July 1, 2011

Big Impact: Amber Epp

Amber Epp

Amber Epp

Amber Epp ‘08
Assistant Professor in Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ph.D. at UNL
Scottsbluff, NE

Big Opportunities
I benefited from so many exceptional opportunities at UNL. One of the most unique and noteworthy experiences during my doctoral program was participating in the Robert Mittelstaedt Marketing Doctoral Symposium each spring. The articulated purpose of the event is to provide a forum for Ph.D. students to present their dissertation research, but it also represents a constructive and intimate space for the exchange of ideas and discussion and for building relationships with diverse colleagues.

The marketing faculty’s dedication to hosting the Mittelstaedt Symposium is just one indication of their strong commitment to and support of the Ph.D. program. I felt the depth of their support throughout my time there. From the very beginning of my master’s program, I was privileged to work as both a research and teaching assistant, an experience that gave me a passion to pursue a career in academics. The faculty created a culture that celebrates and cultivates student success on all fronts, and they trained us to be good colleagues through both practice and example. For instance, throughout my program, I was encouraged to pursue my own research interests, present my work at major conferences and review the work of others. Further, I was allowed to take seminars both within and outside the department that were tailored to my research interests and built a foundation for my future studies (e.g. Qualitative Data Analysis, Narrative Theory and Methods, Critical and Interpretive Research, Communication in the Family). In addition, I had extraordinary access to UNL administrators at the university level.

As one of the founding members (2006-2007) of UNL’s Graduate Student Association (GSA), I appreciate the importance UNL places on graduate education. I was astonished by the support and guidance we received from Dr. Ellen Weissinger and the Office of Graduate Studies and by the phenomenal accomplishments of the GSA since my time there. We built many wonderful memories together, and it was amazing to be a part of something so important and lasting.

Big Insight
There are two pieces of advice I would offer to Ph.D. students. First, use your seminars strategically to begin building a research identity. Your seminars are a perfect venue for developing research ideas that cross boundaries or draw on interdisciplinary theories. They also can afford you opportunities to collect data, so when given a choice, I found it incredibly beneficial to use my methods courses to collect data for ongoing projects. As such, it’s important to take methods courses that give you depth in understanding both the philosophy of science behind the method and the necessary skills to collect and analyze data in ways that address the types of questions that interest you. Second, don’t be afraid to take on big ideas. It turns out that risky ideas are not all that risky. Instead, ideas that change the direction of the field or question long-standing assumptions tend to be the most impactful.

Big Thinking
Amber in a classroom The scholars who have had the greatest influence on me are those who challenge me to think differently, to shift my frame of reference in ways that offer new perspectives on an issue. Thus, I challenge myself to produce research that is transformational versus incremental in both theory and method. I have been honored to receive several accolades for the first article I published in the field. It was a conceptual article published in 2008 that I co-authored with Linda Price, one of my advisors during my time at UNL, titled “Family Identity: A Framework of Identity Interplay in Consumption Practices,” in the Journal of Consumer Research. This paper won the inaugural Sidney J. Levy award for outstanding Consumer Culture Theory dissertation. It was also heralded as an exemplar of the types of papers the Journal would like to publish in an editorial printed in April 2010 that outlined the criteria conceptual papers are to be judged against and highlighted the difficulty of achieving such a publication: “Only a small number of these papers would make the grade here, as well, because the idea would need to be breakthrough, interesting, theoretically grounded, clarifying, and generative (capable of stimulating research).”

My goal with all of the projects I’ve taken on since this time is to tackle problems that matter and to do so from a new frame of reference. Many of the articles I have written and my ongoing projects are co-authored with faculty, alumni and Ph.D. students from my cohort at UNL. My current research focuses on how brands survive when family life is practiced across distances, a challenge facing many families who now must ‘do family’ through technologies when events such as divorce, military service or commuting for work separate them. I have been awarded multiple research grants from both the University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Committee and the Marketing Science Institute to complete this work, and I feel this recognition speaks to the importance and relevance of connecting families.