At the age of 26, Gabriella Berman is the youngest PhD graduate in Nelson Mandela University’s Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences since the merger in 2005.

She is also the first doctoral graduate in the faculty to have started and completed her studies on George Campus and will graduate on 4 April on George Campus.  

She completed her master’s degree within a year and her doctorate in Marketing over two years, record times for both.  
Coincidentally, her co-supervisor Prof Madele Tait was 29 when she received her PhD at the then University of Port Elizabeth in 1996, the youngest in the faculty at that stage. 
“I was taught from a young age that if you set your mind on something then you should stick to it and be determined – where there’s a will, there’s a way! For me there was never an option to take longer to complete each degree because that was what I had set out to do. I also am very lucky to have the support system of my parents, friends and the mentorship from Dr Adele Potgieter, my supervisor”, Berman said. 
I will never forget Dr Potgieter’s words, “C’mon Gabs, let’s go for your doctorate!”. I was hooked. It has pushed me past what I thought I was capable of academically and taught me life lessons of determination, perseverance and setting your heart on big goals. 
“What sets Gaby apart from the rest is determination, good work etiquette, no procrastination, follow ups when she does not understand and a will to do things that other people think is unthinkable. She is a one in a 1000 student with a kind spirit which I had the privilege of shaping for a few years”, said Dr Potgieter. 
Initially Berman wanted to take a year off to teach in China after her honours, but the pandemic struck and she decided to continue with her master’s on TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) tourism in China.  
“It turned out to be the hardest year academically for me, with Teams meetings, working from home and the huge leap from honours to masters – I questioned my decision many times!”. It was also the first ever home graduation, a unique and slightly desolate experience without the ambience of physically sharing it with other graduates”, Berman said. 
For her doctoral research topic, Berman chose the skincare industry, and specifically its sensory branding in-store and online as it was a challenge to their family business and as well as for other companies having to become increasingly reliant on technology and e-commerce. 
Her mother, Carolyn Berman, started an all-natural skincare company, Katavi Botanicals, when Gaby was very young and so she grew up learning about the products, and worked for the company. With the pandemic, they also had to adjust to online business and marketing, which led to this topic. 
Her findings include the fact that specifically in the skincare industry, consumers are no less demanding online than in-store regarding their desire to feel and smell the product. Older consumers are also more willing to spend larger amounts on skincare per month but more likely to shop in-store.  Younger consumers may be seeking more advanced technological experiences, such as through virtual reality, whereas more mature consumers may prefer descriptive language and visuals. Consumers are also price sensitive, which could be linked to the global pandemic at the time. Berman believes the findings are applicable to products which require interaction for evaluations, such as the textile industry.
“I think I have the best of both worlds where I am right now. I live in a beautiful place, and work for Katavi, putting my studies to practical use growing the brand”, says Berman. She also recently started tutoring in the Marketing Department on George Campus and hopes to publish articles and conference papers from her thesis. She also coaches horse riding to both children and adults in the afternoons.