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GPI - Zahra Tohidinia, Professor of Marketing

By Raena Doty

Editorial Staff

What is your educational and professional background?

I’ve always been a business student, and I started as an undergraduate student in business administration. And then I got my master’s in business with a concentration in marketing, because that was one of the areas that kind of piqued my interest when I was an undergrad. … I got my bachelor’s and my master’s degree in Iran, and then I pursued my Ph.D. in the U.S. when I went to University of Connecticut, and I got my Ph.D. degree in marketing with a concentration on consumer behavior.

What are your goals as a professor of marketing?

I know students come from different majors and backgrounds. I know some of them are not majoring [in] marketing. And that’s perfectly understandable. Sometimes, you just want to get a little taste of this course, or maybe it’s just a required course. But for me, what’s important is to understand the concept of value, because that’s what marketing is all about - it’s about understanding the wants and needs of your audience or your target market and trying to come up with a valuable offering that takes into account every aspect of your audience’s needs. Or their wants - sometimes people are not fully aware of what’s in the market or the potential of your company or even if you’re a person, right? I also talk about how we should market ourselves in society, in general. So, I think understanding the concept of value and then framing your offering based on the needs and wants of your audience is my goal in teaching marketing.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like to cook, so that’s one of my main hobbies, if you will, because it also helps me to get off my desk - you know, it’s not good for you. … I think it hits two targets with one stone because then you also think about nutrition - you think about health. So it kind of balances my lifestyle a little bit. I really like to walk. I like to go to trails, and recently, I’m trying to learn how to forage for [edible plants] also on those hikes. You know, not a professional - you cannot ask about poisonous mushrooms yet, but I’m learning.

What’s something students wouldn’t expect about you?

When I was an undergrad, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place - I wasn’t sure if business studies was the right path for me. And the fact that some of the things that I learned, I acknowledged their value years after. I feel like studying business, especially as an undergraduate - it’s very wide sometimes. You don’t get a lot of deep discussions. But even hitting the surface-level concepts will stay with you. Like, for example, the fact that I took finance classes as an undergraduate, and I always thought they were too formulaic - there was too much math. But then, when coming to the real world, working and just doing everyday stuff, I learned that a lot of those concepts come in handy. Like front-loading the interests - something that we don’t think, “Hey, this will become useful if I know this concept at some point.” Or compound growth rate, something that just looks like a math formula, but we see examples of it in business all the time.

Do you have any advice for students?

There are always cases where students are definitely sure what they want to do, but it’s OK if they change their mind. I think that’s one of the things I found out in life. We sometimes feel like you choose something and you stick with it, and that’s great, but it doesn’t mean that we should [not] have flexibility to also consider alternatives. And just like I said, when you start your studies, some of the coursework may seem irrelevant - some of the courses, you may not be as passionate about. But it all makes sense holistically, you know? … Studying and academic work sometimes becomes overwhelming - because I know, you’re taking four courses a semester, every one of them with deadlines … It sometimes seems overwhelming, but that’s OK - to feel overwhelmed. And just know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and once you get your degree, a lot of opportunities will open up.

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