I recently sat down with M.S. in Global Commerce Program Director Professor Amanda Cowen to talk about the Program’s global thesis project. We discussed what it is and what the timeline looks like, and I shared with her what I’ve learned since beginning my global thesis.
Is the thesis required?
Amanda Cowen: The thesis is a requirement and an integral part the M.S. in Global Commerce Program. Students begin their thesis at the University of Virginia with the course “Researching and Writing a Global Business Thesis” and conduct research at all three universities.
What does the process look like?
Cowen: Students are assigned to a three-person team in the fall based on interests and either choose from a list of preselected topics or suggest their own topic. Teams develop the idea for the thesis and submit their proposal in September. By December, the final thesis proposal is turned in and defended. A thesis proposal is usually a research question, hypotheses you plan to test, and the methodology you are going to use to test them.
The rest of the year, teams carry out their thesis plan by gathering data, performing analyses, testing their hypotheses, developing conclusions, and crafting recommendations. Students work with a faculty adviser throughout the year, both in person and by videoconference. The research approach may include an original study involving field research or a survey, a comprehensive literature review on a clearly defined and meaningful global business topic, or a case study of two or three global businesses to compare and contrast a specific aspect of global business in different contexts. The 30-minute thesis defense is then presented in June before a panel of professors from each university.
What are some examples of thesis topics?
Cowen: I have one thesis team doing a project on consumer social responsibility in the digital space. Many of us think about ethical purchasing decisions when we are buying retail goods, for example, and we wonder if companies are using ethical labor practices. There are actually unethical labor purchases that go on in the digital space as well. For example, this group is interested in psychological trauma that social media moderators are exposed to in regard to videos or other things that people post online. They have hypotheses around the consumers’ level of awareness about these labor practices. They also have hypotheses about what kind of information regarding these labor practices might shape consumer decision making regarding engagement with social media. Whether or not these decisions are contingent upon whether the user is actually paying for something or engaging with a free service.
I’ve also had a team conduct their project on origin branding, whether or not a product deliberately associates itself with a specific country of origin. For example, a face cream actively marking that it is associated with France—how does that change consumer willingness to pay? How accurate are consumers in detecting, indeed, whether or not they identify if marketing is reflective of where a product is produced or if it’s merely a marketing technique. How does that affect willingness to pay? How does it change word-of-mouth for the product?
We have a whole lot of different projects that are marketing issues, that are strategic issues, looking at business ethics in the business space. There are a lot of different topics and a lot that you will end up learning about.
What are some of the challenges of the thesis project?
Alan Natale: My team’s thesis is on service failures and recovery strategies in the e-commerce sector. Through online experiments, we try to measure the moderating effect of “culture” and “previously experienced failures” on service recovery satisfaction as well as the resulting consumer behavior (i.e., word of mouth and repurchase intent). Our goals were quite ambitious, as we hoped to finish in April. Due to some unexpected rewriting, we are behind schedule, but we have improved the content of our thesis and are confident that we will still finish on time. We recently released questionnaires to gather data and are in the process of conducting data analysis. The team discussion will follow, which should allow us to finish the thesis in early May and on time!
Here are a few common challenges for thesis teams:
- Motivation—Team members have to stay motivated, or the momentum gets lost and work falls behind.
- Travel—This Program requires a lot of travel, and adapting to a new location requires time and energy. It can put a strain on group work if you’re not organized.
- Coordination—This has undoubtedly been an unprecedented year for the Program, with curriculum disrupted by COVID-19, curriculum moving online, and classmates dispersed throughout the world. This means we are now working on our thesis across three different time zones, which makes it nearly impossible to set up meetings. Therefore, we’ve had to adapt and find new ways of organizing the work and communicating with each other.
What advice do you have for future students?
Natale: Hindsight is always 20/20, but here are a few tips for what we wish we had done from the beginning:
- Archive—Keep a clean and structured archive of all your sources and take the time to set up a spreadsheet to write down the name of the article, its location, key takeaway, and usage in your paper. It will help a lot later on in your work progress.
- Open communication—Be sure to openly express your expectations of each other and communicate if you face difficulties. It’s the worst if someone says “yes” to a task during a meeting and then delivers nothing or the wrong content when the deadline comes up.
- Weekly meetings—Yes, meetings take time and sometimes seem unnecessary. However, if everyone prepares in advance and there’s a clear agenda, meetings can make the teamwork process more efficient and, in the end, save you a lot of time! Be sure to appoint a responsible person to set up the meetings and distribute the agenda beforehand.
- Go out and get to know each other—You are a team and will work closely together for 10 months! It’s important for everyone to understand each other and their respective cultures before working together.