The Best of Both Worlds: Giorgos Zervas on the Intersection of Marketing and Data Science

Marketing is not a term often associated with data science but for Giorgos Zervas, the two fields are inseparable. Zervas is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Boston University (BU) Questrom School of Business and a faculty member of the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS). In 2011, Zervas completed his PhD in Computer Science at BU where a lot of his research focused on studying online marketplaces.

“Sitting in a department that mostly does social science, I started seeing that there was more and more data in economics and marketing.” Zervas says. “I found that a lot of the tools I was taught in my undergrad and PhD programs have applications in the social sciences.”

Zervas was drawn to academia because he was fascinated by research. In an academic setting, he had the freedom to pursue his own research projects while being surrounded by like-minded people. In his current role, Zervas is able to continuously learn and develop new skills, work with colleagues in different disciplines and immerse himself in developing fields.

“I really enjoy teaching and interacting with both younger students and everyone else in the classroom,” Zervas shares. “I also like training PhD students who want to pursue an academic career.”

Traditionally, the Questrom School of Business is not a technical program featuring subjects like finance, accounting and marketing. However, in recent years, staff have noticed a growing demand for more technical skills from both employers and students. As a result, Questrom’s flagship MBA program now incorporates more technical skills in the curriculum. 

Three years ago, Zervas was also appointed Faculty Director of the new Masters in Business Analytics (MSBA), a program targeting individuals who want to develop their analytical skills but have come from fields outside of data science like psychology, economics, or even political science.

“Analytics, over the years I have been at Questrom, has transformed from a niche to a core part of our curriculum,” Zervas says. “To the extent that we have a dedicated program to teach analytics and data science through the lens of business.”

While this program has had success, some students still remain uncertain about combining the two fields. For Zervas, he finds that this uncertainty often comes from fear.

“Some people are hesitant because they think ‘Math is not for me or statistics is not for me because it is too difficult’, but I think it’s important to get over this fear,” Zervas advises. “I have students in my class who have zero prior background in any sort of technical discipline who absorb a lot of the material, do very well in my classes and in other data science classes, and do very well in the job market.”

As Zervas reflects on his teaching career, he notes that the intersection of data science and business creates an unexpected challenge. 

“Students always come in and think that the most difficult part of the curriculum is the technical part,” Zervas explains. “But in fact, this is not the most difficult. The most difficult part is always communication.”

Students are often able to do well in a classroom setting where everyone speaks in the same technical language. Yet, once they leave to work in firms outside of an academic setting, students find that part of their role involves communicating ideas with individuals who come from a range of backgrounds. This is where the challenge comes in – how do you communicate your ideas in a language that everyone understands in order to work together and solve the business problem at hand?

This is what Zervas strives to teach in his classes. He aims to leave students with the necessary skills to transition from being data scientists to becoming members of a bigger group where they are able to work with people from any background whether that be technology, marketing or finance. 

Ultimately, for Zervas, it comes down to two things – enjoying your work and having your work valued.

“I think it’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing and it’s very important that what you’re doing is valued by others,” Zervas says. “When you enjoy doing something and others have a lot of demand for what you’re doing, that is the best of both worlds.”