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‘I go for a quick walk every day before I start work’

Our researchers are doing what they can to continue working on their research. How are they managing? We talk to Kimia Heidary, who began as a PhD candidate in business studies on 16 March.

March 16 was the exact day when the official measures calling on everyone to work from home were imposed. Kimia Heidary therefore had to start her new job from home. She conducts empirical legal research into online price discrimination at the Leiden Law School Department of Business Studies. She wants to find out about the perceptions and behaviour of consumers, businesses and the institutions that devise the market rules. She will also look at whether her findings will have implications for market regulation.

Price discrimination
Discrimination often has negative connotations, but this isn’t always the case. With price discrimination, different groups of clients pay a different price for exactly the same product. The difference does not come from the cost price. Price discrimination can come in the shape of discounts for students or the elderly or of early-bird or last-minute offers. But price discrimination can also be discriminatory. In 2018 the EU put a stop to practices in which Dutch citizens paid more for a rental car at Schiphol Airport than other Europeans did. And France is no longer allowed to charge a lower entrance fee to Disneyland Paris for its own citizens. This is to protect the internal European market. In the world of air travel, price discrimination has more or less become the norm. The chances are that the person in the seat next to you has paid a different price than you did. A flight booked in a rich country can be more expensive than the same flight booked in a poorer country. 
(Photo Andres Bolkenbaas, © KLM)

Kimia Heidary
Kimia Heidary: ‘I have more flexibility in how I structure my days, which gives me even more freedom.’

What is the relevance of your research?

‘It’s very topical, which makes it interesting. It’s becoming easier to differentiate between people on the basis of personal data that is collected on the internet. There are already examples of this and it provokes a lot of resistance in some consumers. I’m going to research whether we consider it fair for some people to pay more for a product than others and if so why? And if we do find it fair (or unfair), do we put our money where our mouths are? By also conducting research into the perception of businesses that already use online price discrimination as well as into the current national and European legal framework, I hope in the end to be able to outline the possible implications of this for further regulation. This is a perfect match for me: I did a master’s in both Communication Studies and Private Law, so it’s ideal to be able to bring together my knowledge of both fields.’

Is your home PC all you need or do you miss the facilities that you would have had at work?

‘Because of the corona crisis, I haven’t spent a single day onsite or in the office. But given that the beginning is mainly about exploring, it’s nice to be able to do that at home. My PC is all I need for the work that I’m doing. I sometimes need to access certain articles through remote desktop, but that doesn’t take that much more effort.’ 

‘What I did find difficult at first was that all my contact with my colleagues was digital: I hadn’t – and still haven’t – met most of them in real life, which means I still haven’t got a real feel of the group dynamics. Luckily, everyone has adapted very well and we have a lot of contact, which meant that I soon felt at home.’

Kimia Heidary
Will companies be allowed to charge more for certain products in more affluent areas than in less affluent ones in future?

Have any teething problems been solved? And if so how?

‘Luckily, I’ve only faced minor, practical problems of the sort that undoubtedly crop up whenever anyone starts working here. Things like configuring online environments (mail, Teams) but also how to structure contact moments with my supervisors. These problems could be solved almost straight away, simply by contacting my colleagues. We immediately made clear agreements about contact moments, so we now have set times when we meet virtually. I can ask questions my supervisor or fellow PhD candidates if I have any questions.’

Do you also see opportunities for research in these extraordinary times?

‘The first thing I’ve noticed is that starting my research in these extraordinary times means I now have more freedom. I have more flexibility in how I structure my days and can take my time to gain my bearings in my research, also because the teaching that I will be doing hasn’t started yet. This has a positive effect: I think I’ll soon have found my feet in the topic.’

‘This crisis has shown us that we can a lot digitally and at home.’

How do you see the future? What do you expect “the new normal” to be in research?

‘I’m curious to see what the future will hold. These circumstances have shown us that many things can also be done digitally or at home and that, with a bit of flexibility, you can keep in touch with everyone. I expect this to have some kind of effect in the future.’ 

Do you have any tips for colleagues about research in a time of corona?

‘To begin with, the transition to working and researching from home will undoubtedly have taken everyone a bit of getting used to. I’m living with my parents now and have my own study there, which is nice. Try to develop your own routine as soon as possible to give you some structure. I go for a short walk every morning before I start work. My parents’ home is next to a beautiful heath, where I’ve been going since I was small. Being in nature for a bit helps clear my mind before I start work.’

Text: Corine Hendriks
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