[Professor Interview] Professor Nah Lee: Engineering to Marketing, Korea to the US and back to Korea
Professor Nah Lee, who joined SKK GSB this fall as a marketing professor, discusses her background, life before her academic career, and school experiences.
- Please introduce your childhood and background briefly.
I was born and raised until middle school in Seoul. Then I moved to the U.S. and started my high school education. After high school, I went to University of Virginia, where I also did my first master's. I also received two other M.S. degrees from Columbia University and Georgia Tech, before receiving my Ph.D. from Duke University. My initial academic interests were actually in engineering, but then I moved toward business studies, starting with operations. Over these years, I navigated different fields to find my true passion, which is in quantitative marketing and what I do now.
- What made you shift from an engineering background to marketing?
Engineering gave me foundational knowledge and a methodological base for further studies. It is still very important in my research, but I became more interested in applied research on how our everyday behavior affects firm performance and what the businesses should do about it. This switch was largely due to the global digital transformation. Basically, I was fascinated by the process of sharing information online and the implication of this massive amount of data that are available today. In recent years, we have seen a boom in data science, and also the problem it creates when firms have no experience dealing with such online information. With my engineering and analytical background, I can provide quantitative insights from data that can be useful for firms in understanding their consumers and shaping their marketing decisions and outcomes.
- Welcome back to Korea. What made you decide to return here for your career in academia?
There are quite a few reasons this was the perfect opportunity for me. First of all, COVID-19 changed everyone’s perspective: almost everything is possible virtually now. Some even say that it is easier to stay connected online than face-to-face. With this change, being a professor in Korea didn’t seem to me as such a distant leap from the global academic mainstream, especially from the faculty members and the colleagues in the U.S. that I would like to stay in touch with; rather, it actually seemed more like reaching towards Asian cultures and emerging markets, and broadening my perspectives. Moreover, I wanted to teach at graduate level at a business school, so SKK GSB was a perfect fit for me and also an opportunity for me to contribute the most from what I have learnt from my years of education in the U.S.
- How have you enjoyed teaching at SKK GSB so far?
I've been teaching Pricing Strategies and Digital and Social Media Analytics. I have been very much enjoying teaching these courses since they are quantitative and match my comparative strengths well, and the social media analytics is also directly related to my research. The school and Dean Shih were very considerate in trying to assign me the courses that match my strengths and interests, and this has made my SKK GSB experience more rewarding. In these courses, I want to convince students that marketing nowadays is more than just soft skills or intuitions about consumer behavior. I want them to see what I see—that the emerging trend centers on data science and quantitative modeling, and this makes marketing more technical and analytical.
- You have taught in the U.S. previously. How different is teaching at SKK GSB?
In the States, I taught undergraduates at Georgia Tech and served as a teaching assistant for MBA students at Duke University. But I’ve also taught graduate students and working professionals in Korea before, so I guess it wasn’t that big of a “change” as I knew what to expect and that the student profile and culture would be somewhat different here. The student body at SKK GSB is diverse and unique in its own way. I have had talented students from the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Indonesia, and other countries nearby and far. Among the professional MBA students, there are working professionals from leading major companies in Korea to smaller startups and tech companies. No matter where the students come from and where they work now, one thing I am sure of is that there is no doubt that students came to SKK GSB for world-class MBA education and to broaden their global perspectives. And we are offering this unique experience in the heart of Seoul, one of the biggest metropolises in the world, and I am very proud to be part of the team!
- Congratulations on your recently published paper in the Journal of Marketing Research. Could you briefly talk about your research focus, recent paper, and any other project you are currently working on?
I study information in online reviews and how it can impact the purchase decisions we make as consumers, and also the business decisions firms can make in re-aligning their products. The accepted paper is about investigating the different types of information consumers share online, because the service products, like dining at a restaurant or staying overnight at a hotel, involve many different aspects of experiences, including food, room, service you get, and the interaction with the employees at the venue. I am currently working on reviews in the healthcare industry, and it’s fascinating because patients also write about many different aspects of their visit to the hospital: their interaction with the doctors, nurses, and other staffs, the facility, wait time, the medical diagnoses they received and the treatment outcomes, and so forth. The evaluations about all these aspects can affect prospective patients’ decision on which doctor to see and which hospital they should visit in the future, and this can also affect the decisions of the healthcare providers as to whether they should focus on increasing the quality of care they provide or how to allocate their resources to improve healthcare operations.
- Do you have any advice for students in your class?
Time and energy management is very important. Set the priorities and do the important tasks during the day of time when your brain is at its best. Try to get a little ahead of the due dates, so that you can save yourself from a lot of stress. Outside of the class, always remember your MBA experience should include networking and bonding with your classmates. Participate in social events, sports and other activities, as well as talks and other seminars taking place at SKK GSB. Every single experience during your time in the program, and all the networks and bonds you form with your peers and faculty members will benefit you for years to come after you graduate from the school. We would love to hear back from our students.
Jawahirul Mahbubi, SKK GSB PR Committee, Class of 2023