that truck drivers were on on a time schedule. Secondly, he said, Hey, not only do I have to be somewhere, but the stuff that I got back here, man, so people are waiting to buy this stuff.
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Terry Esper: and it just never occurred to me to think about the connection between transportation
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Terry Esper: and merchandising a product and retail and business. Actually, I just saw transportation and trucking as a kind of an entity. But I didn't.
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Terry Esper: Early in the and I was 21 or 22. I didn't make those connections to the fact that these trucks that we see on the highways are actually a part of the process for me to live my life daily, to go and buy a a can of Coca-cola right? That that what's going on on the highways is connected to me.
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Terry Esper: That was. That was a light bulb moment for me, and in fact, the guy told me he said, Hey, man, it's called logistics. I never heard of that term before. That was the first time I heard about logistics, and what was interesting to me about it was that once I started to do some old school research on, I couldn't Google it, right? So I went and did some old school research. And I learned about logistics.
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Terry Esper: And it was this invisible entity that the majority of people in the world don't even really know about. It's like this invisible web of interconnectedness that is responsible for getting stuff to you. And most people take it for granted, because when the majority of stuff that we want is there.
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Terry Esper: right? So it's not until we start to see that there are shortages and things like the last couple of years. That's why the conversations about logistics kind of hit the hit the hit dinner tables at night because we were dealing with significant shortages in the market, and people started to associate that with logistics and supply chain. I had that revelation back in I think that may have been 1990
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Terry Esper: 5 or so when I when I when I had that encounter with that truck driver that was the beginning of that. Why?
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Terry Esper: Because at that moment I was exposed to the fact that I had been taking for granted a whole system of processes that was working behind the scenes that I had no idea about right. And so I was intrigued enough by that. I decided to go back to school and study logistics, and then I became a part of that whole Walmart ecosystem, where, you know, they were really at that time leveraging logistics and supply chain in the way that most of the companies were not. And so it was a fantastic experience. But again, part of that, why started
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Terry Esper: at that truck way station where I my eyes were open to just the the, the the world of logistics and supply chain management that the majority of people in in the world probably don't think about, or maybe even like me, take for granted.
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Terry Esper: So I do, I I I I I commit to it. I do the work in it. I'm a practitioner. I go back to school, I get the doctorate. I study it all those things. But I will say to you. There was still a a itch for me relative to that. How? Why, you know, I gotten intrigued enough about the fact that this was this invisible entity out there that was so important, and people don't even know it right. That gave me a a a lot of feeling of identity. I felt that
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Terry Esper: that the work idea was important because I was dealing with issues that were the the, the secret or the the silent
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the the the, the the unseen
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Terry Esper: force behind corporate performance. Right? That's how we couched it. We were that force underneath corporate performance, corporate effectiveness that most people don't see.
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Terry Esper: But there was still something there. I'll tell you, Patrick. One of the things that was intriguing to me, was
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Terry Esper: I it? Although I was interested in logistics and supply chain? It really didn't have anything to do with me like Terry Esper. It was more about my professional interest. But it I I really it didn't have anything to do with me individually right? It was interesting.
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Terry Esper: I had a friend that was a marketing scholar and you know she did a lot of work in diversity and marketing. She did a lot of work and issues associated with body identity issues. And you know, it was interesting. She was going through some personal journeys, herself a health journey. And so her life was spilling over into her research.
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Terry Esper: And I thought, Man, you know I I'm intrigued by logistics, but it's not anything to do with me individually.
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And as I talk about in the the Ted talk that you referenced, there were some things that, as I was kind of searching for those deeper wise that had to do with like, why am I individually so intrigued by the stuff that I do research on what does it really mean? There had to be something under these there, I start up things that started to pop out to me. Right? So, for example, my very first job was a paper route
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Terry Esper: for the Detroit News. when I was a kid and I re-routed. I redesign the entire paper route to make it quicker and more efficient.
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Terry Esper: You know, I forgot about that. And I was like, Wow, okay. So I was already starting to do some of this stuff, even the way I was just living my life right as a kid. I took pride in being a paper boy and redesigning the paper route. That was one of those little elements of that. Why, starting to emerge
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Terry Esper: And then, of course, I started reading articles about how retail? I'd always known about, you know, issues of, you know, racism and Jim Crow, and how those issues affected retail. But it it it. I then started to think about it, it it personally. And then, as I mentioned in the Ted Talk, I read an article that talked about how Sears, one of the big retail giants, how they used the same things that I researched home delivery services, for, you know
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Terry Esper: retail purchases, and how they use that as a way to service
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Terry Esper: black customers.
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Terry Esper: such that those customers did not have to go into retail stores and deal with racism and discrimination. and that was when it all just clicked, and I thought, My God, I have been doing this work all this time, having not made that connection to the fact that there was actually a why really, really deep underneath there, that had to do with
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Terry Esper: Just how important these processes are that in in logistics, and how it can just help people live a better life and to live their life with dignity. And so those kind of connections really started to emerge over time, and and that really became I I was being exposed to the real. Why, of it all it it may all of it made sense the whole 20. Some of years of work made sense to me. Then.
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Patrick Louchouarn: Terry, you're such a storyteller. I love this Ne. To you. all of the art of your journey. Oh, absolutely well, my! Why of doing having this conversation is to inspire all the faculty to make sure they know how to tell their story and to connect to all the components of the story.
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Patrick Louchouarn: and you have all the components of an incredibly compelling story. You have the art. You have the journey. You have the moments that I actually changed you, which is interesting because
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Patrick Louchouarn: not every faculty thinks that they need to. If they know they exist. you know, they need to actually point to them, or to even identify. What is that moment that actually change my experience as a scholar or that define the the the things that I'm interested in working. you, you make it personal. We always say that it's a story and a personal story is more compelling. So I love listening to you for all of this way, of course, than your own experience.
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Patrick Louchouarn: you know you. You also couch it very well on paper.
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Patrick Louchouarn: and this is why I wanted to have you as part, you know, as part of this program. so thank you. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for that. I I appreciate that feedback, and I I'm very humble by that. You know that the thing that is intriguing to me. I guess one of the things that was kind of underneath. All of that
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Terry Esper: was I had to really grapple with the notion of a research interest, right? So who, as a doctoral student, you know we what what's your what's your interest? Right? And we start developing young scholars to, you know, Hone in on a research interest and develop a body of work and write a dissertation and go out and start to do scholarly research, to build up a a a nice solid body of work that is tenureable and and and easy to a path of success in academia.
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So I had to go back
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Terry Esper: and grapple with. Why, I have the research interest that I do.
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Terry Esper: And, to be honest, I just kind of you know. I I I knew that I was in retail. I was in.com. I worked in.com before I go to my doctoral program. That was the hot buzz topic at the time, and it just made sense. It just rolled naturally.
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Terry Esper: But I guess where I am now, and what what I really wanted to extract from all those little stories
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Terry Esper: is that there were things that were. My life was unfolding.
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Terry Esper: leading to that research interest. And it happened so fast, and maybe so matter of fact that I didn't really ask the why of my research interest.
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Terry Esper: you know. and in fact, I was actually in. And here's a slippery slope of it all I was working with with faculty that were also doing work in that same space. So it seemed like it, just a natural thing to do
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Terry Esper: what I really think about it. Part of the reason even why I went to the doctoral program I went to was because of the fact that there was the common interest.
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Terry Esper: But I hadn't really paused to kind of unpack. Why, the why, that interest was there. And so I that that's one of the things that I've gotten really passionate about. Like, why are we interested in the research that we are? And I think in in pausing and thinking about that that, and really digging into that, why, I think we'll start to see that there have been kind of an unfolding of that of that why?
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Terry Esper: And it's it. It probably comes through in our life right? It's the reason why we gravitate to that research, because there is a a connection. We feel it in our good. And and sometimes we just don't really pause it. It happens so quickly. And for you know, you're in 3 30 of your doctoral program, you know, but but really pausing and
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Terry Esper: unpacking, you know, what is it about me that makes me so intrigued by this topic? And I would there to say that if we really pause and ponder and peel back the layers of that, we'll arrive at
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Terry Esper: some stories like mine it started with when I was, you know, 14 on a paper out and then circle back to when I was 21 at a truck. Stop. But those dots those are breadcrumbs, were all there kind of leading to that research interest. Yeah.
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Patrick Louchouarn: again, I love your your story, and how you actually bring us to those reflection made me think, you know it's like the fish that
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Patrick Louchouarn: meets the other one and ask, How's the water? And yeah, this is wet water, right? It's like if everybody is in the water, and that never taking a moment to to reflect on what's going on, you know, internally and externally, we can keep on going.
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Patrick Louchouarn: I love that moment to me. It's a great segue to our last question
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Patrick Louchouarn: that that idea of pausing so here is a question for you when I've heard you speak to this before. A little bit here is
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Patrick Louchouarn: if you turn around. And now you have quite a bit of experience. You've obviously known how to reserve time for your reflection, and to, you know, to build on the understanding around you. Why, that also is propelling you in the future.
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Patrick Louchouarn: What would you say? What kind of advice would you give to, you know, rising scholars, either in their doctorate right now, or spouse Doc, or early career. early career faculty.
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What would be the advice we would share with them?
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Terry Esper: Yeah. I I would say. You know. I wish I had had a chance to, you know. Watch something like this, or listen to something like this, or even, you know, just just really unpack this whole thing earlier in my career.
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Terry Esper: I I I feel like, you know. Maybe it was there, and I'm just, you know, didn't connect all the dots. But I think it is important to really pause and ponder that. Why of it? All right, really think about, are there things about you, your life story, your life journey that are leading to the research that you're interested in. And I think it's important to find that for a few reasons number one. I think it'll just help you to really own
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the research that you do right, because hot hot topics come and go, buzz terms come and go. But the ownership of a research topic and
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Terry Esper: so I think that ownership narrative is something that early, the earlier you can get to that real, true ownership of your topic the better. And in most cases that ownership is going to lie in your why and and and and and being able to really
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Terry Esper: make the connection between your life journey and the kind of research that you do. Secondly, not only is it about an ownership piece, but it's about a a, a, a commitment, and a stick tuitiveness, right? The for the 2. Then the fidelity of the research a journey right? Because, as we know, we can get research published and and but we also in the process of getting research published often get research rejected right? And so there are times when you know you just if it were not for
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Terry Esper: or the commitment to, the research, the ownership of the research. Many of us would have packed our bags and said, Hey, I'm out like, I'm you know, I'm doing something else, and I'm in business right where there always those little innuendos of hey, you know, come back to corporate folks say, hey, you could probably make twice as much if you come back to corporate right? So you know there, there are many scholars in business that get. Ph d. Start an academic career, and then.
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Terry Esper: after the rejections pack up and just say, Hey, you know.
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Terry Esper: I'm gonna go back to practice, or go into consulting or do something else. And And so again. I think the just staying committed to the work, you know, staying committed to seeing that work get into print and and the impactful outlets that that requires a commitment to the work, a commitment to these topics, and a a commitment to the the what you're trying to contribute. And again, I think if you have a real good. Why, of it all? That will help you
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you to stay committed to it. So I would say to any young scholar and rising scholar, and even a, you know, emerging scholar, you know, really pause and reflect. Make the connections between the research that you're interested in and in in in your life journey. because it'll definitely elevate your commitment and your ownership of of the work that you do.
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Patrick Louchouarn: man Terry.
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Patrick Louchouarn: I'm so grateful you're so generous with your time and your thoughts and your experience.
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Patrick Louchouarn: I'm always inspired. I listen to you, and I really really appreciate that you're with us. We are very fortunate to have you at Osu, so I want to thank you. I want to finish by again congratulating you. You have, you know a great career you are committing, obviously, and sticking to it. So you are leading by example.
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Patrick Louchouarn: And you're very generous in sharing your experience, which is what? I hope that You know I our writing scholars, both right students and I correct. You can follow me so thank you again so much for sharing your experience.
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Terry Esper: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect and to to share that journey that I've experienced. And I again, I'm just humble. I want to also just acknowledge you for doing this right, for for leaning into these conversations and for really building a
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Terry Esper: building, a space and a platform for us to really dig into what it means to be a scholar, and and what it means to be a a, a. A researcher at a university like Ohio State. These kinds of things often are, you know it. It's all about getting the the pubs right? But what we know for sure is that there is a whole social environment and a whole life around getting the pubs. So I appreciate you
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for leading into the life of the scholar, and bringing some of these stories to the forefront. I really do appreciate that.
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Patrick Louchouarn: Oh, I am so amazed by all my colleagues, including you. The work that you all do is so quite extraordinary. It's, you know, if I can, just, you know, be a platform or offer a platform so that people understand
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Patrick Louchouarn: the work that you do, and that it has so many ramifications in the life that we lot live just like you shared. And you make a true difference, not only into the the education and the people you work with, but also your work.
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Patrick Louchouarn: So again, thank you. I look forward to see you again soon. and This is the end of this moment, but I'll look forward to share again with you.
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Terry Esper: Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.