Sonia Kim

Sonia Kim
Class Year
Seoul, Republic of Korea
Areas of Interest
Previous Education
Seoul National University

Why did you choose to pursue a PhD in your discipline of business?

Consumers today are extremely proactive. They not only take part in the product creation process (by customization or doing it themselves) but they also share their own product experiences with other consumers through reviews or YouTube videos. Meanwhile, firms stay active to match the picky needs of the contemporary consumer. For example, they create trained algorithms that would suggest the most appropriate product to each consumer. I found this interaction between consumer and firm fascinating and wanted to understand the psychology and behavior of consumers in depth, which naturally led me to pursue a PhD in Marketing.

Why did you choose to come to Columbia Business School for a PhD?

The Marketing faculty in Columbia Business School conduct research in a wide variety of topics and methodology, so whenever you think of a new research idea you can easily find a faculty member who is already the known expert. This was precisely the reason I chose Columbia Business School for a PhD. I thought I would be able to learn extensively from the different faculty members and also thought it would be a great place to find a specific area of research where I can build my expertise. I can proudly say that the program has exceeded this expectation of mine.

What type of research are you exploring?

My research focuses on consumer autonomy, or the consumer’s feeling of being in control. I’m currently exploring which situations trigger the consumer’s desire to take control while also looking at situations in which the consumer will happily put down their sense of being in control to accept the advice of others. In a closely related project, I examine how culpable individuals feel when they make a choice for themselves versus when they were obeying orders. Finally, I am exploring behavioral phenomena when consumers can consume unlimited amounts of a product with a determined price, as for the case for subscription services.

What’s your favorite part of the PhD experience so far?

I love how Columbia Business School PhDs are so willing to help each other out, and how the faculty try their best to create this cooperative atmosphere.

Every time there is an important department-wide presentation, we hold informal ‘mock-talks’ and ask feedback from our fellow PhD students that would, first of all, try their best to attend the mock-talks, and also try to give as much feedback as possible. We would ask each other whether a new research idea is interesting, or what is the best way to interpret counterintuitive results, regardless of whether you are on the Quant track or the CB track. There is a rooted culture of sincere opinion sharing and support.

Our faculty also notice this importance of peer feedback and have been providing us with weekly or bi-weekly lab meetings, where we share not only our interesting findings but also our struggles in research. In lab meetings we can gain insights from each other and from faculty, helping us to proceed to the next steps.

This supportive culture is not restricted to our research life but extends to our personal life. Even during the pandemic, PhDs have been trying to check up on each other just to see if we’re doing okay. Whenever some of our peers achieve an important milestone, we celebrate it together, and we have fun dinners and happy hours.

Which faculty member(s) and/or courses influenced you the most, and how?

I was influenced largely by courses that focused on teaching us the fundamental methodology of consumer behavior research, which includes “Research Methods” co-instructed by Professor Gita Johar and Professor Bo Cowgill; and “Experimental Design” instructed by Professor Michel Pham. Research Methods provided the basis for structuring studies to successfully prove causality, while Experimental Design further strengthened this basis and taught me the logic and proper way of analyzing data. After taking these courses, I understand on a much deeper level what is good research and how to conduct it.

What has been your academic experience at CBS?

Honestly, my first year at CBS was quite rigorous. Unlike any program I was in before, the PhD program challenged me to take courses that I had little previous knowledge about. Seminar courses pushed me to ask big and important research questions, and I struggled to learn how to do so. Now, being half-way through the program, I can see that these challenges helped me grow and improve immensely in how to think about research and the field of Marketing in general.

Being at CBS has also been remarkably stimulating, mostly due to how much exposure I had to different researchers and their work. I was able to listen to our own faculty’s work through brown bag seminars, but I was also able to meet many other researchers outside of CBS either through weekly lunch talks with visiting scholars, or through special events like Professor Lehmann’s 50th anniversary conference (known as the Lehmann-fest, where Marketing researchers from all over the globe came to the campus).  

What are your future plans and how has your PhD experience translated into growth in your career?

My future plans would be doing what I’ve been learning to do so far – scientific research on consumer behavior. I do hope, as time goes by, I gain more expertise in a subfield of consumer behavior based on the projects that I am currently invested in. I’m not in the job market yet, so I can’t say much about where I will be placed after graduation, but wherever I go I plan to use everything I’ve learned at CBS to conduct rigorous studies and help both marketers and academics understand the psychology of consumers. 

As a vague dream in the future, I wish I will be able to help companies with a good cause (from start-ups to well established firms) on communicating their product with their potential and current consumers.

What will you take with you from your CBS experience?

I think I’ll take with me all the lessons that I’ve learned from our faculty, mostly by simply watching their daily lives as senior researchers. I completely admire their passion in research, openness to new ideas, and eagerness to learn more. I’m always surprised at how busy and productive they are, but also at how in the midst of all their busyness they give their sincere time and energy to nurture students. Wherever I am after CBS, these respectable characteristics of our faculty will definitely remain as an internal goal that I will strive for myself.