Summer to some people seems like the perfect time to soak up sun while sitting poolside, but for Sanjana Shah '20, Crystal Jiang, Ph.D., and Kacy Kim, Ph.D., that was the time to start work on a potentially ground-breaking collaborative research project.
It all began when Shah, an International Business (IB) major from Mumbai, met with Jiang to ask about job search strategy. “The conversation evolved to this cool idea” on storytelling—a technique brand marketers use to communicate to consumers—and cultural differences in consumer behavior.
As the dedicated teacher she is, Jiang, Associate Professor of Management and IB Program Chair, saw an opportunity: Would Shah be interested in turning the idea into a collaborative research project with her and Kim, Assistant Professor of Marketing? She invited Shah to submit the idea to a scholarly conference, the Academy of International Business Northeast (AIB NE) Annual Conference 2019, as a research project proposal, and it was accepted.
“I knew how helpful professors at Bryant are, but I never realized how giving they are, and how much they want you to succeed.”
Though excited, Shah admittedly was intimidated at first. “I’ve used research in my courses, but I’d never designed or performed my own research as a scholar,” she says.
Her professors were ready with guidance. Kim, an expert in marketing and analytics, and Jiang helped Shah narrow the topic and design the study, and will help test the hypothesis—the most challenging areas for a young scholar. Notes Kim, “For students who are interested in research at Bryant, this is the role faculty play.”
Infographics and a potential to break new ground
The trio's efforts paid off more than expected. In September, they realized the project could be ground-breaking: Of the research they reviewed, none examines their specific topic—an investigation of the impact of cultural differences in storytelling using infographics.
“We are surprised, but we are also very excited,” said Kim. The project's core idea will explore “how people read and understand a message—in this case, a data story, like an infographic,” Kim says, noting that “an extensive data field could await these findings.”
“For students who are interested in research at Bryant, this is the role faculty play.”
When Shah presented the study proposal at the AIB NE conference, international scholars in attendance offered crucial feedback as well as other guidance that could keep the team's progress on track.
It is rare to see an undergraduate present at the conference, Kim said, but Shah excelled. “I was impressed with how she prepared herself, her confidence—she knew her research really well.”
Likewise, scholars in attendance commended Shah for her strong presentation and offered suggestions about how the research could be enhanced. The feedback prepared Shah, Jiang and Kim for their next phase: cross-cultural data collection in India and the United States via social media. That work begins in Spring 2020.
An evolving student-faculty partnership
As their work evolved, the student-professor relationship developed into one of academic colleagues.
“I’ve learned so much from doing this,” Shah said. “Applying what I'm learning [about] research has helped me become more well-rounded, and it's added to what I've learned in classes. And having the opportunity to present at a conference has helped increase my confidence. The entire opportunity was really rewarding.
“Professor Kim and Professor Jiang were there every step of the way,” she added. “I would not have any way to do it without them finding the opportunity, helping me through it even when they were busy.”
The experience will serve Shah whether she applies to graduate school or heads into the corporate world, says Kim. “Smart and educated employers will appreciate this experience; they'll know she may have ideas and the perspective needed to handle the work.”
“I knew how helpful professors at Bryant are, but I never realized how giving they are, and how much they want you to succeed,” Shah said. She encourages Bryant students to “reach out to your professors. They’ll take the time to help you through it all. That’s how I was able to come across this opportunity and learn so much.”