University of Southern California

Vasiliki Kostami
Title
At the Front of the Line
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Graduating Year
2010
Hometown
Athens, Greece

After working in industry in her native Athens, Greece, Vasiliki Kostami realized she “wanted to do something more.” She applied to a few select PhD programs in operations management, building upon the work she had done in risk management analysis.

The reputation of Marshall’s Information and Operations Management Department was a big attraction, she says. The department focuses on the disciplines of information systems, operations management and statistics. “I knew the IOM program, so I knew the people here had a good research background,” Vasiliki recalls. “Once I entered the program, I knew I wanted to be in academia.”

The line on queues

Vasiliki’s main research interests are the theories of queueing and pricing policies—“whatever you can do to maximize the profit of a firm while improving the customer’s experience,” she explains. This specialty formed the basis of her dissertation, “Essays on Dynamic Control, Queueing and Pricing,” as well as papers written in collaboration with each of her IOM advisors, Associate Professor Amy Ward and Professor Sampath Rajagopalan.

Her article “Managing Service Systems with an Offline Waiting Option and Customer Abandonment,” written with Professor Ward, addressed Disneyland’s FASTPASS® system. The system and others like it give patrons a choice between waiting in line or taking the option of an appointment time range to return to enjoy the attraction. Vasiliki’s research addressed how to compute the respective times for customers getting the FASTPASS® and those who choose to stay in the regular line.

“And it’s difficult to compute that,” she explains. “Customers who get the FASTPASS® tickets sometimes don’t come back [for their ticketed time].”

Her work on pricing policies centers on how to price certain services so that they remain attractive to a customer and profitable to the company. Vasiliki says: “It’s about finding the right trade-off between profit, the customer’s experience and their time spent waiting for the product. It’s a matter of balancing out all the factors.”

Fellowship support and supportive advisors

Of the Marshall PhD program, she says: “The cooperation with my advisors has been the best part of my experience, because you need someone in the field who understands when you run into difficulties with your research.”

She also appreciates the level of fellowship support USC Marshall offers, as well as the financial support the school provides to enable PhD candidates to attend conferences. “I was able to attend at least one a year, after my first year,” says Vasiliki. Through Marshall, she attended conferences in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., San Diego and Seattle.

One of her research papers has already been published, another is in process and a third has been submitted. She also gained experience as a teaching assistant in the IOM program.

London calling

Vasiliki already has secured a faculty position at the London Business School, where she will be teaching business statistics in the MBA program. Her new position returns her to Europe, where she will be closer to her large family.

In terms of her research, she will continue in charting out new lines of inquiry in her current field. “There’s no restriction on what you can do in research,” she says.