Pursuit of knowledge

PhDs of India
4 min readJun 11, 2023

“Having devoted a considerable span of years to the banking field, I have forged a successful career in marketing. Over the years, I became acutely aware of a prevalent issue in marketing budget allocation – an over-reliance on intuition without substantiating any scientific evidence. Recognizing this glaring gap, particularly in the context of influencer marketing, I resolved to develop a comprehensive framework through academic pursuits and aimed to empower fellow marketers with the knowledge and guidance to allocate their budgets effectively. Immersing myself in the extensive literature on the subject, I conceived the notion of devising metrics to assess the efficacy of influencer marketing and investments. This notion formed the bedrock of my PhD work in IIT Bombay.

Although my aspiration for a research-oriented career had blossomed earlier in life, pursuing a PhD demanded significant time and effort. This commitment proved untenable with the responsibilities of raising a young child. Thus, the timing earlier wasn’t fortuitous. However, when the unanticipated onset of the global pandemic in 2020 forced us to retreat into our homes, I discerned a unique opportunity to follow my academic dreams. The stability of my professional role at that juncture and the independence of my now-grown son catalyzed my decision. Furthermore, the invaluable network I cultivated, comprising individuals from diverse backgrounds, proved to be an advantageous asset in this regard.

Initially, I harbored uncertainties regarding my acceptance into a PhD program, and confided about it only to my son, who, during that period, was preparing for his board exams. He graciously aided me in my preparation for the requisite entrance exams, offering his books and appraising my responses. His unwavering support bolstered my confidence, nurturing my belief that I possessed the aptitude and fortitude to embark upon this academic endeavor.

Personally, I don’t think it is actually difficult to manage both a job and a PhD when you are disciplined and have set your priorities right. On weekdays, I dedicate myself to my professional responsibilities, and reserve the weekends for intensive research. My acumen for project management, honed through my corporate experience, has facilitated the cultivation of exemplary organizational skills which helps me navigate my PhD journey effectively. Within my PhD, I have assumed control over the project’s pace, charting a course that aligns with my desired graduation timeline, and have diligently delineated my objectives by working backward from this culmination point- a quintessential trait of a project manager.

Nonetheless, the transition into this realm of academia has been far from seamless. My supervisor has lauded my aptitude for addressing pertinent real-world predicaments – an attribute that confers relevance to my research. However, I have occasionally faltered in research rigor, an indispensable aspect that bestows authenticity upon scholarly work. I vividly recall my initial presentation, where I felt I did a splendid job, only to have one of the faculty members disassemble it virtually. While it was commended from the perspective of a Chief Marketing Officer, its academic value was deemed negligible. Academic presentations necessitate a foundation built upon facts, pre-existing literature, or one’s work – devoid of personal opinions. I wholeheartedly embraced this critique, for it propelled me toward a transformational journey over the past three years, where I have tried to adopt the mindset and language of a seasoned researcher.

But I will admit that I find the expanse of academic writing devoid of intrigue. Though groundbreaking in substance, the way such work is often presented robs it of its inherent joy. Consequently, grappling with literature, mainly when my industrial experience heavily influences my thought processes, can be arduous. Merging these experiential insights with the existing body of knowledge proves to be a challenging task. Additionally, the impetus to expedite progress sometimes causes me to overlook dimensions that may have eluded my research. My supervisor continually advises me to tread cautiously, reflect upon the potential trajectories my project could assume, and consider dimensions that may have eluded my purview.

On a separate note, I often contemplate the tendency of researchers to invest substantial effort in addressing minute quandaries rather than examining the broader landscape or focusing solely on a specific domain without considering the ramifications beyond it. I am inclined to question the necessity of an excessively regimented approach to the literature review, which inadvertently stifles creative thinking. Why should we not observe an existing phenomenon, derive insights from it, and subsequently reverse-engineer our understanding of the underlying theories? Finally, I firmly believe that our academic community would benefit from enhanced accountability when measuring progress and evaluating time. This accountability should extend to students, supervisors, and the education system.”

-Shilpa Desai, PhD in Management, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

Interviewed and written by Payel Das

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PhDs of India

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