It seemed at first that the series of seminars in the USC Marshall marketing department would be yet another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually a weekly program of presentations by professors visiting from other universities, the series provides Ph.D. students and department faculty an opportunity to meet, learn from, and network with prominent scholars in their discipline.
This format was cancelled in March for the remainder of the spring semester as the United States began to shut down, universities began to implement remote learning, and USC’s campus largely closed.
But thanks to marketing professors Dina Mayzlin and Kristin Diehl, the series has not only continued—via the video conferencing platform Zoom—but has expanded to include an international audience that regularly numbers more than 100 people.
"Going online has broadened our resources. If everyone were coming to campus, we wouldn’t have had this reach.”—Kristin Diehl, professor of Marketing
“The idea was that the Ph.D.s needed the same level of intellectual stimulation they would have had despite leaving campus,” said Diehl. “The seminars are a big part of the program for them. Scholars visit the campus; students get to meet them. It helps everyone network with people in the field.”
Among the first to offer seminars online this spring, the Marshall marketing series is distinctive for two reasons. The first is that it is open to the public. Other schools have established a series, but most are limiting it to their campus communities.
More importantly, however, the Marshall marketing seminars include both quantitative and behavioral marketing scholars.
“Generally, the online seminars we’ve seen cluster by methodological background,” said Mayzlin, who also serves as Marshall’s Associate Dean for the Ph.D. program. “We didn’t want to do that. Marshall’s marketing department is multi-disciplinary. We feel it’s important to be able to talk with people at conferences and when networking who aren’t doing what you do. It’s good to understand the other side. We’re specialized, but we also want to be cross-disciplinary.”
As partners in organizing the series, the professors represent those two areas of marketing research. They each contacted colleagues in their specialties and filled the slots quickly.
“I’m excited about the people we’ve been able to include,” Diehl said. “We wanted a blend of senior and junior faculty, men and women, based near USC and further away. Going online has broadened our resources. If everyone were coming to campus, we wouldn’t have had this reach.”
While getting the program up and running added another layer of uncertainly to how they could continue to support their students, “It’s been an interesting experience,” said Mayzlin. “We’re doing the best we can, given the restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.”