By Kara Sherrer
“Doing a PhD was always the plan, because I wanted to go into academia,” says Hallie Sue Cho, who recently joined the Owen Graduate School of Management as an assistant professor of operations management. Cho began her time in academia by earning a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cho had already applied to Ph.D. programs and been accepted when a unique opportunity presented itself. She’d been working on a social enterprise startup with a fellow engineering master’s student, developing an autoclave for sterilizing that could be used in rural healthcare clinics. After they’d already committed to further schooling — Cho to a Ph.D. program and her cofounder to medical school — they received funding to make their idea a reality.
Cho had to decide whether to defer her Ph.D. or let the team move forward without her. “I figured, hey, I want to study technology commercialization and new product development. I’ve done the new product development, and now we have this chance — somebody gave us money to commercialize that. I thought it would be interesting for me to have that experience,” she recalled.
Cho and her cofounder decided to defer further schooling for a year and work on putting together a team that could continue commercializing the product. While the experience didn’t make her reconsider her decision to go into academia instead of industry, it did give her unique insights into the product development and commercialization process. “It gave me a lot of invaluable experience as to interacting with people whose perception of technology is very different from me,” she said.
Cho drew on this experience, as well as her background in mechanical engineering, while she worked on her dissertation at INSEAD. She worked on translating text-based reviews of cars into a numerical value that could be analyzed. “The broader question that I was interested in was being able to extract how people were perceiving qualities of complex products… But you don’t actually fully understand all the technology that goes behind (the car) to properly assess it.”
“The larger research interest, which kind of ties into my engineering background, is looking at new product development,” she continued. “How do people come up with interesting ideas? How do you execute that into a product? How do you then market it? And how well does it do in the marketplace?”
For her future research projects, Cho is also looking at different facets of how consumers perceive products. One area that she’s researching is how users interact with AI systems such as Siri and online chatbots. Because interfacing with these AI systems is still so unfamiliar, it can keep people from properly understanding how useful the systems can be.
Cho is also looking at how people follow — or rather, don’t follow — directions from GPS while driving. Many people believe that they know better than the GPS and take the “shortcut,” only to burn more time and gas in the long run. “Why do people not follow directions? Because they think they know better, like they think that the technology is incompetent? Or is it because it takes away their agency?” she said.
While Cho has only been at Owen for a few short months, she looks forward to teaching the Business Analytics class, continuing her research, and helping to improve real-world product development down the line. “You have to be able to effectively communicate the quality of the product, and that’s really difficult for the product designer or the firm or the manufacturer when they don’t know what the consumers want or how they’re evaluating it. So I’m trying to bridge that gap,” she said.