University of Southern California

Seema Pai
Finding Her Scholarly Niche
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Graduating Year
Undergrad Institution
Bombay University

While an undergraduate at Bombay University, Seema Pai worked as a reporter for a financial times newspaper, planning for a career in journalism. Instead, she became increasingly interested in business and, after earning her bachelor’s in accounting and economics, went on to receive an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in marketing and finance.

She then garnered a position in brand management for Procter & Gamble in Singapore, working in new product development on a line of weight-loss products the company was establishing. “It was a very nontraditional brand-management role at P&G,” she says. “I got to do a whole lot of consumer research, looking at the market potential in Southeast Asia.”

Her longstanding love of writing and interest in research—along with parents who are academics—ultimately led to a decision to pursue a Ph.D. in marketing. USC Marshall was the first school she visited. “I pretty much liked it instantly,” recalls Ms. Pai, who met her future adviser, Sivaramakrishnan Siddarth, on that first visit. “It’s nice that the Ph.D. program at Marshall is small enough that you can actually meet your adviser before you start the program.”

What she enjoyed most about Marshall was the collegiality between the faculty and students. “Actually it went beyond that,” she says. “When people said open door, they really meant open door. My adviser especially was always available.”

Ms. Pai also appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of the program, which allowed her to take courses in economics, mathematics and mass communications at USC as well as reciprocal courses at UCLA. “The Ph.D. program at Marshall is extremely flexible,” she notes. “Students can really chart their own course of action.”

She gained valuable experience in both teaching and research, which will serve her well in her new role as an assistant professor at Boston University. In addition to teaching Marketing Fundamentals and Introduction to Marketing to Marshall undergraduates, she contributed a chapter on advertising tracking to Professor Siddarth’s forthcoming book and presented her own research at several conferences.

Her primary scholarly interest is in word of mouth and its impact on firm performance—especially in the motion picture industry, on which her dissertation focused. “I look at Web blogs and discussion groups,” Ms. Pai explains, “analyze the content of what people are saying across these sources and use that to explain sales in the marketplace, to see how these informal conversations on the web influence sales. I think the whole area of online communities—and how people communicate there and how that is affecting the marketplace—is still understudied, partially because it’s still evolving. I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of what we are measuring.”