Working with professor George Wolford, she researched human decision making under various time pressures while also tutoring students in the Native American program. Post-graduation, she and fellow PBS student Matthew Tullman '00 founded a company called Merchant Mechanics, a market research firm which is based upon their expertise in behavioral psychology and neuroscience. Kimberly is a co-owner of the company and currently acts as its Chief Research Officer.
Kimberly entered this field because she realized that she could use her understanding of human behavior to improve the way that advertising and market research firms were conducting their business. She and Matthew, Kimberly says, "had noticed a disconnect in the application of some of the psychophysical and cognitive theories we were learning in the PBS Dept. to the real world." They saw that most companies were using customer self-report through interviews or surveys in order to compile statistics, a method that led to an inherent bias in the information that was collected. Using their understanding of human behavior and decision-making processes, Kimberly and Matthew developed a research tool to obtain more accurate responses from consumers.
Specifically, Merchant Mechanics observes how consumers respond to certain test elements in a real world environment and applies "theories from psych, neuroscience and economics to understand those behaviors in order optimize test elements." These elements include store layout, fixtures, signage, etc. Merchant Mechanics conducts this research for a wide variety of clients, such as the United States Postal Service, Coca~Cola, and Johnson & Johnson, among many others. They help companies test prototypes of these elements before they are produced on a large scale, saving the companies money and benefiting the environment by avoiding the material waste that would result from un-optimized elements.
When Kimberly and Matthew founded the company, they had no external funding and little money for advertising, and so had to find creative ways to attract attention to their company. Mostly, they accomplished this by speaking at industry trade events and writing articles for trade journals. The DEN was also a helpful resource as they were going through their start-up phase, according to Kimberly. For both the start-up work and her current position at Merchant Mechanics, Kimberly explains that many skills she learned at Dartmouth have served her well. The numerous hours that she spent in the lab helped her to expand both her endurance and her patience. In addition, splitting her time between coursework, TA-ing, and dissertation writing helped her to develop the ability to "wear many hats," a skill that serves her well in her daily work.
Her primary advice to students looking to pursue a similar career path, she says, is to "utilize the vast resources available from Dartmouth and Tuck. There are many terrific faculty members across a wide array of disciplines who are, often times, more than willing to meet with you and share their perspectives and opinions." She adds that the DEN is also an important resource for developing entrepreneurs. Kimberly herself has also been a resource for interested students, as Merchant Mechanics has previously hired Dartmouth undergraduates as summer research interns and currently employs two former Dartmouth graduate students full-time. In addition, she has been a guest lecturer for a PBS senior seminar ("Attitudes and Persuasions") as well as a panelist on the "Dartmouth Career Panel" for the PBS Department.
In the future, Kimberly plans to continue growing Merchant Mechanics while also staying involved in academia and acting as a mentor. She intends to continue guest lecturing and conducting her own research while mentoring Merchant Mechanics' summer interns, who are usually students in the same department from which she obtained her Ph.D. Clearly, she's not giving up any of her "many hats" any time soon.