As a child in Tehran, Anoosha Izadi looked to the stars for answers. Now, as a doctoral candidate in the University of Houston’s marketing program, Izadi continues to find inspiration as she dreams of big ideas, with an unexpected focus on consumer research.

Growing up in Iran, her earliest memories are a blur of movement — “I was very active, into sports and mischief,” she said. “I had a free spirit and was sensitive to being controlled, always standing for what I believed.” At home, Izadi was encouraged to speak her mind. Her family also valued education and discourse, so she knew she would pursue higher education, even if she wasn’t sure exactly which field best suited her.

“When I was younger, space fascinated me, and I dreamed of becoming an astronaut,” she recalled.

We found that handwriting leads to higher haptic engagement, meaning individuals viewing a product with a handwritten label are more likely to pick it up, open it or simply touch it.

Her eventual path to studying consumer behavior in UH’s C. T. Bauer College of Business doctoral program had an unconventional beginning. She received an undergraduate degree in civil engineering at The University of Tehran in 2009, then earned a master’s in transportation engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied asphalt microstructure and completed a thesis on image processing.

But, preparing for a doctoral program aligned with her undergraduate and master’s coursework, she found herself seriously conflicted. Izadi always had an interest in social sciences, but without any academic experience in that realm, she felt again like a child staring into a dark sky, full of questions.

“It seemed too far and even unreachable to me. Finding courage to let go of something you are good at but not in love with is not easy,” Izadi said.

Still, her natural curiosity and innate passion for the study of people led her onward.

“I had to pursue what I craved,” she said, “and I was ready to risk whatever it took.” Izadi began auditing classes in different departments and attended a Ph.D. lab meeting in UT’s psychology department. “It was then I realized there was a concentration in marketing called consumer behavior.”

The study shows individuals feel more connected to products with handwritten labels.

With that in mind, she began looking into top doctoral programs in marketing and found Bauer College’s offering, with students conducting research recognized by leading academic journals and alumni teaching in schools across the globe.

Most impressive, Izadi said, was the obvious interaction students in the program had with faculty and the scholarly community. She was drawn in particular to Professor Vanessa Patrick, Bauer’s director of doctoral programs and a marketing researcher with a background in microbiology and biochemistry who studies the psychology of consumer mood and emotion.

“The most important criterion for me was to select a mentor with similar interests,” Izadi said. “I fell in love with her work.”

Izadi, who joined Bauer’s program in 2012 and plans to graduate in 2017, has conducted research with Patrick on the effectiveness of handwritten labels on consumer ratings of products. Together, they have worked for more than two years to produce four studies. And Izadi’s intriguing work was recently spotlighted at Bauer’s inaugural Graduate Research and Scholarships Project Day (GRaSP) event.

“Basically, we wanted to know why handwriting is more effective than typewriting. We found that handwriting leads to higher haptic engagement, meaning individuals viewing a product with a handwritten label are more likely to pick it up, open it or simply touch it,” the 28-year-old Izadi explained. This is because individuals see handwriting as an “anthropomorphized stimulus,” she added, thereby developing a more emotional and personal connection to a product — not all that unlike a certain student who decided to trade the study of asphalt for the study of people.