Eager Class of Howe Ph.D. Graduates Excited to Create Impact

7/28/2014

The doctoral program at the Howe School may be small, with about two dozen students, but Ph.D. candidates in the program say the small size is a big asset as they look to collaborate with both respected professors and accomplished industry leaders. 

For Jie Ren, that’s helped her not only finish her dissertation, but prepare for her future, as she prepares to join the faculty of Fordham University in the fall.

“Because the Ph.D. community is quite small, you get to form close relationships with many of the professors here,” said Ren, who studied the impact of negative online reviews for her dissertation with her adviser, Dr. Jeffrey Nickerson.

Professor Nickerson, she said, “is a great mentor who sees the potential in you and will help you all the way through this journey.” Specifically, he helped Ren overcome obstacles she faced in her research and balance her workload, particularly as she worked to find employment.

And it’s not just her adviser who’s helpful. Ren said she found help wherever she looked. For instance, Professor Yasuaki Sakamoto, an expert on data analysis, was a valuable collaborator, she said.

“Every time I had a question — especially on data analysis — I’d shoot him an email or maybe just knock on his door,” Ren said. “He always has a pretty busy schedule, but he still says, “I can give you 10 minutes.’ And that 10 minutes becomes 20 minutes, or 30 minutes. He never turns you down.”

‘An advantage’ for students

The four students who completed the Ph.D. program in May all spoke warmly of the size of the program and how it created an advantage in their research.

“I consider this an advantage,” said Rongjuan Chen, who partnered with Sakamoto in pursuing her degree. “After class, students can go to faculty members for further discussion, get to know the faculty better and then work more closely together on their research.”

Chen, like Ren, is from China, though she was familiar with Hoboken at the start of her doctoral program, having earned her master’s degree at Stevens, in management science. Sakamoto helped her transition into the doctoral program.

“I learned a lot of research skills in his class, and I decided to work with him in the second year of my Ph.D., when I became interested in human thinking — one of Professor Sakamoto’s specialties,” she said.

Many students pointed to the research opportunities available at Stevens as a reason to study here. For Ren, the school’s location — just a short subway ride from Manhattan — opened up a huge network of possibilities for her.

“You have so many opportunities here, and not just in academia — in industry, you get to know so many interesting people in this field,” said Ren, who spent six years studying at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications and said access to a major city was important when she chose a school.

Another recent graduate from the program, Yegin Genc, said a close relationship with his adviser — Nickerson again — also was the key differentiator.

Genc, who hails from Turkey, spent a few years in industry before heading back to academia, where he worked on his dissertation. His project essentially involved using Wikipedia to help computers better understand text, which he presented with Nickerson at several conferences, most notably, one in Brazil.

“He has this great way of guiding people without too much interference,” he said. “He was able to guide you without you feeling there was a lot of pressure on you. And he knows everything about everything.”

Howe Ph.D. students also enjoy an edge in getting published — an important step for young professors on the tenure track. That’s because students are encouraged to form and develop professional networks.

Ting Gao, who has accepted an assistant professor position at the School of Management Science and Engineering at Central University of Finance and Economics in her home of China, credited her adviser, Dr. Thomas Lechler, with providing “every bit of guidance, assistance and expertise that I needed during my doctoral study and dissertation.”

With Lechler, Gao was published in several papers, as well as a book on project management. That’s one way Stevens and the Howe School understand the pressures on newly minted educators to publish quickly.

“Professor Lechler says no one can finish the tenure track by him or herself. You need help on the outside, you need co-authorship,” said Ren, who has one paper before the editors of Information Systems Research and is readying another — both in conjunction with her adviser. “That’s why Stevens building this community is so important.”

A top tier program

Another key, Genc said, is the younger faculty that recently have been hired at the Howe School.

“There are new, young professors who also need to publish, and that’s a good thing for Ph.D. students to see,” Genc said. “You want to be around professors who are willing to publish, so you can see that process up close.”

Genc said these “really bright professors with ambitious goals” serve as a good model for Ph.D. students as the program evolves.

“The Ph.D. program has improved a lot,” he said. “It’s more organized, it’s more student oriented. I can see the pressure to make a top-tier Ph.D. program here.”

The doctoral program at the Howe School focuses on instruction at the crossroads of information management, technology and innovation management, and social computing, especially the creation and evolution of technology-driven innovation. Research emphasis lies not only in the development of the correct skills, but in the ability to apply findings to the real world, ensuring Howe School research has a demonstrable impact.

For more information about the Ph.D. program, visit the doctoral studies page or contact Thomas Lechler, the program director.

A different kind of calling

Three of the four doctoral students who graduated from Stevens in May have jobs lined up at universities.

Rongjuan Chen has taken a different route. She’s currently working as a predictive marketing analyst at a marketing analytics company in New York.

“I feel very fulfilled and thankful for my Ph.D. education, which I apply every day in my work,” Chen said, pointing out that many who receive Ph.D.s choose to go into industry, rather than academia.

“Those working in industry contribute to business in diverse fields through their critical thinking skills and solid research capabilities,” she said. “It is always exciting to see knowledge applied in a practical field, which helps improve society. Creating knowledge is the goal of being a doctor.”