Carrie Crystal says she fits the profile of the typical PhD student: self-driven and stubborn enough to never give up. Being okay with uncertainty is also an important attribute because research often doesn't yield the expected results, she says.
"You never know what's going to happen," says Crystal, who is due to finish her doctorate in operations management next year. "You can't get too discouraged; you just have to understand that that's part of the process."
She resisted the call of becoming an academic for a few years after earning her master's in management (now called MBA) from Georgia Tech College of Management in 1999. "I tried to shut out the growing voice in my head because I didn't want to come back to school so soon, but it got so loud that I couldn't ignore it," says Crystal, who aims to join the faculty of a prestigious business school.
A native of Kansas City and graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Crystal began her career as a chemical engineer, working for Shell Chemical for two years. After her engineering team there mastered the technical challenges of developing a complicated polymer product that failed commercially, Crystal wanted to better understand how the marketing side could have missed the mark so badly, so she decided to pursue her master's at Georgia Tech.
"The reason I came back to school was not because I wanted to leave engineering, but because I wanted to expand my skills," she says. Ultimately, though, she changed career paths, working first as a product manager for a start-up software company and then a manufacturing strategy analyst for Siemens Energy and Automation before beginning her doctoral studies in 2002.
She says she decided to return to Tech because of the excellent quality of the faculty and diversity of research topics/methods here. "I love Georgia Tech," she says. "The PhD program has proven to be more challenging and rewarding than I ever thought it would be. The program's very flexible, but it requires a lot of time and energy. I usually come in six days a week, sometimes seven. When I first started teaching, I was amazed by how long it took to prepare for a fifty minute class."
Though she found lecturing in front of a full classroom of students daunting at first, she's grown to love teaching the Management Science course to undergraduates. Her students have clearly appreciated her approach, voting her winner of the College's 2006 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.
Her research focus on revenue management is also bearing fruit. This field enables companies to maximize profits by selling the right product to the right customer at the right price. For years, revenue management was chiefly the province of the hospitality industry and airlines, with leisure travelers booking early paying much less than business travelers willing to pay more for last-minute reservations. Now a wide range of businesses are employing dynamic pricing strategies in increasingly scientific ways, including automakers, retailers, banks, and many other non-traditional users.
"It's an exciting field that has tremendous research potential," says Crystal, who has two studies on the topic under review at major journals. "It's wide open so there's an opportunity for me to make a large impact on both theory and managerial practice."