Blog post

A conversation with Hossein Azarpanah about his PhD research and winning the FRQSC Doctoral Research Scholarship

Research Grant Recipients Q&A series
September 28, 2022
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By Hossein Azarpanah and Chris Wise

John Molson Grant Recipients Q&A is a series of interview-style blogposts featuring John Molson School of Business graduate students who have applied for and received grants to aid with their studying at Concordia University.

“John Molson’s research-based graduate students (MSc, MSCM, PhD) are among the best in the world and it’s gratifying to see them get recognized, supported and encouraged by this funding” said Kathleen Boies, Associate Dean, Research and Research Programs at the John Molson School of Business.

This week, we interview Hossein Azarpanah, PhD ’23, discussing his experiences as a Concordia PhD student and his current research on the effects of social media if used to its full potential on benefiting the greater good, especially during the epidemic.

Headshot of Hossein Azarpanah

What were you doing prior to the PhD and why did you want to pursue the John Molson PhD?

Before joining the PhD program, I worked as a software analyst and designer. Since my work was mainly on large-scale systems, I had to run comparative analyses with best practices worldwide.

My job had so much in common with research and development, which persuaded me to start my PhD.

What led you to your research topic?

First is my industry background. I worked in healthcare and wanted to continue my research in the same field. This determined my general area of research. The rest occurred during my PhD studies; when I got into the program, I had the chance to review other topics, particularly social studies, as my Ph.D. is in business administration. Fortunately, the program gave me the theoretical lens I needed to examine the same public health problems. The last part was my interest in big data and quantitative analysis. Using big data, I wanted to look at public health issues from a social science lens, which led me to use social media data. This is why I would introduce myself as a researcher in computational social science.

What gap in knowledge is your research trying to fill?

In my current research, I am trying to provide a framework for crisis communication and management on social media. Although social media have been with us for around 20 years, we have not utilized its capabilities enough for the community’s greater good, mainly because the research on social media is relatively young compared to other areas. In my research, I want to determine what information authorities should provide on social media during crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, to manage such health crises effectively.

What stage are you at in your research?

I am almost at the end of my PhD studies. Hopefully, I will defend within a year!

What do you expect will be the implications of your findings?

My research focuses on a critical point: how public authorities – Canadian public officials in our case – can effectively use social media to manage health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. The research identifies three knowledge types as the founding elements of crisis communication from the authorities to the public. It also discusses how public authorities should utilize these knowledge types on social media to manage health crises. This aspect could be a learning point for various governments worldwide, bringing across the value of my research.

What does receiving this grant mean to you and your research?

I would like to first talk about the encouragement this grant brings. Doing research in general, and a PhD in particular, is like being on a long road; you need this kind of appreciation to help you keep up the good work. For that, I am very grateful to the FRQSC committee.

In addition, the financial prize helps a lot to dedicate a greater focus on the research which, at least for me, is very important to being a successful researcher. Being able to cover life’s expenses with the prize helps reduce the amount of non-research activities.

Finally, long-term incentives like the FRQSC grant will help pave the way for the next steps of my research.

What character traits should the ideal PhD candidate have?

Discipline and persistence. The John Molson PhD in Business Administration is a full-time program, which is similar to the responsibilities of a full-time job. However, your time is in your hands, so you decide when to work. Often, people are not very good at time management, particularly when there are no regular deadlines and  project goals span over longer time periods, like when doing a 5-year PhD.

A PhD is not like other jobs in that you have short incentives. For example, in your job, you might say “Today, I will do this task and that, and that will be my day.” This can’t happen as easily for a PhD student. You might read several articles in one day to just write one paragraph, whereas you had a plan to finish a whole section! This is very common among PhD students and most of us know that we should consider that kind of day fruitful as well.

I believe if PhD students look at their thesis as a full-time job and work diligently from 9 to 5, they will finish their studies successfully. However, doing such a thing, mainly on your own, needs discipline and persistence.  In the absence of short-term incentives, having a plan and following it helped me focus on my work and maintain much better mental health.

What have you learned about yourself during the PhD?

To trust my guts! A great thing about  the John Molson PhD in Business Administration is that it is a joint program offered in affiliation with HEC Montréal, McGill University, and Université du Québec à Montréal. As a result, students can take courses and use the facilities of this network  universities across Montreal.  In the first years of our program, we have to take between 8 and 12 courses. Although a late realization for me, I appreciated  that taking courses from a group of the best universities in the world is educating me enough to better trust my intuitions in the later stages of my research.

Do you have any tips for prospective PhD candidates on how to excel within the program?

Firstly, take good courses in the first phase of the program; what you will learn in them will be of great help later. For example, the statistics courses I took four years ago helped me a lot when I ran my research analysis more recently.

Secondly, talk with your community and don’t isolate yourself. Most issues, from the course and program challenges to deeper concerns, such as what  you want to do after the PhD, are usually shared by all your fellow students. Talking about these matters with your community members will help a lot as they will surely have much support to offer.

The most important tip, however, is having a daily plan. Consider a PhD as a full-time job and the need to work 9 to 5 with discipline and persistence. Following this routine creates a healthy work-life balance that every PhD student needs to finish their thesis successfully.

 

Hossein is currently in his fifth and final year of John Molson PhD, with the goal of defending his thesis in the spring. After that, he is intent on becoming an assistant professor in business analytics by next fall. 

Find out more about John Molson’s research-based graduate programs. Then, feel free to connect with a recruiter or register for one of our information sessions.

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