University of Southern California

USC Marshall Marketing Professors Keep the Next Generation of Scholars on Track

It isn’t easy getting accepted into the doctoral program of the USC Marshall School of Business marketing department. Out of the 100 or so hopefuls who apply each year, only two or three are chosen. Who sifts through those many applications to discover the hidden gems? That would be the Ph.D. coordinators, Professors Sha Yang and Anthony Dukes.

“Being admitted is just the very first step,” said Yang, a professor of marketing who will be taking over the role of Ph.D. coordinator from Dukes, an associate professor of marketing with an expertise in the economics of marketing strategies. “One of the key jobs in this role is to help screen and select the right candidates.” Very few applicants have the necessary ingredients to successfully undertake five to six years of rigorous study, all of it under the spotlight of discerning faculty, she said.

It’s tough to make the cut. Yang says applicants need a strong academic background with demanding classes, excellent grades, high test scores and impressive letters of recommendation, ideally from a notable scholar under whom they have worked. “We are looking for early signals about their ability to conduct rigorous research,” she said.

A successful candidate interested in the consumer behavior side of marketing might bring a background in psychology or sociology, for example, said Dukes. A quantitative student will bring a math or economics expertise. “Our Ph.D. program places a significant emphasis on training high-level academic researchers,” he said. “This isn’t about learning how to best market the latest product.”

The Ph.D. coordinator helps newly admitted doctoral students navigate the maze of dissertation discovery, research seminars and coursework until they successfully finish their dissertation and are awarded the doctorate, usually in five to six years. The coordinator helps the students meet important milestones in their progress and ensures they are paired with the ideal faculty adviser for their particular areas of research. It’s a time-consuming but important role. And it pays off for the students.

Arianna Uhalde, a Ph.D. student studying consumer psychology and behavior, recently helped conduct research on brand betrayal with two prominent professors; Deborah MacInnis, the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing, and Valerie Folkes, the Robert E. Brooker Chair of Marketing and professor of marketing. Both are experts in branding and consumer behavior.

“The Ph.D. Coordinator assigns each student with input from both the student and faculty,” said Uhalde. “Because of this process, I had the opportunity to work with Valerie during my first semester and Debbie during my second semester.” She was listed as a co-author along with MacInnis and Folkes on a research paper titled, “Brand Betrayal: The Dark Side of Brand Attachment.”

Recent graduates have landed at marketing departments at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, said Dukes.

Yi Zhu Ph.D. ’13, now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, credited Dukes with not only keeping him on track, but mentoring him through issues large and small.

“He responded to me with care and concern, no matter how busy he himself might have been at the time,” said Zhu. “I can’t remember how many times I went to him with what might have seemed to be trivial research questions for him but were big hurdles for me.”

Although he is handing the reins to Yang, Dukes will still advise doctoral students. Yet he says he will miss tracking their progress from their first days through to their commencement. “To watch these students as they learn how to conduct research is just so enjoyable,” he said. “To watch them harness their ideas into something that becomes new knowledge is incredibly gratifying.”