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Grad Student Yoon: Passion Found

Sunyee Yoon, PhD 2016
Consumer Sciences

Having completed her PhD in May 2016, Sunyee Yoon is now an assistant professor of marketing at SUNY Buffalo. It’s a field that’s fascinated her since her undergraduate studies in business and mass communication at Sogang University in South Korea, but her personal journey within marketing has taken a 180-degree turn.

“After I graduated from Sogang, I worked for a cosmetic company as a marketer for five years,” she explains. Her job, in the simplest terms, was to “persuade women to spend more money on makeup and beauty products.” In some ways she liked the work, but over time, she liked it less and less. “Spending more and more money for beauty all the time is not a good thing,” she explains. “I wanted to do something good for consumers rather than just for the company’s profit.”

SoHE Standouts "What qualities at SoHE have really made a difference for you?" Financial support "When I talked with other students on campus, I realized SoHE has really abundant opportunities for scholarships and funding. I was able to stay focused on my research the whole time and never had to spend my own money for experiments and data collection. Room to grow " I think most PhD students, when they start, do not have specific goals, and many programs offer very narrow choices. At SoHE, I had broad choices plus the time and space to explore various disciplines."Studies & Research

That desire to help consumers led Sunyee to graduate studies at SoHE, where much of her work explored the connections between materialism, how people spend money and their beliefs about economic mobility — the extent that someone can move up in the world.

Her published studies have shown, for example, that when primed to think that getting ahead is highly possible (in this case because experiment participants had read optimistic information), they’re more likely to resist something they want but would have to buy on credit.

Sunyee’s work at SoHE even led her to pioneer a new approach in research, focusing on people’s perceptions of economic mobility. After all, it’s what people believe that influences their behaviors, not some collection of economic indicators they may not even be aware of. That idea, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protestors, led Sunyee to develop a survey tool now under review for publication in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Why SoHE?

SoHE gave Sunyee the opportunity to turn the tables on her earlier marketing experience, working not to drive impulse spending but to understand it and in the process help consumers make choices that lead greater well-being. But it’s not as though she had that crystal clear goal from the start, and for Sunyee, that was a big part of SoHE’s appeal.

“When I started by PhD, I thought that I wanted to do something good for consumers, but I did not have ideas more specific than that. In SoHE’s Consumer Science Department, I was able to spend a year or two exploring,” she recalls. The opportunity to learn from faculty with expertise in social work, economics, marketing, and psychology not only gave Sunyee a broad foundation of research skills, it also ensured that she was passionate about the topic she ultimately focused on and understood it from a variety of different perspectives.


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