The Information Systems Doctoral Program: A diverse community

November 07, 2011

It’s that time of year. In IT shops and offices and classrooms around the country and the world, a group of people are mulling whether or not to go after a doctoral degree in information systems. Committing to a doctoral degree is a big decision: it involves years of study, income drops from what you might earn in industry, and most likely you will have to uproot yourself and your family and adjust to a new city or new country.

To understand why someone would take the leap, KnowIT decided to interview a sampling of the students currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the Department of Information Systems. Mathematics is often called the universal language, but we found that information technology also cuts across national and cultural lines. Our Ph.D. students were drawn here from around the U.S. and the world -- attracted by the W. P. Carey School’s collaborative environment and strong reputation -- to tackle critical IS issues. We asked them why they chose ASU, and what they hope to learn here. Their answers represent a range of interests, but they hold one thing in common: they all have plans to use their education to advance the field of IT and improve the world.

“While getting a PhD degree can be a daunting challenge, it also represents one of the most intellectually stimulating and self-actualizing experiences for those who eventually make it through,” said Professor Benjamin Shao, the faculty adviser for the Ph.D. program in information systems.

We hope that these stories will help the Ph.D. aspirants out there to make their decision, and in the process, we offer our readers a glimpse of the Ph.D. experience.

Why W. P. Carey?

“The research freedom I was offered sealed the deal for me,” said Irfan Kanat, a first-year doctoral student from Turkey. “Once I started the program, I understood why W. P. Carey School’s IS programs are so successful. The IS department has its research focus integrated into its Ph.D. program. We are granted great freedom in topics we want to pursue, and proper guidance and chances to pursue it. This, in my opinion, leads to the program’s success.”

Seyedreza Mousavi, a first-year doctoral candidate from Iran, is fascinated by the field of NeuroIS, which uses neuroscience and neuro-physiological tools and theories to increase understanding of the development and use of information and communication technologies in organizations and society. A major reason for Mousavi’s decision to pursue his Ph.D. at the W. P. Carey School was the opportunity to work with one of the most recognized researchers in the NeuroIS area, Associate Professor Pierre Balthazard. As an added plus, the department’s research diversity has opened new horizons for Mousavi.

“I can find a lot of research opportunities here because of the diversity of research interests of its faculty members,” the 27-year-old said. “If you are interested in a specific piece of IS, you can certainly find a faculty member working on it. So, you can find a lot of new ideas and research topics. If you build your network in this department, you can be sure that you have some friends in each corner of the IS discipline.”

Having one of the best IS programs in the world, as well as distinguished faculty, brought Gunwoong Lee, a second-year doctoral candidate from South Korea, to W. P. Carey. But there is a deeper reason that makes him stay.

“The close relationship between faculty members and doctoral students encourages Ph.D. students to get more involved in active research,” he said. “In my experience so far, the faculty members are really taking care of students and always try to give us the best research environment.”

Jeremy Glassman, a first-year Ph.D. student, received his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from W. P. Carey. The California native, who has spent the past 10 years in Arizona, shares many of the same reasons as his international peers for choosing the Department of Information Systems for his doctoral study.

“The W. P. Carey School is uniquely positioned at ASU to promote interdisciplinary research with strong ties to the many large organizations that have a significant presence in the Phoenix area,” Glassman said.

The road to ASU

Typical of doctoral students, some of the students enrolled in the IS doctoral program have been on a straight trajectory through academia, while others followed a path through the world of business before joining the W. P. Carey School’s IS doctoral program.

Kanat followed the academic route. He already has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in information systems. Kanat, 29, was well into his doctoral program at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara when he decided he needed more of a challenge.

“A Ph.D. from one of the best business schools in the U.S. seemed about the right amount of challenge for me and I jumped ship, forsaking all the effort I put into my Ph.D. in Turkey,” he said.

Mousavi, a native of Iran, received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and his MBA in operations management from the University of Tehran. Before starting his doctoral studies, Mousavi worked as a marketing manager at the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce and as a project manager for several private Iranian companies, the University of Tehran, and the Iranian government’s Ministry of Industries and Mines.

He decided to return to his studies when he began noticing the increasing use of information technology in Iran and its still untapped potential.

“Because IS is a young discipline for Iranian people, many of them do not know how to benefit from it,” he said. “So, one question shaped in my mind: How can we convince people to use IT? I started my research in Iran, and now, I am here to resume it.”

Like Mousavi, the 26-year-old Glassman worked in the business world for some time before opting for his Ph.D. For Glassman, the decision to go back to school was based on his realization that companies need to use information systems more efficiently.

“Having worked as the director of information systems for small (20-100 employees) and mid-size (300-1,000 employees) organizations, I have seen the difficulties that come when the processes of the organization are dictated by the information systems, instead of the systems conforming to the business processes,” he said. “This is a substantial gap and one that can’t be correctly analyzed while working within an organization.”

Yen-Chun Chou, a native of Taiwan, began studying at ASU in 2008. After earning her bachelor’s degree in information systems from National Chengchi University in Taiwan, she worked for a leading computer manufacturer, Inventec Corporation, in her native country, where she helped to introduce a workflow system that managed the processes of IT-driven product development. A year later, she joined a research project, led by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Taiwan Advanced e-Commerce Institute, that planned an adoption roadmap of on−demand e−business technologies for Taiwan’s IT industry. When she finished that project, Chou moved to the United States, where she earned her master in information systems at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 

“With academic background and industrial experiences rooted in information systems, I have seen cases where IT brings disruptive changes to the ways transactions are performed and how the structures organizations and industries are formed”, she said. “A Ph.D. program in Information Systems is the path to study the ongoing changes brought by evolving IT artifacts, and to be able to answer the debate we hear all the time: does IT matter? If it does, in what ways does IT contribute to the economy?”

Lee, 31, earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and his master in information systems from Korea University. Lee later worked as a researcher for the Korea Association of Game Industry and the Korea Society of Management Information Systems. Deciding to pursue a career in academia, Lee moved to the United States in 2008, and earned his master’s in economics from Purdue University in Indiana. He enrolled in ASU in 2010.

“I have always wanted to be a productive researcher who explores important and interesting IS-related questions and tries to find answers,” Lee said. “As a first step toward my academic goal, I thought I needed rigorous training in an outstanding Ph.D. program and I hoped to encounter up-to-date IS research issues and topics. So I decided to continue my academic career as a Ph.D. student in information systems at ASU.”

Their goals

The group’s academic goals are proving to be as clear as their reasons for picking W.P. Carey’s IS program.

Chou’s current research interests include the value of information technology and e-commerce adoption from a micro and macro-perspective, particularly in regards to the dynamics of IT industries in the global context. The 29-year-old also is working on “the emerging phenomenon of mobile commerce.”

“It is interesting to observe how emerging technologies like mobile communications change the ways firms do business and whether firms can rely on past experiences and performances to take the lead in the new business area,” she said.

Kanat, who plans to enter the academic field, had done some research on e-government while studying in Turkey. However, it is the open-source movement that has fully captured his attention.

“The empowerment it brings to the users and the developers fascinates me,” he said. “I am especially attracted to how people self organize in these endeavors to achieve something great without central authority. I believe open source holds social lessons beyond just software development for our time.”

For Mousavi, absorbing knowledge and sharing it, especially with his fellow countrymen, forms his ultimate goal.

“I want to find the answers to my current questions. By answering these questions I will contribute to the IS discipline,” he said. “I want to see the impact of my answers on the IS world or even in the day-to-day lives of people. I wish to see the results of my papers helping people in a corner of our world to solve their problems and live better. I want the results of my findings in the area of decision support systems to help companies operate more efficiently. I really wish to see researchers in the IS discipline find my questions noteworthy and try to find answers to them.”

In fact, whether they go into academia or the private sector, these IS doctoral students recognize that “the only way that the world will evolve into a cohesive machine of progress is through cooperation and interdependencies. Information technology is the catalyst that can build the conduits of communication for collaboration,” Glassman said. “No one knows where the next big evolutionary idea will come from, but the more minds working collectively toward that goal will ensure our success.”

The Ph.D. experience:

Yen-Chun Chou, Taiwan -- The experiences here at ASU have been great. I enjoy the interactions and support from my faculty mentors. They work closely with PhD students and support students’ research interest. In addition, the diversity of course offerings, from economics, statistics to psychology, and handy library and software access has become solid foundations for my research. I have also built good relationships with my colleagues by exchanging research ideas from different cultural perspectives.



Irfan Kanat, Turkey -- I was expecting a certain degree of rivalry in such a competitive school. You can imagine my surprise when I found a cooperative atmosphere instead. From Day One, everyone from secretaries to other grad students to professors has been very open and helpful. For a while, I could not believe this; I was expecting to find a hidden rivalry any minute. But as time passed I understood the reasons behind the cooperative atmosphere. The diversity of the program nullifies any reason for rivalry, while increasing the motivation for cooperation — which in my opinion makes W.P. Carey such a great place for research.



Seyedreza Mousavi, Iran -- I think the most important thing for me in choosing the IS department of the W. P. Carey School of Business was that commonality of research interests among its faculty members and myself. In the IS department you can find one of the best group of researchers in the IS discipline. Believe it or not, you do not need to send emails to IS faculty members in other universities that often asking for consultation. You just need to stop by in front of one of the faculty members’ office in the department.



Jeremy Glassman, USA -- Receiving my Bachelor of Science from the IS Department at the W. P. Carey School, I have the unique opportunity to continue to work with my previous instructors from a decade ago to build my future career.





Gunwoong Lee, South Korea -- I believe the experience in our department is one of the most significant milestones in my life as a researcher. I am also sure that the research environment and the network of faculty members in our department will prepare me to be a successful and productive researcher into new problems in the IS field in the future.





Professor Benjamin Shao, faculty advisor -- The faculty in the Department of Information Systems is committed to training and grooming the next generation of researchers and educators in our discipline. Not only do the students work closely with the faculty through their seminar classes, independent studies, and dissertation work, but oftentimes they maintain life-long relationships with the faculty after they graduate.