There’s a slight gap in Dee Warmath’s academic resume.
A 19-year gap, in fact, between the time Warmath finished her master’s program and earned her doctorate.
“I thought I’d go out and see the world maybe for a couple of years and then I’ll come back and finish the Ph.D. and teach,” she said. “A couple of years turned into decades, and those years were wonderful.”
Warmath, an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, received her master’s degree in sociology from Vanderbilt University in 1991. She then took a job building retail sales forecasting models for Service Merchandise.
That entry into the corporate world led to a variety of high-profile data analysis and market research positions with several companies, including J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and the NPD Group.
Warmath’s background in sociology and psychology gave her a unique insight into consumer behavior that proved valuable in her career in industry, she said.
“I traveled a ton, worked with some very interesting people, met with some really cool companies and people doing very innovative things who were just trying to figure out their business in a better way,” she said.
Despite the success she enjoyed in her career, Warmath also felt a tug back to academia.
“I knew if I didn’t go do what I always wanted to do, I would probably never have that chance,” she said.
While working at NPD, she went back to school, earning her Ph.D. in consumer behavior and family studies with a minor in marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I finished my Ph.D. in three years while working 80 hours a week and taking about 120 airline flights a year,” she said. “I wrote my entire dissertation on airplanes. I still do my best work on airplanes—it’s the perfect environment to work in.”
Following a four-year career as part of the UW-Madison faculty, Warmath came to UGA in 2018, where she teaches consumer analytics and social entrepreneurship for consumer well-being in the FACS department of financial planning, housing and consumer economics.
Her research focuses on how consumer decision-making, self-efficacy and motivation affect well-being.
“I was always asked why I didn’t go to a business school or marketing or something like that,” she said. “But my entire career was about making sure the consumer was represented in the meetings and discussions. I worked for years to try to find this mutually beneficial space, and that’s where I wanted my research to be.”
The college’s diversity—its four departments cover a wide range of disciplines all focused on advancing the well-being of individuals and communities—appeals to Warmath’s passion for the practical application of research.
“I love research and doing things that have an impact and aren’t just purely theoretical,” she said. “Here, it all kind of fits together because it has this sense of promoting well-being at the center of it, trying to make people’s lives better. I love that.”
In addition to research, Warmath said another perk of a career in academics is the ability to create new opportunities for students by engaging with industry partners.
Warmath’s students regularly perform real-world data analysis for companies looking to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace.
It’s this melding of all her interests that helps keep Warmath energized about her “new” career.
“I will always approach life and work with the open-mindedness of a kid,” she said. “I like to wake up every morning with that wide-eyed wonder of what’s going to happen today? What new things might I learn?”