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  • Writer's pictureT. (Ned) Choungprayoon

Beyond the Lecture Hall with Sarah Gelper: How Personal Interests Shape Academic Excellence

Written By T. (Ned) Choungprayoon, Ph.D. Candidate at Stockholm School of Economics



Sarah Gelper has recently become an area editor and is a long-time member of the editorial review board of IJRM. I was intrigued when looking for an area editor to interview for this newsletter and saw a professor from Luxembourg, a small international melting pot in Europe surrounded by Belgium, France, and Germany. My excitement grew when I prepared for the interview, especially after hearing a rumor that (whispered voice) “she loves rock climbing, has chickens in her backyard, and is a significant human rights activist”. The more I interviewed her, the more I could see the strong connections between her personal interests, her research trajectory, and her academic excellence. Hence, in this article, through my interpretation, I am showing how these two aspects of Sarah are inseparable and complementary to one another.


Scaling New Heights: The Academic and the Climber


“Yes, my hobby is rock climbing (and bouldering),” Sarah responded. As we all know, us academics rarely stop thinking about research. We cannot zone out when everything around us is what interests us. For Sarah, rock climbing or bouldering is an important moment, it stops the thinking about work and the focus is only on how she will get to the next hold.


The most important thing in bouldering is the inevitability of failing. Rock climbers need to fail to become stronger. Just like in academic life, rejection is our best friend; we get rejected, we improve our work, and we resubmit. Every research project has risks and uncertainties (e.g., hypotheses that do not pan out), yet every failure is a lesson leading to success. Sarah illustrates how the journey to academic excellence is much like scaling a challenging route: it requires persistence, adaptability, and the courage to explore the unknown. Thus, her love for climbing is not just a hobby; it is a metaphor for the resilience and determination that has helped define her career.


“On a regular day, there are things that keep you busy. You have them in your head and keep thinking about those things. But with bouldering or with climbing, no; the only thing you're thinking is how do I get to the next hold. It shuts things down.”

- Sarah Gelper -


Nurturing Growth: Chickens, Freedom, and Research


“Many people have pets. In our case, we have chickens.” Sarah answered when I asked about her chickens. She loves chickens because they are independent animals; they enjoy roaming around throughout the year and only need to be fed from time to time. Listening to her research journey, I can see something in common: Sarah loves the freedom of research, especially interdisciplinary research where econometrics meets marketing and supply chain.


Sarah did not begin her academic journey as a marketing researcher, she did a PhD in econometrics. Upon completing her PhD, Sarah had almost decided to not stay in academia as she wanted to apply her analytical skills to real-world problems. "I was asked if I would consider marketing as an applied field in which I can apply my econometrics skill to real-life problems, and then it just happened.” She reflected on her research trajectory.


For Sarah, interdisciplinary research means collaboration with people from different departments, where she can both contribute to and learn from projects, both theoretically and practically. Moreover, interdisciplinary research is more favorable for finding/getting grants. Her journey from econometrics to the broader domains of marketing and supply chains has sharpened her unique strength: the application of econometric techniques. Sarah has an eye for methodology, easily identifying mismatches between the questions being asked and the methods being applied, thereby enhancing the rigor and relevance of her interdisciplinary research.


“It's a privileged job, you have a lot of liberty. There's no one telling you what you need to work on, or how many papers you need to have in your pipeline. On the lop side, I tend to have very broad interests. So, I tend to have more projects because I just want to do all of it.”

- Sarah Gelper -


Guardianship and Guidance: More than the thesis supervision


“I volunteered to be a legal guardian for unaccompanied refugee minors,” Sarah shared, reflecting on her guardianship experience. Her role as a legal guardian extends beyond handling legal-related issues; it involves being a constant source of support, ensuring they are aware of all available options to make the best decisions. This sense of responsibility is mirrored in her approach to academic mentorship.


In mentoring PhD students, Sarah focuses on understanding and providing personalized support throughout their educational journey, emphasizing the wealth of options at their disposal. She encourages her students to explore and concentrate on areas where their interests and passions lie, guiding them to navigate their academic paths with confidence.

“The most important part there is to make sure that you make people aware of all the opportunities they have, identifying the upsides and downsides of all the options. Letting them know all options means giving them control over their life, which is a very essential thing in human well-being.” 

- Sarah Gelper -



My interview with Sarah Gelper’s journey reveals a simple inspiring fact: embracing personal interests like rock climbing and caring for chickens doesn't distract from academic success; it enhances it. Her interesting hobbies and what she does outside the university’s wall show that what we love doing can deeply inform and shape our professional achievements.



 

Meet Sarah Gelper

 

Sarah Gelper

Associate Professor of Marketing Analytics at University of Luxembourg


What drives you to do the research / work you do?

“I like writing papers and coding, but what I really like is bridging fields and bringing people with different backgrounds together. For instance, when collaborating with people from supply chain management, it’s very interesting to learn about their perspectives on a marketing topic such as online/offline channel management. I find that very motivating.”



If you were not an academic, what would you be?

“I think it would be something that has a community-building element. I want to bring people together in a free spirit setting. I once followed an academic leadership course, where my coach told me I am the kind of person who would thrive in a start-up.”


 

This article was written by

T. (Ned) Choungprayoon

Ph.D. Candidate at the Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden)







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