Interdisciplinary research, from the brain up
Meet GPS’s new assistant professor, Uma Karmarkar, a neuroeconomist who looks at consumer behavior in theory driven-frameworks
By Rachel Hommel | GPS News
“My initial training was in neuroscience and I’ve always been interested in how the brain processes any kind of information, in part because it is ground zero…that’s where we start off from. It’s the machinery that lets us make all our choices,” said Uma Karmarkar, a newly minted assistant professor at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS).
Starting with an undergraduate degree in symbolic systems, Karmarkar has always been interested in how people process information in the world around it. By combining theoretical disciplines throughout her career, Karmarkar’s work allows her to study both conscious and unconscious processes.
“Decision making can be a high level cognitive function with many inputs. I want to know how people take information and narrow it into a yes or no choice,” said Karmarkar. “The reason I decided to do so in a policy and business school was in part because these are the real-world decisions that are the hardest to grasp.”
Using methods from consumer psychology, behavioral economics and neuroimaging, Karmarkar looks at how people use favorable versus unfavorable information when making a decision, as well as how people prioritize their preference for a product over cost they have to pay.
“I’m interested in understanding how people get through their day with the number of choices they have to make. In addition, how do they relate or not relate to companies, and given those relationships, what kinds of responsibilities do companies, institutions and governments have in the way they communicate with individuals?” said Karmarkar.
Karmarkar added that it’s not about selecting one tool out of the experimental toolkit, it’s about recognizing that many domains of research have different takes on the same types of questions and that together they can help you build a bigger picture. She views the field of neuroeconomics as an inclusive one where the differences in findings are as revealing as the similarities.
Looking at how people use information to understand communication between customers and firms, her research looks at both situations where people have all the information they need, and situations with a lot of uncertainty. From studying the way information is presented to how the brain calculates value, neuroeconomics is at the core, bringing in multiple techniques when appropriate to give students a richer understanding.
“In a brain scanning study, the behavior in two kinds of decisions may look identical, but have a neural response that is different in meaningful ways. While that doesn’t necessarily tell you what the psychology is, that does tell you there is more going on under the surface than what is captured exclusively by behavior,” she added.
As someone who has actively pursued interdisciplinary research, her work fits into the framework of the GPS toolbox model, and she indicated she is excited to broaden the scope beyond the marketplace and throughout policy.
Impressed by the breadth and depth of GPS, Karmarkar looks forward to collaborations with a variety of professors, including Roger Bohn, Liz Lyons and Ulrike Schaede, all who look at research within the business domain.
“I feel really lucky to have that opportunity to increase the potential impact of the research I’m doing on important problems,” said Karmarkar. “The richness of the faculty is amazing. It’s an extraordinary collection of scholars.”
Jointly appointed at both GPS and Rady School of Management, Karmarkar stresses the importance of being positioned in the global economy. She will be teaching as part of the management track at GPS and teaching a marketing class in winter 2018.
“We are at a point where corporations are so large and so integrated into people’s lives, it is very difficult to say that business practice isn’t policy,” said Karmarkar.
With a teaching background in case method instruction, which promotes engagement and conversation, Karmarkar wants her students to be actively involved. With business policy, there is no right answer, stressing that the process of making decisions is more important than understanding previous decisions.
“If the students are not actively discussing or arguing the ideas, then I have not achieved what I want,” she said, smiling.
3 questions with Assistant Professor Uma Karmarkar
What is your academic focus?
I look at how people integrate the information around them to make economic decisions, particularly in uncertain situations.
What are the real-world impacts of your research?
By understanding the mechanisms underlying marketplace decision-making, we can help people make confident and informed decisions. We can also develop better ways for companies and other institutions to offer more useful information to their customers.
What skills or understanding do you hope students leave your class with?
There are very few “right” answers in business policy, and even fewer that generalize across communities and markets. I hope students will leave my class having mastered flexible tools and frameworks to dynamically build the best strategies for the specific markets in question. I also hope they will have developed understanding of how to evaluate a situation from the perspective of both institutions and individuals.
- A message from Dean Cowhey on COVID-19
- A gift to enhance U.S.-China relations
- Reflections of a harrowing journey through China's turbulent revolution
- A day in the life of a teaching assistant
- Ensuring diversity and inclusion
- Deploying mangroves to fight climate change
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Alisha Tomita-Yu ’16 of Oracle
- Student group puts focus on China
- Decoding the Hong Kong protests – and more
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation