Future Stars – Yeliz Eseryel

yelizYeliz Eseryel, Ph.D. Candidate in Information Science and Technology, Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool)

Year of the PhD program:

Fifth and the last year.

Explain your background which has led you to the PhD program.

Well, I have always been interested in research. I conducted my first research in high school. I went to a “School of Science” in Turkey, a high school with a heavy curriculum, founded to train scientists and engineers. I conducted a year-long study at a hospital on comparing three diagnosis methods for Acute Leukemia and won several awards with that study.

Despite my background in hard sciences, I got a college degree in Business Administration in Turkey (Middle East Technical University), Master’s in Information Management and an MBA in the US (Syracuse University). During and after my master’s degrees, I worked as an IT consultant and then as an IT project manager. Implementing enterprise-wide systems such as SAP, I truly felt the need for systems and approaches where the technology design, and business processes were aligned with each other and with the organizational structures (such as organizational culture, norms, and leadership). Roughly 80% of these implementations fail and there is tons of research on it, yet we still need to learn more. That was a strong motivation for me to go back to school to get my Ph.D. degree. It was a tough decision for me, because I really loved the challenges of IT project management, and identified with the role. But I am also very passionate about teaching and research, and I truly enjoy the academic environment.

What research areas are you interested in?

My dissertation research is on leadership dynamics in self-managing virtual teams. I specifically study Open Source Software development teams. I am conducting a longitudinal study and am hoping to continue following a number of teams for a few more years. At Syracuse University, I’ve been part of the Open Source Software Research Group, which is headed by Dr. Kevin Crowston. My advisor Associate Dean Dr. Bob Heckman and Dean Dr. Elizabeth Liddy are also part of the research group. We conducted a number of studies on task coordination, decision-making, leadership and group maintenance in Open Source Software teams.

Having said that, my overall research agenda focuses on the alignment of information technologies, business processes and organizational structures. Thus, I also expect to explore these connections in other contexts than open source teams as well.

What do you like to do for fun?

Well, there are many things I enjoy in life. I am a USTA 4.0 tennis player, and a decent volleyball player. I love to travel internationally, meet new people, learn their language, culture, and cuisine. I enjoy many forms of art. I try to catch the local art exhibitions, and go to museums when I travel. In fact, last year, I started to paint after many years. I really enjoy it. I regularly go to the concerts of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. There are other things I have tried, that I am not so good at for now; I learned a few languages, got my motorcycle rider’s license, started ballroom dancing, did parachuting and gliding, rock climbing, and hiking. Once I have time to get a bit of life, I would like to get better at ballroom dancing, languages and outdoor sports.

How do you do all that while doing your Ph.D?

Oh, I don’t. Did I tell you I love to eat? Ph.D. is an excellent time to practice that skill, I am an expert eater now… and I am only half-kidding there.

Joke aside, I can do only one or two things at a time. These last two semesters, I’ve been painting. In fact on April 20, some of my paintings will appear in an exhibition. Couple of years ago, I received an international grant extension from National Science Foundation (NSF), which allowed me to spend two months in Italy for research. So I figured, I am going to Italy, I might as well learn some Italian for a semester or two before I go. It turns out people don’t speak much English in the southern part of Italy. My broken Italian came pretty handy and allowed me to also make a good number of friends there.

Just curious – how often do you blog?

Pretty often. I have a blog (enterprisesystems.blogspot.org) that I use for teaching my Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) class. I teach in France, USA, Turkey and Denmark. I don’t use the blog every time, but many times it’s part of my course, and my students write their daily reflections after class on the blog. I also have my personal blog, but I use it less often since I started twittering. Twits are short (140 character-long) messages that you share with other twitters. My twits get automatically posted on my blog as well as updating my Facebook status. Lastly, I participate in an anonymous blog with a few colleagues.

Mention some things that you are currently doing which is helping to make your PhD career successful.

Well, I think a successful Ph.D. career is one where one (1) gets the skills one needs as an Assistant Professor, (2) conduct a solid dissertation study, and (3) graduate in a reasonable amount of time. I have strived for a successful PhD career by being active in all facets of academic life in the first four years of the program. I am pretty lucky in that the iSchool at Syracuse is an exceptional place. Being part of the Open Source Research group has been a hands-on way to learn about conducting research, grant-writing, and collaboration. At the iSchool, PhD students get treated like junior faculty. So I represented the PhD students in a number of committees such as the PhD committee, promotion committee and search committee, and even got a vote! I developed courses on Enterprise Systems and ERP at both graduate and undergraduate level, both of which got approved by the university senate and became regularized offerings. I taught at our executive program in DC, at our executive master’s program for EPA Lausanne. I also co-taught and am co-developing courses on information technologies, virtual teams and data centers. All of these experiences create a well-rounded profile and makes for a real academic experience.

To accomplish #2 on the success definition, I started thinking about my study early in the program. Being part of the open source research team helped me really understand my context. I also did an exploratory study in 2006. So far, the feedback I get from the doctoral consortia suggests that the reviewers find the topic interesting and they find the research design rigorous. To accomplish #3 on my definition, I have stopped everything else and focused on my dissertation in the fifth year of my program. So, hopefully it will work out and the result will be a good one. J

Discuss some challenges that you’ve encountered in your PhD career and how are you working to overcome them.

What I am trying to do now, is to keep a consistent, rigorous and efficient work habit. I’ve had that for my work in the industry, or as a student. Yet, when your primary goal is to write a dissertation, this is very challenging. For example for the last few months, I have been so excited to finish my data analysis and make sense of it, I had been waking up at 3am or 5am, energized to get started even after a long week. Then, once I solved the puzzle, writing it up is not as exciting for me and requires self-discipline. Having said that, it should be just as exciting to write it up, since, as Weick puts it, “How can I know what I think, until I see what I say?”

What are some issues that you would like to discuss/ask fellow OCIS members (i.e. some opinions on particular research areas, the PhD program, the job search, etc.)?

How do we, as researchers, make an impact on practice? And how do we make this impact NOW? This is what I would like to discuss. When I asked this question to some of the prominent researchers, they said “Well, you don’t, until after you become a full-professor.” Because of the requirements to get tenure, at the beginning of one’s academic career, trying to make an impact on practitioners becomes a career-suicide. Because of the length of time journal publication takes, sometimes what we say becomes old news by the time we say it. So the question is, how do we change the system to make a difference in the world with our research? It sounds like a tall order, but isn’t it why we do research in the first place?

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