Abdul’s IIM Indore Ph.D. admission experience | Marketing Area

Mr Abdul Wahid Khan

I am an IT engineer with B.Tech from NIT Surathkal but I came across Marketing as an elective in my final year of Engineering. After that, I decided to work in marketing. I avoided campus placements and joined a digital marketing agency as a Business Analyst. I worked extensively on PPC marketing for emerging e-commerce startups in India before I joined MBA in IIM Ranchi. I majored in marketing and joined Cognizant as a Pre-sales Business Development associate. But somehow, the pre-sales didn’t excite me as much as core marketing roles. So, this time, I switched to an in-house marketing team for a corporate brand in the BFSI sector, Exide Life Insurance, to take care of digital marketing projects. I thoroughly enjoyed working there on projects like website, SEO, Chatbot, mobile apps, events, and more. Later, I also joined the in-house marketing team of Reliance Home Finance as Senior Manager of marketing and took care of a mix of traditional and digital marketing projects. Professionally, I have loved being in the practice and the energy I feel in executing the projects. I bring a mix of marketing as well as technology education and experience into the business and that makes me an apt fit for digital marketing roles.

Why are you doing (a) Ph.D. and (b) from IIM Indore?

There are a few reasons why I am doing a Ph.D. First, I had very much enjoyed doing my MBA in marketing from IIM Ranchi. I always liked reading and knowing things in the area I had been interested in. After MBA, when I was in a corporate job, though I was having fun working in marketing teams for well-known Indian brands, I somehow felt that I was not able to read and know new things more. Yes, there was a lot of on-the-job training and learnings, but not in a way that is possible in the academy. So, I felt that I wanted to be back in the academy. And that led to my decision to do a Ph.D.

Second, in the long-term future, I would like to have the life of an academic or professor because I was highly impressed with the kind of knowledge and life that our professor in IIM Ranchi would carry with them.

I see it as the life of an entrepreneur. There is the freedom to explore anything in which you feel good at like research, teaching, administration, authorship, consulting, and a lot more. Life in corporate would not give me an opportunity to explore so many roles in a single role. So, this further attracted me to do a Ph.D.

Third, life as an academic gives a lot of freedom to me in many ways which are not possible in a corporate job. Like you are often your own boss when it comes to choosing research topics and areas. You set your own speed. You create your own problems and solve them yourself. You choose your partners and team from anywhere in the world and work with them on a common project. The scope is quite huge and one can keep expanding as one learns more.

Why I joined IIM Indore? The reasons are personal as well as professional. Personally, coming from a small town Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, as a child, I always used to pass from the road where IIM Indore is located. I had a dream to join this institute one day. I couldn’t get it in MBA but I tried well to get it in Ph.D. Professionally, I found the marketing professors to be highly qualified with rich experience in marketing and research, which further motivated me to choose IIM Indore.

3. Recall your interview experience (IIM Indore) and share it with us (if possible share your response to the questions asked)

There were three faculties in my panel. Two from marketing and one from other area. My interview lasted around 15-20 minutes.

It started with “Tell us about yourself. Don’t mention facts. It’s all written here and we know it. Just tell who you are and why are you here?””

Me: Answered it by telling my story but moved a little to facts again.

Them: Not facts pls. Ok tell us what is unique in you that differentiates you from others outside?

Me: Answered with small examples from my job where I worked on research project in late nights along my job and learnt many new things on own.

Them: Only this? What else you have that can help in fpm?

Me: Answered some more strengths (with small examples) like ability to learn new things and flexible to different areas in marketing. I had also presented my paper in a conference, where I was given the Best Paper Award.

Them: Why have you applied for IIM Indore?

Me: Because IIM Indore’s Professors are doing great research work.

Them: Great, what do you know?

Me: I gave examples of some professors from marketing at IIM Indore and their research papers, including those who were taking interview. (I had checked profiles of marketing professors and their work before applying)

Them: You must have seen our faces and checked while sitting outside. Tell us about some Professors who are not in panel and what you liked?

Me: Told them accordingly with their area of interest and publications, who were not in my interview panel. (This convinced them that I had genuinely gone through the profile and work of Professors)

Them: What is your area of interest?

Me: I have interest in digital marketing. This is because I have worked in this area in my jobs. I am yet to do a thorough analysis of literature review to finalize my area of interest. So, it’s not final yet. (Being flexible at this point really helped)

Them: Does your area of interest align with IIM Indore and how?

Me: Tried to link it with area of interest of some of IIM Indore Professors.

Them: Who is your favorite author?

Me: Not sure as I haven’t done enough of reading to conclude on my favorite.

Them: Ok, any particular paper you liked?

Me: Yes, explained a paper on new product development from HBR.

Them: Do you know of any good journals in marketing?

Me: Told a few A/A* journal names from marketing.

Them: What are the methods of data analysis you know or have used?

Me: Told a few like SEM, factor analysis, etc. using R.

Them: What is difference between EFA, CFA?

Me: Explained.

4. How did you prepare for the exam and interview (any resource you wish to share)?

There were two levels at which I had prepared and went through three checkpoints.

Levels of preparation: 1) For written exam (Aptitude, etc.) and 2) for interview

Checkpoints:

1) CAT

2) RAT

3) Interview

Coming to preparation for written exams, I had used the material of TIME coaching for practicing questions. I found the questions in their material to be of moderate to high difficulty level, which gave good confidence while practicing mock tests. I had used TIME’s study material only while appearing for CAT before my MBA as well.

I would also suggest joining TIME test series as well because their tests are quite difficult and it gives a good practice to correct your weaknesses rather than experimenting on the final day. This time, I had not joined official test series and I kind of experimented on final day, which I regret much now also.

But I still had the chance to appear for RAT (a written test which was conducted by IIM Indore, and in which I was supposed to appear mandatorily, irrespective of having taken any other exam). So, I prepared even better for it. Aptitude was quite manageable but the research aptitude section was quite difficult. I would suggest some more serious preparation for research section like Naresh Malhotra’s Marketing Research textbook or any other standard Marketing Research textbook like Andy Field. Anyway, they didn’t declare RAT score or result. We directly got a call for interview based on overall score probably.

Coming to preparation for an interview, it’s quite a different game. There are a few things which helped me a lot.

First, I had joined the Pagalguy website where I would actively follow daily updates in threads about FPM admissions in IIMs. From there, I got to know that many aspirants had created a Whatsapp group. I joined that group and got more useful updates from that group.

Second, I connected and talked to some people on that group who had appeared for IIM interviews in previous years. I got quite good directions on what to do and what not to do in my upcoming interview. I also kept adding topics that I should prepare.

Third, I contacted almost all current marketing FPM students and asked them for tips on the IIM FPM interview. They gave me really good advice on topics to prepare and common mistakes to avoid. Here, I would suggest talking to as many senior students as possible, because you get more and more views.

Fourth, I had prepared a list of all possible questions and cross-questions that were possible. I also wrote answers and justifications for each of them. I had all of it in a long document and I would regularly practice the script.

Additionally, I had also prepared a document on faculty profiles, their interest areas, latest publications, and photos. I had memorized this also very well. Overall, talk to seniors, keep connected, refine your script, and learn it well.

5. If possible, kindly share your SOP details (some key points).

My SOP revolved around some key strengths, followed by my previous experience, leading to my research interest, and ending in a match with IIM Indore. Some key points are:

Strengths: “As I am curious, analytical and love exploring – research and knowledge production attract me. I have been excellent academically, being top scorer throughout school. I am an alumnus of NIT Surathkal (B.Tech-IT) and IIM Ranchi (PGDM-Marketing) with knowledge of both technology and marketing.”

Previous experience and research interest: “My work experience in digital and marketing has motivated me to pursue research in consumer behavior, digital marketing, and emerging markets. Fast-changing consumer behavior enabled by technology penetration is leading growth in emerging markets. My research would aim to help businesses trying new digital channels to reach consumers in emerging markets as well as to help consumers get access to better services and products to uplift their lifestyles. As a researcher, I had published my first research paper during my MBA. Recently, I did a project on customer satisfaction while using Chatbot and received the Best Paper Award in EMCB Conference 2019.”

Match with the institute: “IIM Indore’s research published in top journals in consumer behaviour and digital marketing defines the high level of research performed by the institute. With this kind of guidance & resources, I am sure that it is the best place for me to pursue my FPM”.

6.  How are you feeling after your 1st year as a scholar?

This is one of my favorite questions that I used to ask seniors before joining FPM, and now I myself think about this, and wonder that what difference it has made. There are some thoughts that point to probable answers to this question.

First, I have learned a little bit about how to read research papers. Yes, I have completed one year of my Ph.D. I have gone through lots and lots of research papers on different courses and projects. I have learned to read them in different ways in different courses at different points in time. I am still learning that activity.

Second, I realized that the area is quite huge like an ocean and what we are going to learn during Ph.D. is probably only a drop of that. My friends working in the corporate world often ask me if it is too boring to study one subject for 4 or 5 years, or they ask if really that much time is required to study one topic and find something? Now, I can tell them that research is not a short term game. It’s a long journey and once we realize the vastness of thoughts in an area, we get to know that what we can understand in a short duration of a Ph.D. is only a drop of it.

Third, I had been flexible about my topic for the thesis but now after going through the coursework, I am trying to fix on a topic for my thesis. Yes, having completed the coursework where we get exposed to all the areas in marketing in a brief course, now is the time to fix on a topic for my thesis. So, this can be considered a tiny development from the moment I joined this program.

Fourth, each Professor is unique and amazing in the way they gain, create, and share knowledge. We went through different courses from marketing as well as some courses in other areas. Sometimes, FPM scholars make an impression of professors based on only research publications but when we get to attend their course, we actually realize how unique their knowledge and approach are. I found each professor I studied from, to be amazing in their approach towards attaining, creating, and sharing knowledge. Each one of them has inspired me for something, which I will always carry with me.

7. Your message to new potential Ph.D. Scholars

I have message for two separate audiences.

First is to those who are thinking of a Ph.D. but not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest talking to as many Ph.D. scholars (and Professors) as possible about why one should get into Ph.D. Having a clear idea about why you want to do Ph.D., what you want to do after it, what are your short-term (post-PhD), and long-term (10-20 years) goals, will really help you get the right institute and set the direction for your future. You can also introspect and do a lot of reflection to know yourself better before applying for this. Also, discuss this with your family/spouse and have everyone on-board before you make the final decision.

The second is to those who have decided to do a Ph.D. and are trying to get into this program. Try to do a research project and attend a conference. You can pitch your idea to existing FPM scholars and get guidance on how to proceed with your project. FPM folks would be happy to give you feedback. Having conference participation would definitely help you in your interview and profile. Try to align your SOP topic, conference topic, work experience, and educational background so that you can have a consistent story. If you can’t reach an alignment, there is nothing to worry about. Just prepare genuine justification and it should be ok.

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