Not Quite Business As Usual

By the SMU Postgraduate Research Programmes Team

When Lim Leon Gim was about to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Marketing from the Singapore Management University (SMU), she was all set to dive into the professional world.

It was only after her advisor Associate Professor Kapil R. Tuli spoke to her about doing a PhD that she began considering it. She shares, “It’s uncommon for Singaporeans to want to do a PhD. I, like most of my peers, wanted to get into the job market; and assumed we needed a Master’s degree to apply for a PhD.”

In contrast to PhD programmes in many other parts of the world where the only component to the PhD is the dissertation, SMU’s PhD programme combines the best of American and European traditions, requiring rigorous coursework and a qualifying examination before the dissertation phase. This ensures that students are trained in the latest research and industry methods, and makes it possible for students without a Master’s degree to directly enter a PhD programme—often resulting in significant cost and time savings.

Leon Gim is now entering her fourth year in the PhD in Business (Marketing) programme. Reflecting on her PhD journey, she says she’d do it all over again. For her, the biggest draw of doing a PhD is the opportunity to research what interests her—namely marketing accountability or the financial impact of marketing. SMU’s city location was also a big pull factor. “Doing a PhD programme requires long hours, lots of resources and support,” she says, “so location is very important, along with experienced faculty and a good research environment. For example, there are library staff members attached to each programme and they work hard to ensure we have access to the books and databases we need. I wouldn’t know what I would do without their help!”

Leon Gim characterises her PhD experience as a self-discovery process. Besides getting herself equipped with data analytical skills, she also reads many finance and accounting papers due to the nature of her research. “It was really tough at first,” she admits, “You are given a lot of freedom to learn and research on the things that interest you. But freedom comes with a price and it’s easy to lose yourself in this process. Thankfully, my advisor and other faculty members are very supportive and nurturing. They often provide us with advice and feedback; be it with regards to our research or other major decisions that we need to make in our academic lives. With their help, I have learnt how to manage my time better and to be more independent, disciplined and rigorous in my research.”


Leon Gim having dinner with Assoc. Prof. Kapil R. Tuli and PhD colleagues.

Leon Gim, having dinner with Associate Professor Kapil R. Tuli and her PhD colleagues, after her first conference presentation at the 38th ISMS Marketing Science Conference in Shanghai, China


In addition, because PhD students have the freedom to choose their own research topics, advisors and co-authors, Leon Gim gets to collaborate with distinguished international scholars. One of them even invited her to visit Tilburg University in The Netherlands, where she spent three months working on her research, taking courses, and most importantly, making new friends. She adds, “Networking is very important—it can help you form connections with potential co-authors.”


Leon Gim during her three-month research trip to Tilburg University in Winter 2015

Leon Gim during her three-month research trip to Tilburg University in Winter 2015


Leon Gim credits the generous scholarship stipend and conference funding she receives as an SMU PhD student for allowing her to focus fully on conducting research and disseminating her findings at international venues such as the 38th ISMS Marketing Science Conference in Shanghai, China. For the current academic year, Singaporeans receive a monthly stipend of up to S$3,200, and exceptionally-qualified students who receive the Presidential Doctoral Fellowship receive a monthly stipend of up to S$3,500. All Singaporean PhD students on stipends receive an additional 17% CPF (Central Provident Fund) contribution from the University.


Leon Gim with her PhD colleagues at the LVMH-SMU Luxury Research Conference 2016

Leon Gim with her PhD colleagues at the LVMH-SMU Luxury Research Conference 2016


By the end of her programme, Leon Gim hopes to secure a tenure-track position in Europe or the US in order to get more research exposure before returning to Singapore. For now, she is enjoying the flexibility and opportunities the SMU PhD provides, and the close relationships that she shares with her professors and PhD colleagues. “If I went directly to the industry,” she says, “I’d be researching on problems clients are interested in, which may not necessarily be what I’m interested in. Doing a PhD allows me to build theories and create knowledge, and it is more in line with my hope to broaden society’s perspective on what marketing is all about.”