Victor H. Gutierrez-Velez never expected his work to lead him to the topic of public health. His expertise lies in remote sensing science, analyzing data such as satellite images. “Every day, numerous satellite images are taken,” says Gutierrez-Velez. And the information drawn from these images has both academic and commercial applications.
For example, satellite images can help prescribe management, fertilization, irrigation, and other activities in precision agriculture, according to Gutierrez-Velez. They can help the insurance industry assess risks related to flooding or other natural disasters, or to verify crop insurance complains. Satellite imagery can allow energy companies to pinpoint the ideal location for solar panels. And this kind of data, it turns out, can even come in handy when it comes to fighting certain diseases.
To that end, partnering with colleagues with expertise in biology and public health, Gutierrez-Velez, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts, has recently been drawn to an unlikely research subject: mosquitoes. Specifically, the tiger mosquito (scientific name: aedes albopictus). What’s so interesting about this tiny, blood-sucking bug?
“It’s worrisome. They can spread the Zika virus and other dangerous diseases,” says Gutierrez-Velez.
In 2016 when the Zika pandemic caught his interest, mosquitoes dominated the headlines. Once thought to be limited to tropical and subtropical regions, the tiger mosquito had expanded its territory into most continents. Climate change plays a role, but these mosquitoes are also particularly aggressive. They’re among the 100 most invasive species in the world. In the 1980s, they were first spotted in the U.S. in Texas. Today, they reach as far north as Connecticut. Their presence in Pennsylvania remains an ongoing public health concern.
For his project, a recipient of the Office for the Vice President of Research‘s Targeted Grant Program and supported by the Data Science Institute housed at the Fox School, Gutierrez-Velez decided to look at multiple datasets, including climate data, information gathered from sampling for the presence of the tiger mosquito, land cover data, and census information. Gutierrez-Velez believes that with these and other datasets as inputs, machine learning and advanced algorithms can be used to predict the locations of tiger mosquito populations in advance of the season.
One of the most interesting possible findings of this research is that the tiger mosquito is less of a rural dweller than previously thought. “What we’re finding contradicts conventional wisdom about where these mosquitoes live. They are becoming domesticated animals. They prefer to be where lots of humans are living closely together—in cities. Because they love our blood,” says Gutierrez-Velez.
Scientific curiosity led Gutierrez-Velez to census data, which is not necessarily an obvious source of information to predict the presence or absence of a small flying bug. “If they feed on humans, human behavior should have something to do with it,” he says. And it does seem like including this data makes for a more accurate prediction about where the mosquitoes will go next.
Gutierrez-Velez’s ultimate goal for the project is to perfect a reliable working model that can be used to predict the upcoming mosquito season. Knowing that a particularly bad mosquito season is about to start will give officials the opportunity to plan in advance.
For example, the most affected areas can be targeted for treatment before the problem becomes unmanageable. Residents could be strongly cautioned in advance of the season to deal with housing-related conditions, such as places that collect standing water, which act as mosquito breeding areas. In the event that mosquitoes are spreading Zika or another virus, these protections could even save lives.
“There’s a lot we can do if we have a model that can say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a bad year for mosquitoes, get ready,’” says Gutierrez-Velez.
This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.
A personalized touch can make all the difference.
When you log into Amazon, Netflix, or Facebook, one of the first things you see are recommendations for products, shows, or friends you may know—all based on things you have already bought, watched, or liked.
Recommender systems have eliminated the time-consuming effort of understanding and anticipating what exactly users want, sometimes before they know they want it. Using vast collections of detailed data points, data scientists can create a trail of digital breadcrumbs, which follows Internet users as each sale, search, and interaction becomes part of an algorithm for new suggestions. These platforms can predict and encourage your next shopping sprees, binges, and bucket lists.
In the private sector, companies have long been using technology-enhanced learning in order to proactively suggest and anticipate their consumers’ choices. But how can these mechanisms be most effectively applied to academia?
“We have to learn something new every day,” says Dr. Konstantin Bauman, assistant professor in the Management Information Systems (MIS) Department at the Fox School of Business. “With the traditional path, we go to university, take some courses, meet with the instructor once a week, and go to lectures. But today, there are many different types of tools and materials available online that are able to educate large groups in a personalized and direct way.”
Educational companies like Coursera, Lynda.com and the Khan Academy already use recommender systems to suggest courses their users may like, based on their history. Bauman, however, wanted to know whether personalized e-learning can help students struggling to comprehend a particular subject.
“Education is one important application of recommender systems for society to target materials for specific learning paths,” says Bauman.
Bauman, along with co-author Alexander Tuzhilin of New York University’s Stern School of Business, examined the personalized e-learning systems approach with the help of a tuition-free online university. By using curricula from 42 classes and test results from 910 students over three semesters, the researchers created a system to pinpoint—and address—specific areas within a student’s comprehension that needed improvement.
The team reported their findings in the paper, “Recommending Remedial Learning Materials to Students by Filling Their Knowledge Gaps,” which was published in MIS Quarterly in 2018.
In this real-life experiment throughout the 2014-2015 academic year, Bauman’s team identified where students’ knowledge waned and provided materials to supplement these gaps. “Instead of revising the entire lesson, we provided catered lessons to fill those gaps,” says Bauman.
The students had diverse backgrounds, from both the United States and developing countries, and studied in a variety of programs, from business to computer science to art history. The researchers split the students into three groups: a control group that received no recommendations, a group that received non-personalized recommendations, and a group that received recommendations tailored to the individual student.
Bauman and his team created taxonomies that mapped all the topics covered within a specific course, built a library of remedial learning materials, and matched test questions with course topics. After analyzing test scores, the researchers identified the students’ weaknesses. The students in the non-personalized group received generic recommendations for the course, while students in the personalized group received remedial materials for specific topics that were identified via testing.
“First, we showed that most of the students who received our recommendations found them relevant and helpful,” says Bauman. Second, the “average” students, who received a test score between 70 and 90 in previously taken courses, were most affected by personalized recommendations. “These students improved their performance on the final exams significantly more, in comparison to their prior performance before they received personalized recommendations than the students from the control group.” For this subset of students, the personalized group received an average grade of 83.22 in their final exams, while the control group scored an average of 79.39.
The study received limited interactions with students who were classified as “falling behind” (those whose previous grade averages were below 70) as only six students who received personalized recommendations actually clicked on the materials. Similarly, students who were “excellent” (with average grades above 90) were less likely to need remedial lessons.
Bauman found that, by determining specific materials needed to supplement their understanding, students saved time and energy in preparation for their exams.
“Learning systems have the capability of picking up patterns and behaviors that can clearly predict necessary methods that are worthwhile and timely,” says Bauman. For students and professors, time that may be used to teach a specific lesson can be accomplished through recommender systems, saving more time for interactions that encourage new ideas and understandings.
One thing is for sure—when it’s time to come back for more, a new suggestion will be waiting.
This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.
The Class of 2019 from the Fox School is full of high achievers. Jonathan Huynh is one of them, but he took a path unique to undergraduate students—a deep dive into research.
“I have always been purpose-driven,” says Huynh. “The education I’ve received at Fox has constantly challenged me to delve deeper into concepts and ideas and look at them from an out-of-the-box perspective.”
Huynh is a part of the first graduating class of undergraduate students with a Statistical Science and Data Analytics (SSDA) major at the Fox School. Looking back at his journey, “I actually started out in actuarial science, but ultimately got drawn to [this program],” says Huynh. “I liked the idea of being able to gain quantitative and analytics skills to translate large data sets into meaningful solutions.”
Dr. Pallavi Chitturi, deputy chair of the Statistical Science Department, says that the new undergraduate major in Statistical Science and Data Analytics is highly rigorous. “Students get a solid foundation in statistical methods, programming languages and statistical computing, which is why the major is gaining popularity among students and employers alike,” says Chitturi.
It is rare to see an undergraduate student so deeply involved in high-quality research. “My first exposure to research was through Dr. Robert Pred, the academic director of the Fox Business Honors program,” says Huynh. ”My friend and I did an independent research project over the summer of 2017 and Dr. Pred helped set us up with an advisor to oversee our research.”
Since then, Huynh became involved with data science research projects at Temple’s College of Public Health. One of the ongoing projects that Huynh is working on compares the difference between the cost to patients and their outcomes at the Temple University Hospital versus other hospitals in the area. “Dr. Michael Halpern, an associate professor in the College of Public Health, reached out to us as they were looking for a research assistant with strong statistical skills and Jonathan was a perfect fit,” says Chitturi, who presented Huynh with this opportunity. “Dr. Halpern was so impressed by the quality of his work that he later hired another student from the SSDA major.”
Huynh largely attributes his early success to the well-designed and differentiated curriculum at the Fox School. “I’ve seen how beneficial it is to have technical skills backed by an understanding of business for courses in data science,” Huynh says. “It allows you to be at the intersection of knowing how to comfortably work with data to drive business decisions–a skill that recruiters highly value.”
Huynh plans on pursuing a master’s degree in the near future and is looking at specialized fields of data science such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. When asked if a doctorate in data science is in the cards, Huynh says he believes education is a matter of continuous learning. “Even if I don’t pursue formal education [like a PhD], I will always be self-learning… and keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies,” says Huynh.
Huynh‘s ultimate goal is to run a startup that uses data science to solve important problems that have the potential to improve the world. “I have always had entrepreneurial aspirations,” says Huynh. “The connections that I have made at Fox and the experiential learning opportunities I’ve had here have really shaped my perspectives and prepared me to achieve these goals.” He has already started on this journey, having participated in 2019 Be Your Own Boss Bowl ® pitch competition and winning the “Crowd Favorite” award.
As of now, Huynh is all set to begin his foray into the corporate world as a Business Technology Analyst at Deloitte in the Government and Public Sector practice. Huynh says, “The thing I am most excited about is to be able to make a real impact in the everyday lives of people, as I will be working on projects with government agencies to make the lives of people easier.”
Learn more about programs in the Department of Statistical Science.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially in education.
For years, academics and business executives alike have questioned whether the insights from business school research conducted are getting into the hands of those who need it. The debate about “rigor versus relevance” is age-old. While the answer may seem simple, the process of getting there is complex.
The Fox School of Business is committed to pushing this conversation forward. On Friday, March 29, the Fox School’s Translational Research Center (TRC) hosted the 2019 Impact Summit, bringing together deans, faculty and students from across disciplines and parts of the world to determine how schools can move the needle of impact in tangible ways.
The attendees sought to answer the question: How can business school leadership change the way research is conceived, produced and implemented to prioritize impact?
These are five lessons business school leaders can apply:
1. Start at the top. “It takes time to re-engineer a school at a systems level,” said Tarun Khanna, a professor at the Harvard Business School. However, a top-down perspective is key to encouraging institutional change.
Jerry Davis, associate dean at the Ross School of Business, highlighted the University of Michigan’s experiments with the promotion process. By making research impact a more significant part of an associate professor’s evaluation, he advised, deans can use promotion structures to affect change in the way their faculty conduct research. Getting top business schools across the country to agree on a new evaluation structure would be even more influential.
2. Instill impact’s importance early. The attendees also discussed tackling the issue of impact from the opposite side—starting with junior faculty and doctoral students. Elizabeth Cowley, deputy dean of the University of Syndey, said that in Australia, “faculty are encouraged to build a narrative of the long-term impact [they] have had on some sector of society.” Attendees agreed, remarking on the importance of letting junior faculty members define for themselves how they would want to make an impact and develop a strategy based on that objective. With doctoral students, the starting point should be their research questions—advisors should ask if it is grounded in a real-life phenomenon and has relevance in the business world.
3. Systematically engage with business. “Business leaders tend to look at our schools primarily as labor markets for sourcing the MBAs and business graduates,” said Joanne Li, dean of the business school at Florida International University. “We need to help them recognize us as knowledge markets as well. We are able to produce expert knowledge vital for their business growth and survival.”
Brent Beardsley, the chief strategy officer at Vanguard, talked about the value of an advisory board made up of executives, entrepreneurs and academics. “That mix is really rich,” he said. “This is a lab outside of the walls of Vanguard’s large institution that can get out in front of market trends and themes.”
Participants championed the creation of a brokerage platform between companies and universities that could connect those who have real problems to those working on practical solutions. Simple activities like business sabbaticals for faculty, corporate engagement in research projects and programs like Fox Management Consulting can help faculty to better define their research questions.
4. Use teaching as a tool. One speaker suggests a change in vocabulary to underscore the importance of teaching. “We shouldn’t be referring to a ‘teaching load,’ said Gautam Ahuja of SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. “It’s not a load, it’s a tool.” Academic leadership can encourage faculty to step into the shoes of learners, focus on practical insights in the classrooms and foster intellectual questions with relevance. Stronger connections to industry, through practitioner conferences, relationships with practice faculty and co-teaching with executives can also benefit classroom outcomes.
5. Be a community hub. Business schools will also benefit from a stronger community connection. “We should be known by the community where they can come to get ideas,” said Will Mitchell, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Attendees brainstormed ways to make research more accessible but noted that faculty will need different reward structures and training to bring that to fruition. Ideas like three-minute presentations or one-page summaries of academic papers can help get ideas out of academia and into the real world.
Ronald Anderson, interim dean of the Fox School, remarked at the end of the day that a lot was learned. “Disruption is going to have to be part of the process,” he said. “Technology and innovation are changing higher education, and research is going to have to address that.”
The event, a follow-up to the 2018 Editors’ Summit, is part of a series of initiatives by the TRC to change how both academics and practitioners view business research. Other activities have included the TRC’s Seminar Series, which invites executives to share their viewpoints on faculty research presentations, and case writing workshops, which encourage faculty members to learn and perfect their skills in writing and submitting teaching cases for publication.
Learn more about the Fox School’s Translational Research Center.
More than 15 million adults struggle with alcohol addiction. In fact, according to the CDC, one in ten deaths of working-age adults in America is linked to alcohol. That’s one reason data on alcohol use has been chosen by researchers for study from the enormous data set from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ ambitious Million Veteran Program (MVP). The VA intends as the project’s name states, to gather data on an astonishing one million service members.
Kuang-Yao Lee, assistant professor of statistical science at the Fox School, sees a world of potential new knowledge in this vast cache of data. This is particularly true of alcohol use because the data from the MVP is longitudinal, which means the same measurements are tracked over time. Alongside the support from the VA, Lee’s project received funding through from Office for the Vice President of Research at Temple University.
Volunteers in the MVP each submit blood samples as well as health surveys, amassing a dataset that comprises both genetic data and behavioral patterns. Beginning in 2016 when he was a researcher at Yale University, Lee and his colleagues have been using this information-rich resource to search for the specific combination of genes that correspond to alcohol and other substance use.
“Previous studies have suggested [these genes exist], but mostly were only limited to small scales or restricted conditions,” says Lee. “We want to use statistical models to find out if this is really a valid assumption. Our results so far suggest a very strong association.”
While ample electronic health records and genetic data have long been available to researchers, only recently has the efficient computing power become available to slice and dice the information into accurate, usable new insights and discoveries. More sophisticated algorithms combined with larger-than-ever computer storage capacity, as well as parallel computation techniques, allow today’s researchers to make meaning from a huge amount of complex data.
How huge? “Depending on the facility, the whole genome sequencing [for one person] can produce hundreds of millions of variants,” says Lee. Questionnaires allow researchers to gather large amounts of information about each subject every time they are administered. Multiply that by one million veterans. “We’re talking about not just billions, but millions of millions of points of data,” he says.
Data with this level of complexity can lead to findings that are more nuanced and reliable than in the past. Previously statistics sometimes led to oversimplified and other not-quite-right conclusions. We’ve all heard the old axiom, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But as so-called big data increases in scope and complexity and the tools used to analyze this data become more sophisticated, statistics are becoming more honest than ever before. From projects such as the Million Veteran Program and other similarly vast datasets, new genetic truths may ultimately emerge.
There are many possible real-world applications for this research. For one thing, determining which specific genes are linked with alcohol and other substance abuse could lead to new and better medicines and treatments for the very veterans who have volunteered their most sensitive personal information for this work. A dialed-in genetic profile that indicates a vulnerability for substance abuse could be used to screen kids and even adults while there is still time for effective early interventions that can keep them on a healthy path. Given the current public health crisis around opioids, alcohol, and other substance use, a breakthrough of this kind could have far-reaching benefits.
Lee says that the knowledge gleaned from the Million Veteran Program about substance abuse may lead to similar projects that could help solve other vexing behavioral, health, and genetic puzzles. He also notes that the innovative statistical models and tools he’s used in this research could be applied in myriad ways to other complex datasets.
For example, online shopping platforms can easily observe huge amounts of individual consumers and, at the same time, collect data across large numbers of variables. “One of the core problems in business analytics is to use statistical models to study the inter-dependency between observed variables, for example, the dependency between decision making and consumer behavior,” Lee says.
“There are a surprising number of similarities between genomics and online shopping.”
This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more stories, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.
Everything around us seems to be getting smarter by the day—like smart refrigerators, driverless cars and robotic assistants. The “Internet of Things” (IoT), which is the internet-enabled network of everyday devices, has become prevalent in our lives, both inside and outside of the workplace. But with the rapid developments in recent technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), will these intelligent systems make human workforce redundant?
In other words: do we run the risk of being replaced by machines?
Paul Pavlou, Milton F. Stauffer Professor at the Fox School, argues that instead of replacing us, AI and humans will work side-by-side to address some of the bigger problems that neither can solve alone. Popularly referred to as “Augmented Intelligence,” this concept focuses on the assistive role of AI to improve human intelligence, rather than computers fully taking over our jobs.
Man vs. Machine
While computers have the ability to collect, aggregate and analyze an enormous amount of data, humans surpass machines when dealing with ambiguity, vagueness and incomplete information. Augmented Intelligence recognizes these complementary strengths and problem-solving capabilities of man and machine. “This collaborative interaction between human beings and computers arises when IoT collects the data and AI tools perform calculations based on criteria determined by humans,” says Pavlou, who is also the co-director of Temple’s university-wide Data Science Institute.
For example, GIANT Food Stores has introduced “Marty,” a robotic assistant, to the 172 stores in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. The robot roams the store, seeking to identify and eliminate spills from foods, products or liquids. Other examples can be found in the retail industry, where location-based technology devices and eye-tracking devices can help optimize the placement of merchandise. Meanwhile, salespeople equipped with mobile devices can leverage personalized information in real-time to sell products customized to individual shoppers.
A More Human IoT
In the future of work, managers can embrace both the fully-automated and Augmented Intelligence solutions. This choice depends on factors such as the nature of the task, expected performance and the costs and risks of autonomous IoT solutions that would operate without any human interventions. For example, automated manufacturing, predictive maintenance and security IoT solutions may—cautiously—be fully automated. But in industries like healthcare, cybersecurity and financial technology, human oversight will still be crucial.
For the time being, appropriate IoT designs should maintain a reasonable level of human control and oversight, says Pavlou. “This will give us adequate time to get comfortable with delegating control to machines.” In the distant future, machines alone might dominate decision-making in most applications. However, Pavlou says, “It will be a fairly long time until this happens. Until then, major intellectual advances will be made by humans and computers working together.”
NAO came to Temple University about three years ago, when Li Bai and Carole Tucker, researchers from the Colleges of Engineering and Public Health, and, joined Heidi Grunwald, director of Temple’s Institute for Survey Research, to study robotics and surveys.
The team wanted to explore a big idea: What if NAO, this cute, two-foot tall, human-ish robot, could be programmed to give health surveys to children on the autism spectrum? Could they create a system to collect patient-reported outcomes in this tough-to-survey population?
Potentially, this research could solve a number of difficult problems. Currently, its parents fill out surveys on behalf of their kids. Researchers would prefer patient-reported outcomes. It’s much more accurate than information filtered through a third party, such as a parent. “Kids with autism may be willing to say they are depressed, but not in front of their mother,” says Tucker. When a one-foot-tall robot with a cute robotic voice such as NAO is asking questions instead of a human clinician, researchers might get reliable patient-reported outcomes in a way they have not been able to in the past.
The team’s research would also include another stream of valuable information: para-data. The camera inside the robot would “watch” the subject as NAO asked the survey questions. Additionally, via the sensor the subject wears (a Microsoft wristband), researchers can monitor things like facial expression, heart rate, and body motion. This para-data is a rich vein of knowledge, particularly when combined with the survey questions, response time, and answers.
If the subject pauses an extra long time when a certain question is asked, the NAO can play a game (like rock, paper, scissors), take a break, or give a high five to reduce anxiety. This is one way that the robot uses para-data to adapt to a child’s answers. The para-data also helps the researchers better understand survey responses. “For example, we can tell if a particular question made a subject nervous and then down-weight the answer, or not count it,” explains Grunwald.
“The robot’s face is much less complex than a human face and human facial expressions,” says Tucker. That makes it much less overwhelming for a young person on the autism spectrum who may find it challenging to read people’s faces and maintain eye contact.
Their project received funding through the Office for the Vice President of Research’s Targeted Grant Program at Temple University, with matching funds from all three represented schools.
Planning the research has been an iterative process. On the computer science side, Bai and his engineering students have been exploring the feasibility of using NAO this way. Bai and the students have been answering questions like, “What features would be nice? How can we use sensors to pull in data and incorporate the Microsoft band?” They have iterated and refined the data architecture, a database where the data are meshed together so that the robot can read all of the survey response data–coupled with the para-data (sensor data).
Meanwhile, the questionnaire and para-data collection process have been tested on different groups, starting with older kids not on the autism spectrum. As trial subjects, children aged 10 and up can provide specific, meaningful feedback on interacting with NAO. More recently, a community event brought a group of children on the autism spectrum to campus, and the team had an opportunity to see NAO interact with the intended study subjects. Going forward, they have the kind of pilot data that can win the funding to drive this effort forward.
This work can benefit groups beyond younger people on the autism spectrum. Any time data reported directly from a patient may be skewed or inaccurate—such as dementia patients, for example—the survey methods used in this work could prove enormously helpful to clinicians.
“With future improvement in this type of research, I think we will see more robotic diagnostic platforms that will be developed. One of the functionalities will be surveys of the patients about their health conditions. It could be particularly important for people who can not find a good hospital in their neighborhood,” says Bai.
Practical applications of this work in the future aren’t limited to the realms of research and medicine by any means. “Artificial intelligence and robotics will be the next technology push to drive the economy of our country, There will be countless business world applications—such as personal robotic assistants (such as the iPhone’s Siri) or self-driving cars,” says Bai. He believes that the technology in this project will fuel innovations across all sectors of the economy in the years to come.
Etsy—the online treasure chest for all things handmade—cultivates a community for those who have a knack for crafts like candle-making, knitwear, jewelry, or pottery. With over 1.7 million active vendors and close to 28.6 million active consumers, Etsy has established a peer-to-peer business platform that eliminates the middleman of corporate production. Yet this marketplace is more than just an e-commerce site; it is a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate handicrafts.
Within the site, buyers and sellers interact through a variety of IT-enabled features, like following and messaging shops, reviewing and favoriting products, and curating lists of products. Yet as sellers socialize by favoriting and promoting others’ products, are they redirecting potential customers away from their shops?
Professor Sunil Wattal and doctoral student Ermira Zifla of the Management Information Systems Department at the Fox School of Business investigate how social mingling affects e-commerce marketplaces in their paper, “Understanding IT-enabled Social Features in Online Peer-to-Peer Business for Cultural Goods.”
“What really fascinated us about this platform is that you have this community aspect, but you are also introducing this e-commerce agenda,” says Wattal.
“We thought that sellers may have mixed incentives to participate in the online community,” adds Zifla. “On the one hand, participating by following others and posting in forums may increase the visibility of sellers and subsequently increase their sales. On the other hand,” she continues, “following other sellers and sharing their products could negatively impact sales by diverting traffic away from their own page.”
While online communities have often been the subject of research, this is one of the first studies to link social indicators with economic performance. Using a dataset of nearly 2,000 sellers on Etsy, Wattal and Zifla examined their interactions in the online community and found how socializing with others can inherently affect a shop’s sales.
The researchers identified two categories of social e-features that promote new products and validate users:
1. Community participation features—such as following other sellers and joining teams—which facilitates socializing with other members, and
2. Content curation features—such as curating favorite lists, sharing products, and favoriting shops—which serve as tools for validation and tastemaking.
“When you are following other people on Etsy, those people are listed on your page as a form of validation, for what you like to buy as a consumer or what you can provide as a producer,” said Wattal.
The researchers hypothesized that community participation and content curation would increase a seller’s online status by increasing their number of followers, but would decrease a seller’s sales by diverting attention away from their own products.
Using a web crawler to collect public information, the pair obtained a dataset of 1,728 unique glass sculpture sellers—a randomly chosen subcategory of marketplace shops on Etsy—to compile a year’s worth of data, including sellers’ followers, lists, favorited products, and sales.
Analyzing the data proved the researchers’ hypotheses correct: a 10 percent increase in community participation, like following other sellers, and content curation, like favoriting products, resulted in a 3.89 percent decrease in sales. Yet this reduction was outweighed by the effects of cultivating a stronger social following. In other words, the same activities that led to a direct decrease in sales helped sellers attract more followers, and were associated with an indirect increase in sales by 4.64 percent—an overall net gain.
“IT-enabled features have benefits that supersede the negative,” says Wattal, “since exposure is what can ultimately lead you to be on an influential list or you can simply commercialize yourself to the point of high-status.”
Trends can come and go as quickly as a trendsetting blogger changes her mind. Yet in the realm of vintage trinkets and artisanal finds, relationships stay relevant.
This story was originally published in On the Verge, the Fox School’s flagship research magazine. For more, visit www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge.
What was it like to be a woman earning a doctorate degree forty years ago? Dr. Gloria Thomas, PhD ’80, has firsthand experience.
Today, Dr. Thomas is an accomplished researcher, a dedicated professor, and an esteemed administrator at Baruch College.
But in 1980, she was a trendsetter for women at the Fox School of Business.
As the first woman to obtain a doctorate from the Fox School, Thomas received her PhD in marketing, a field that is now predominantly women, but was all men during her tenure at Temple. “Women were very uncommon in business PhDs, even marketing, when I was in school,” she recalled. “And I rarely saw women at conferences.”
Dr. Thomas is currently a professor of marketing and the Director of the Zicklin Undergraduate Honors Program at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York. Thomas praises her experience at Temple University for the appreciation she has developed towards public institutions.
“Temple has taught me to believe in public education,” Thomas professed. “I went to Baruch right from Temple and we have really smart students from all over the world with parents who don’t speak English or have any money.” After years of private schools, Thomas’ experience at the Fox School helped her appreciate the value of diversity in education. “Cultural exposure makes public institutions more valuable and it gives students opportunities they normally wouldn’t have,” she said.
With undergraduate degrees in math and art history, Thomas pursued a doctorate in marketing. Following graduation, she went straight to Baruch, where her roles included professor, associate dean, and director of the doctoral program. She currently serves as director of the business honors program.
“My current role is my most favorite,” Thomas said. “Many students at large public schools don’t get the attention they would at a private school, but I make sure to give that attention in my honors program.”
Thomas credits her mother, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s law school in the 1940s, for her then unconventional educational choices. “I grew up thinking everyone was equal. I never thought that [by going to business school] I was going into a man’s profession,” Thomas said.
That ‘man’s profession’ has changed. Today, 50-percent of PhD students are women at the Fox School, compared to 45-percent for all business-focused doctoral programs in the United States, according to the Council of Graduates Schools’ 2017 report.
Thomas did not let any obstacles get in her way of her goals. “It never occurred to me that women couldn’t do whatever they wanted to,” she recounted. “In reality, many women [at that time] didn’t even know they had options.”
“It never occurred to me that I didn’t.”
Learn more about Fox School Research.
Data-driven decision-making is now the norm in many workplaces. Executives collect and analyze information to inform hiring practices, promotions, and insurance premiums. However, Leora Eisenstadt, assistant professor of Legal Studies at the Fox School, warns that the kinds of data that employers can track should be safeguarded by law, to both protect employees’ privacy and limit employers’ liability.
For many, work and personal time have begun to blur together as smartphones and emails have invaded the home. As this line erodes between the home and office, employees are often left unaware that their employers can glean so much information from their personal lives. “Most of us have left enormous data trails,” says Eisenstadt, “that employers are now beginning to access in order to create the most efficient workplaces possible.”
With social media, FitBits, and online healthcare platforms, Eisenstadt says, employers are gathering data from more than just workplace activities. Healthcare service platforms, for example, can tell by looking at internet searches, prescriptions changes, or specialist appointments that employees are planning to start a family or have major surgery.
The platforms indicate that only top-level numbers are shared with employers, not individual names of employees. However, she argues, “that knowledge could lead to companies making decisions about promotions, hiring, and terminations based on this information.” Narrowing down gender and age, for example, could give employers enough clues to know which of their employees were likely to be trying to have a baby soon.
In her paper, “Data Analytics and the Erosion of the Work/Non-Work Divide,” which was accepted for publication by the American Business Law Journal, Eisenstadt asserts that the current legal statutes do not provide enough protection to both employers and employees. “Laws like HIPAA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act likely do not apply to data gleaned from search queries,” she says. And there are virtually no laws or regulations prohibiting employers from collecting and relying on data gleaned from employees’ social media profiles, from facial recognition software, or from Fitbits.
So why should employers care about overreaches into employee privacy?
“The erosion of the work/non-work divide will impact the concept of a ‘scope of employment’ and employer attempts to avoid liability for their workers’ actions,” says Eisenstadt. Over the years, courts have seen the line blur between personal and work-related activities—like a case in 1928 in which an auto sales manager crashed a car, killing an employee on the way home from a staff appreciation dinner. The courts found the company liable for the death, and considered the events to be “within the scope of employment.” This move toward an expanding “scope of employment” has only grown with the advent of laptop computers, smartphones, and the myriad other devices and technologies that make it easier and sometimes even essential to bring work outside of the traditional physical boundaries of the workplace.
By gathering data from nonwork activities, Eisenstadt cautions that employers may be pushing this trend to new, more troubling places. By eroding the work/non-work divide so dramatically, companies may be opening themselves up to new liabilities for employee health issues, violent outbursts, or other employee behavior that would previously have been considered to be outside the “scope of employment.”
Data analytics can be an extremely powerful tool. “It allows humans to capture, analyze, and use massive quantities of data,” says Eisenstadt, “that the human brain can not make sense of on its own.” Yet, in today’s environment of data concerns and privacy breaches, Eisenstadt warns, companies should be cautious of data mining that goes too far.
In today’s fast-paced society, if there is one word that doesn’t escape us, it is “busy.” How does this ongoing obsession with the idea of being busy affect the choices we make?
As a behavioral scientist, Monica Wadhwa, associate professor in Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the Fox School, studies the impact of having a busy mindset on decision making. In a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Wadhwa discovered that people who see themselves as busy are more likely to make decisions that are beneficial in the long run, such as making healthier choices.
Prior research has established that high-stress situations—especially when work has to be completed within set deadlines—impair consumers’ ability to exercise self-control. As a result, people tend to give in to impulses that have negative long-term health consequences.
But turns out that that is not the end of the story. While being overworked can be problematic, there are benefits to feeling busy.
Wadhwa highlights that there lies a difference between being busy under time pressure and having a busy mindset. “A busy mindset is merely a perception that one is busy,” says Wadhwa. “Two people could have the same amount of work to do, but the perceptions of busyness could differ.”
Wadhwa notes, “Feeling busy gives people a sense of pride.” This behavior stems from the fact that busy people are perceived to be more important and have a higher social status. “It makes us feel valued and makes us believe that every moment of our lives matters,” says Wadhwa. “When you feel you are important, you make decisions that are better for you from a long-term beneficial perspective.”
For example, if one had to choose between an apple and a chocolate brownie, someone who is under significant time pressure would give in to their momentary impulses and pick the brownie. However, a person with a busy mindset would more likely focus on the long-term implications of the choice. Wadhwa says, “They’re more likely to choose the apple, favoring health consequences over taste, which provides only immediate gratification.”
To capture the busy mindset behavior over a wide range of scenarios, Wadhwa and her fellow researchers, Jeehye Christine Kim and Amitava Chattopadhyay, conducted seven experiments, including a field study. In one of the experiments, the researchers analyzed the buying pattern of students at a college dining hall. “We created two types of visual signs to be posted on different days,” explains Wadhwa. One read “Good to go, for busy college students!” whereas the other read “Good to go, for summer college students!” Wadhwa notes that the days when ‘busyness’ was made salient through visual signs, students chose to consume less unhealthy food and fewer fat calories.
To analyze how busyness affects branding, the researchers compared the buying behavior of consumers for brands perceived to be indulgent, such as Carl’s Jr. For the study, consumers were shown an advertisement that featured a tagline that either made busyness salient (It’s good to go for busy college students) or not (It’s good to go for college students). Those participants who saw the ad with busy tagline were less likely to consume the indulgent food from Carl’s Jr. than those who saw the ad with a non-busy tagline. It turns out that for brands that are not perceived as indulgent, such as Subway, busy taglines did not negatively impact consumption behaviors.
The researchers also studied the impact of this mindset on other self-control situations, like saving for retirement among adults and making good grades among students. “We asked adults the percentage of income they are willing to save,” says Wadhwa. “Busy people were willing to save more.” Similar behavior was seen in students—busier students said they’d rather take extra credit even if it means more work.
The findings of this study, besides adding a new dimension to the otherwise popular perspective of being busy, also have important real-world implications, especially to marketers. A growing number of commercials are using the busy appeal to make the product more relevant and favorable to new-age consumers. But the study shows that this strategy could backfire for brands that are perceived as indulgent. “For instance, Dunkin Donuts’ advertisements using a busy appeal may actually reduce consumers’ desire for donuts,” adds Wadhwa.
To consumers and policymakers who are concerned with people’s self-discipline, especially in societal problems such as overeating and food waste, Wadhwa offers: “Perhaps activating a busy mindset may be an effective nudge to facilitate self-control behavior.”
It’s the moment every woman dreads: A routine breast self-examination during an otherwise relaxing shower ends in the panic-inducing discovery of a lump.
Often, what happens next is a long, harrowing journey through a combination of biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. While it’s true that, thanks to advancements in screening and treatment, more and more women survive breast cancer, it’s also true that 80 percent of breast cancer cases have already advanced to an invasive stage at the time of diagnosis.
Today, just 20 percent of breast cancers are identified at the earliest stage, when treatment is most effective and the five-year survivorship rate hovers near 100 percent.
Carlos Barrero, MD, and Oscar Perez-Leal, MD, assistant professors in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at Temple University’s School of Pharmacy, wants to change all that. “I believe we can invert those numbers so we’re discovering 80 percent of breast cancers at the very earliest stage,” he says.
The research Barrero and Perez-Leal are conducting may represent a major breakthrough in breast cancer screening. Their work could lead to a simple routine blood test that detects breast cancer sooner than ever before for more women. To do this, Barrero and Perez-Leal are working on identifying a set of biomarkers for breast cancer, a specific signature of early-stage breast cancer detectable in a blood sample.
Their work on this project received funding through the Office for the Vice President of Research’s Targeted Grant Program, and the team is currently in the process of securing additional funding from the National Institutes for Health, and the National Cancer Institute. Perez-Leal is also using the knowledge gleaned from his master’s degree from the Fox School’s Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship program to turn the idea into a feasible product.
Though mammograms are a recommended cancer screening for women age 40 and older, only 65 percent of women over 40 have had one in the past two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Many women avoid mammograms because they can be uncomfortable, and because of the hassle of needing to make a separate appointment. If screening for early-stage breast cancer became a part of routine blood work, more women would be screened regularly,” says Barrero. That would likely result in more early diagnoses, more effective treatment, and ultimately more long-term cancer survivors.
Through systems biology, advances in mass spectrometry technology that allow the detection of very low concentration of proteins and metabolites, and the availability of large public datasets from thousands of breast cancer tumors, Barrero and Perez-Leal can move this cutting-edge work forward. “Most research of this kind starts with analyzing the blood sample. We start by analyzing the data,” says Perez-Leal. It’s a fresh approach to a longstanding problem.
The researchers start by looking for specific proteins secreted by breast cancer tumor cells across many thousands of samples drawn from breast cancer tumors. The team is searching for a signature set of proteins that can be detected in very low amounts. A vast data set and formidable computing power are essential for finding the precise biomarkers that could, in five to 10 years, lead to the blood test. Recently upgraded mass spectrometry equipment at Temple’s School of Pharmacy allows him to carry out this innovative research.
The promise of this research extends even beyond the hopes of early detection into the possibility of new, more effective medicines to battle breast cancer. Going forward, biomarkers are likely to be an increasingly hot topic for those in the pharmaceutical industry, which represents a significant part of the U.S. economy. Biomarkers such as these are often used as a reference point in drug development; when the biomarkers diminish or disappear in blood tests, it’s evidence that the new drug is working.
Current treatments for breast cancer are effective, but they come with their own health risks and side effects, some of which lead to different health challenges years after patients have recovered from cancer. The identification of these biomarkers would also mean that, in addition to early intervention, a breast cancer patient could get a form of personalized medicine, which is another area of potential business growth for the pharmaceutical industry. For patients, that might mean fewer side effects and complications down the line.
“It’s rare to find a scientist with a business background,” says Perez-Leal. He praises the Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship program with helping him take an idea, establish a business plan, and pitch to investors. “The research community should continue to focus on finding solutions and products to real problems.”
Clearly, breast cancer is a real problem, as the most common cancer among women: one in eight will face a diagnosis in her lifetime. But if Barrero and Perez-Leal succeed, it will be a game-changing advance. Many more women will be diagnosed in cancer’s earliest stages, receive more personalized treatment, overcome the disease, and lead long and healthy lives.
March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting a few of the women who have inspired us by making an impact on their communities, careers, and the business world at large.
For Dr. Leila Bouamatou, DBA ’17, women’s leadership in business is deeply personal
As the daughter of the founder of a family-owned bank in the West African country of Mauritania, Bouamatou studied the challenges that women in francophone Africa face when seeking to take over the family business during her time in the Fox Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program.
Bouamatou found that women’s biggest struggles included the institutionalized stigma of working outside the home; resistance from both older male and female members of the family, who were often unwilling to break with tradition; and the convention of women taking their husband’s last names, thus having a different last name than the family company.
To succeed in leading a family business in this environment, Bouamatou identified several key factors—such as modern-thinking fathers, supportive husbands, access to educational opportunities, and personality traits like determination and ability.
As the general manager at the Mauritanian General Bank, Bouamatou hopes to inspire young African girls and women to become leaders in business. She wants others to receive the encouragement that she felt at home from her parents and siblings. “I am particularly lucky to be the daughter of a modern-thinking father who has great respect towards women,” said Bouamatou, “and who believes in the potential of his daughters.” She recalls her mother teaching her from an early age about the importance of education and ambition.
Despite the barriers that remain, she sees hope for the future. “Africa is changing, and so is the mentality,” Bouamatou said. “Women are getting more and more educated and becoming more and more ambitious. Fathers are more and more supportive of their daughters and more open-minded, compared to previous generations.”
“I am fully aware that it would be hard for one single African woman to change the world,” said Bouamatou. “But I know that this African woman can shape her world and destiny.”
Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, International Change Agent
Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, worked in the Global Diversity and Multicultural Team at IBM before becoming the founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting, a diversity and inclusiveness solutions company. At IBM, she experienced the diversity and inclusion challenges across various countries. The experience prepared her to found Interweave and lead it to be a pioneer in India, where the arena was a non-existent market when the company began operations.
Through Interweave, Menon works with companies to implement progressive policies to support diverse groups. The company has touched the minds and hearts of over 150,000 people, including senior leaders and managers through its workshops and initiatives. Others receive these messages through e-modules and webinars.
“Diversity and inclusion is still a new area of work in India and it is hard to provide a direct ROI on the efforts,” said Menon, addressing the impact of her efforts. “However, there are several anecdotes that show that the efforts have translated into positive behaviors at work. A better understanding of respectful behaviors at work and more conscious efforts at gender, disability, and LGBT inclusion are all, we believe, influenced by our efforts.”
When asked how she is making the world a better place, Menon said, “In my mind, everything we do dovetails into building a better world! The work we do has a tremendous positive impact as it is directly focused on building inclusion. From helping organizations understand the value of diversity and inclusion and helping to build enabling workplace policies to support the same, it has a direct impact for the nation.”
She believes organizations are powerful vehicles of change and teach people to become influencers. “A mind expanded or enriched with knowledge and sensitivity is bound to be applied not just at work but equally in their behaviors at home and in society.”
As a result, Interweave is building the foundations for social change in India and beyond.
There are two types of neighbors in a social network: the ones you know directly, and the ones your friends know. Research has shown that direct peers have a significant influence on social networks, from joining Facebook to subscribing to Netflix. Yet indirect neighbors—those with whom you have a mutual friend, but do not interact directly—can also affect behaviors.
“People want to know what others think of them,” says Paul A. Pavlou, senior associate dean of research and professor of management information systems at the Fox School, “especially those in similar positions. In order not to lose influence, an individual would eventually make the same judgment and same decision as his peers.”
Pavlou, alongside co-researchers Bin Zhang of the University of Arizona and Ramayya Krishnan of Carnegie Mellon University, studied how direct and indirect peers influence groups by using Caller Ring Back Tones (CRBT) adoption in Asian cellphone markets, in their paper published in Information Systems Research last year. In analyzing 200 million calls from 1.4 million users, the researchers overcame statistical and computational challenges of the immense dataset by using subpopulations of 200 or 500 people, each group its own network of friends.
The researchers found that, in the larger group, indirect peer influence has a significant positive effect. In the case of CRBTs, a caller’s knowledge of her acquaintances’ use of ringback tones encourage her to be “on-trend” and thus adopt the same behavior. Yet in a smaller group, a caller has a greater desire for individuality, resulting in a decision not to adopt.
This study sheds more light on the complicated, large-scale networks that exist today. By understanding how peer influence works with both direct and indirect neighbors, businesses can learn the best strategies for things like product diffusion, content creation, and software adoption within social networks. “If businesses want to trigger higher adoption rates, then for smaller groups, they only need to focus on individuals with many direct connections,” says Pavlou. “While in for larger groups, they should not only focus on popular individuals but also those who have many common friends.”
How much is a hashtag worth to you?
This simple symbol has become ubiquitous across many social media platforms. Started in August 2007, the hashtag, also known as the pound (#) sign, was officially adopted by Twitter in 2009 as a way to group conversations and aggregate similar themes. Now, having spread to sites like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, the hashtag has become a key element of many companies’ social media strategies. With that pervasiveness comes power—and pitfalls.
“Creating an original hashtag gives a firm control over a specific social media space,” says Subodha Kumar, professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the Fox School. Businesses can use this tool to increase recognition of their brand, generate buzz, and expand their audiences.
Yet creating a hashtag does not automatically mean the company owns it, says Kumar. Hashtags are susceptible to hijacking, in which competitors or consumers use the hashtag for unofficial messaging—like when McDonald’s attempted to generate positive publicity with #McDStories but instead received thousands of complaints about the fast food chain.
So, how can a company protect its social media reputation? For some, the answer lies in trademarking.
“The trademark protection of hashtags can increase consumer confidence,” says Kumar. Since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began allowing hashtags to be registered trademarks in 2013, more and more companies are protecting their intellectual social media property. In 2015, nearly 1,400 hashtags were submitted in trademark applications. “It prevents other competitors from using similar hashtags to mislead consumers.”
However, trademarks may come with a price. “Trademarking a hashtag may prevent or restrict its use,” Kumar says. The successful spread of a hashtag lies in its ability to be used by anyone, connecting millions of Twitter threads and Instagram photos into one conversation. By trademarking, companies could be stifling this kind of organic engagement.
Little research has been done to understand whether a trademarked hashtag makes a firm’s social media audience more or less engaging. Kumar, along with Naveen Kumar of the University of Memphis and Liangfei Qiu of the University of Florida, wanted to know: does trademarking a hashtag defeat its original purpose?
Kumar and his co-authors investigated the tension in these two opposing sides—the organic nature of a hashtag and the restrictive nature of a trademark—in their paper, “A Hashtag is Worth a Thousand Words: An Empirical Investigation of Social Media Strategies in Trademarking Hashtags.”
The researchers compared firm-level tweet data from 102 companies, split between a “treated” group of companies who had trademarked a hashtag between 2014 and 2017 and a “control” group of similar firms. The study compared tweets from before and after the hashtag’s trademark approval, analyzing the level of engagement through likes, comments, and tweets, as well as the linguistic content of the tweet, including its emotions, tone, and style.
Based on this study, Kumar and his colleagues discovered some key factors of making a trademarked hashtag work for a company:
1. Companies that trademark hashtags have higher social media engagement.
This study is the first to identify that trademarking hashtags can improve firms’ engagement with its audiences on social media—though the effects have varying levels of intensity for different types of firms and social strategies. “Trademarking a hashtag can increase the number of retweets by 27 percent,” says Kumar, “which is a considerable amount.”
Yet firms can not trademark hashtags arbitrarily. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office treats hashtags like any other trademark: in order to be approved, the company needs to prove that the hashtag is a key part of the firm’s identity and that trademarking works in the consumers’ favor by preventing or reducing confusion.
2. Trademarking hashtags works better for smaller, less popular companies with fewer Twitter followers.
While the study demonstrates that trademarking increases social media engagement, Kumar and his colleagues investigated how this effect varies among different types of firms. After comparing the companies in the top and bottom percentiles in terms of Twitter followers, the researchers found that firms with fewer Twitter followers had more significant increases in their engagement after trademarking hashtags than companies with larger followings.
Kumar hypothesizes that small companies see larger positive effects because fewer consumers are aware of their brands and products. “Without trademark protection, other competitors can easily use similar hashtags to mislead consumers,” he says. “In contrast, for popular firms with more Twitter followers, it is more difficult to mislead consumers, even in the absence of trademark protections.”
3. Writing styles are more important to firms that use trademarked hashtags.
The researchers also studied how companies used language in their social media strategies to understand the key drivers that cause trademarking hashtags to increase engagement. “This is based on the assumption that the way that people use words reflect how they think,” says Kumar. For example, using pronouns can reflect a self-centered focus, or using prepositions and conjunctions can indicate more nuanced thinking.
The study found that when hashtags are trademarked, a firm’s writing style becomes more important to its social media engagement. “People tend to like a more narrative and informal writing style in tweets,” Kumar says. The researchers saw that more positive, colloquial, and confident writing increase retweeting by up to 10 percent.
4. Effects of increased social media engagement last longer when hashtags are trademarked.
Recognizing that trademarking is a lengthy and expensive process, the researchers sought to discover whether the increased engagement lasted in the long term.
“Before trademarking hashtags, writing more tweets with desirable linguistic styles has only a contemporaneous effect,” says Kumar, meaning that the tweets’ increase in engagement was immediate, but dropped off quickly. After one month, it was no longer significant. “Trademarking hashtags makes things different,” Kumar says. After trademarking, the researchers found that the effects of increased engagement were still happening a month later.
Based on their research, Kumar and his colleagues believe that, especially for smaller companies with fewer followers, trademarking their intellectual social property, like hashtags, is a worthwhile investment. However, to get the maximum bang for your buck, Kumar suggests that companies consider the longevity of their chosen hashtag.
Social media can be fleeting, so invest wisely.