A springboard to the world for young researchers

Aspiring scholars from universities all over the world learn hands-on what it takes to excel in research at the annual Singapore Rising Scholars Conference
By the SMU Corporate Communications team

Life as a PhD researcher is a journey of exploration, but also involves many difficulties on how to formulate research questions, perform research, interpret the feedback while collaborating with many partners, and meeting journal publication deadlines.  

The SMU College of Graduate Research Studies (CGRS) held its yearly Singapore Rising Scholars Conference (SRSC) on 16 and 17 May 2024 to enable scholars to present their research, get feedback from their peers, and create lasting relationships in the research community.

Peer-to-peer networking support

“The Singapore Rising Scholars Conference is unique for being, first and foremost, a truly peer-to-peer doctoral students Conference in the region,” said Professor Heli Wang, Dean of CGRS, in her welcome address. She noted that the conference has improved remarkably since its first edition was launched in May 2023, when it attracted 48 presenters from 11 universities for a one-day event.

“In its second edition this year, it has grown into a two-day event with 60 papers by presenters from 22 institutions globally, including not just universities in the region but also from Europe and America,” she added.

This year, the universities represented include Boston University, Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, Fudan University, Peking University, The University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hitotsubashi University, National University of Singapore, and Singapore University of Technology and Design.

The two-day conference was held at SMU Li Ka Shing Library, with presenters from many fields, including social science, psychology, corporate governance, information systems, marketing, and management strategy. SMU Librarians also conducted seminars on scientific writing, data analysis and strategies to raise research visibility.  Nine PhD students also received the Best Paper Award at the end of the event.

Building up confidence and research skills

One of the award recipients is Mengchen Zhen, a PhD student in Marketing at Boston University. She has attended the event annually since its start last year. Her paper, ‘Navigating Personal Brand Success on Social Media: Revealing the Influence of Emotional Appeal and Informative Value in Influencers' Posts’ was named a Best Paper as well. She also shared that attending the conference last year had allowed her to “expand my professional network with faculty and students from Singapore, Hong Kong, and beyond”.

Ni Tong, who is pursuing a PhD in Economics at SMU, agreed, saying: “My dream is to develop rigorous research skills and actively collaborate with other scholars to foster intellectual exchange and contribute novel insights to the academic community.” His paper, ‘Tariffs as Bargaining Chips: A Quantitative Analysis of US-China Trade War’, also received a Best Paper Award.

Srishti Arora, a PhD student in Management of Operations from INSEAD who received the award, said the conference has given her the platform to collaborate to make her research more impactful. Her paper studied driver relocation in food delivery.

Apart from regular paper presentation sessions by doctoral students, panel discussions took place during the two-day conference.

Speaking on the panel discussion which deep-dived into the milestones in the PhD journey, SMU Provost Professor Timothy Clark shared his experience on how to build connections with journal editors and get published. He shared that it is important to be well-versed with one’s research subject. “I've always tried to keep in touch with a range of journals and pay attention to the content of every issue. Of course, attending conferences and workshops and seminars gives you a real sense of what might be published in two to three years’ time.”

The ability to present, network at conferences, and respond to reviews are crucial soft skills for one's advancement, he emphasised. He struck a chord with the audience when he spoke about handling reviews, saying if he felt annoyed or misunderstood by a reviewer, he would first take a walk before rereading the review with a calmer mind and taking notes on what he had to do to improve, and what he needed to respond to.

“So very early on in my academic career I just found myself getting into the habit of always writing to journal editors and querying some of their decisions, and they always got back to me. Writing persuasively is a valuable soft skill, and it requires practice to develop.”

Graduate Research Alumni Chapter session

The first networking session by the Graduate Research Alumni Chapter (GRAC) of CGRS also took place at the Conference, to support the post-graduate research community.

Dr Kevin Cheong, the president of the GRAC and a Doctor of Business Administration graduate in 2019, said that the panel discussions were like a chat among friends. “The interaction was lively and spontaneous,” he said. “This conference has been an excellent way to engage with both research alumni and doctoral students to build deeper roots within the SMU family.”