You are allowed to chart your own course and are supported in that process.
Roger de Jong and Bob Rombach run a successful business together that helps their customers make better use of data. They met during their time as students, have been best friends since and were enrolled in the research master Business Data Science (a collaboration between EUR, the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit). These days, they are both PhD-students at Erasmus Research Institute of Marketing (ERIM).
A fascination for data is clearly the main theme – where does it come from?
Roger: “Data is tangible and makes it possible to think visually; a good visualization brings across a message much better. Data also makes it possible to create a model that allows for relatively accurate predictions of processes, for example when a machine will break down.”
Bob: “Working with data allows us to really build something. That’s what makes programming so enjoyable for me, especially after years of studying. Data science was long seen as something for nerds, but that image is rapidly changing. And with data science continuing to grow in importance, that’s a good development. I believe there are currently 140.000 vacancies for data scientists open in the United States alone."
What makes clever use of data so important?
Bob: “Data itself is not worth anything, yet: it’s just zeroes and ones. What matters is how you use that data. With our business we develop data strategies for our clients, that we then implement and build. We want to help our clients answer the question: what is our data worth and what can we do with it? Sometimes we’re surprised how little use companies make of their data.”
Roger: “For example, some of our clients are in E-commerce, online sales. It’s very important to have a clear goal. Marketing budgets are often spent to generate more clicks and website traffic. But in the end the goal is not to get clicks, but to make sales. Those details can render an entire marketing campaign ineffective.”
“Science is different from consultancy. You contribute to the development of knowledge that a much broader audience can benefit from.”
You have a successful business, why still do the PhD?
Roger: “There will always be time to focus on the business. My research is definitely priority number one. In our company everything goes quickly, and not all decisions need to have detailed argumentation. Science on the other hand Is all about finding and solving questions that no knowledge exists about yet. I love doing these puzzles and figuring them out. But science also needs business because that’s where the questions come from, and the solutions academics offered are incredibly useful for business on the other hand. Take bol.com, research into self-learning algorithms has been incredibly useful for them."
Bob: “Science is different from consultancy. As a researcher you don’t provide ready-to-go solutions for a client: you contribute to the development of knowledge that a much broader audience can benefit from. When doing research, you set your own limits. If you spot an interesting development and want to research it, you must be able to explain to others why it is important. You have to create a sense of enthusiasm, like you would in teaching, otherwise your ideas are worthless. That to me is a part of academia that does not receive enough attention.”
And why Erasmus University Rotterdam?
Roger: “You receive personal guidance and attention here, which makes you feel at home quickly. You are allowed to chart your own course and are supported in that process. They also help you develop important skills, such as presenting your ideas. This helps you translate your research to real world applications. During the research master, they fully prepped us for academia. I really enjoyed the smaller groups with a lot of personal attention.”
Bob: “The bar is set incredibly high and Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) is a prestigious environment. I felt strongly that I fit in, and that I wanted to be a part of it. The lecturers and scientists I have spoken to were all very passionate about your profession. That’s what everyone at RSM has in common. If you want to have a fun afternoon, just ask one of the professors what they think is cool. When they start talking about their work, it’s an incredible experience.”