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17 June 2019

What started as a simple email to get some advice on a research paper, connected two strangers across the globe in a student-supervisor role that would offer a life-changing experience.

Afshin Tanouri moved from Iran to New Zealand in pursuit of a PhD in social marketing. Instead of being drafted into compulsory military service, Afshin is continuing his passion for gamification research with the help of an Australian University mentor.

We spoke to Afshin to learn more about his transition from studying industrial engineering to becoming immersed in social marketing research.

Can you tell us a little more about your background?

I studied a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering in Qom University of Technology, Iran. When I realised engineering was not what I really enjoyed studying, I decided to change my major. After lots of hard work, I got an acceptance from University of Tehran, the most renowned University in Iran.

During my masters I became interested in social marketing research but unfortunately, this field is often not studied in Iran. I took the initiative to study more on my own by reading articles in social marketing and also undertook a search for academics that might be able to help in my journey of pursuing social marketing, and this is how I learnt about Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett.

I quickly realised that Australia and New Zealand Universities are often at the forefront of social marketing research. In connecting with academics, I also discovered these countries have a welcoming culture that makes the life of an international student alot easier and enjoyable.

Why does an academic career interest you?

Whenever I am in university I feel more alive. I enjoy research - even with all its difficulties, and enjoy talking to others about what I have found during my studies. So after a while, I came to the conclusion that being an academic is what I really wanted to be for the rest of my life. Obviously to make this happen I needed to continue my education with cutting-edge universities.

What is your research focus?

My research subject area is social marketing. More specifically, I work on behaviour change using new digital technologies like gamification, serious games and social media. I enjoy mixing concepts from psychology to marketing and management theories to make a positive change for individuals and society.

What made you reach out and connect with Professor Russell-Bennett?

I was fascinated by her research. I chose social marketing and gamification as my Masters’ thesis subject since I was inspired by some of her research, but this field of research is still in its early stages in my country. It was hard to get advice and guidance from anyone and I felt on my own.

As a part of my dream to become an academic, I needed to continue my research and publish research to be able to continue my education. Consequently I developed an initial draft of my research in the hope of submitting it for publication.

At this stage I felt it would be best to contact Professor Russell-Bennett and ask her opinion because my research was inspired by hers, so I sent an email to her and tried my luck. Surprisingly, after a couple of days I received a response from her and I was extremely thrilled. She gave me advice about how to progress my work. We continued discussing my research and when she learnt more about my apsirations she was more than willing to work with me.

Since then, we have regular Skype meetings and I have learned so much from her. During this time, although I was not officially her student, she was like my supervisor, gave me insights, checked my progress, check my reports and made sure I was on the right path.

How has having a research mentor helped you?

I think continuing this dream of mine was not possible without her help. Being persistent and creative is not enough without knowing how to navigate the process and how to express your ideas at the right time to the right people.

I was honoured to be offered a PhD position in QUT but without a scholarship I was not able to move to Australia. I felt really frustrated since I needed a full scholarship in order to be able to continue my education and move to another country.

Professor Russell-Bennett helped me publish an outstanding piece of research in a well-known journal which also got accepted to a conference. By having these in my hands I received an acceptance to the University of Canterbury, New Zealand with a full scholarship.

She even helped me in the process of getting application and scholarship although it was not part of the research. She also wanted to make sure that I have a great supervisory team as I have now.

And more importantly, I learned that becoming an academic is not just about doing research behind a desk, but it is also about to what extend you can spread knowledge to create real impact by ultimately helping others.

Although it is unfortunate that I couldn’t continue as a formal student of hers, she has been one of the most important mentors in my life and changed my life for the better.
 

* Afshin has just had his first collaborative paper with Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett published in the Journal of Service Theory and Practice entitled “Transformative gamification services for social behavior brand equity: a hierarchical model” which you can read here: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/JSTP-06-2018-0140

Professor Russell-Bennett is looking forward to being able to meet Afshin in person for the first time at the ANZMAC Conference in Wellington this year.

Afshin Tanouri moved from Iran to New Zealand in pursuit of a PhD in social marketing with the help of his mentor, Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett.

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