Programme: PhD Student at Imperial College London
Job prior to Imperial College Business School: Intern, VC firm and UN agency
Education: Innovation Management, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies
Choosing Imperial’s Doctoral programme
Why did you decide to study the Doctoral programme at Imperial College Business School?
I have always enjoyed both studying and “researching”, therefore it seemed natural to me to follow the Doctoral path. I felt that studying as a PhD would give me the opportunity to broaden my intellectual horizons and follow my natural curiosity for new theories and methods. Moreover, I really enjoy teaching, thus an academic career seemed the most appropriate.
Imperial was first mentioned to me by my previous supervisor, while discussing suitable PhD opportunities: I was immediately struck by the top notch level of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship department faculty, the one I was interested in. Even more, I thought that Imperial College would be the perfect place to study social networks, which at the time were becoming my main academic interest. I was also fascinated by the opportunity to work in a “technical” university: my hope was to find opportunities for learning in other departments too. Finally, I believe that Imperial’s emphasis on entrepreneurship (with the Imperial Incubator, Imperial Ventures and so on) is rather unique.
What is your previous academic and work experience and how did this prepare you for the programme?
Having studied Economics for my Bachelor’s and Innovation Management for my Master’s provided a good base for my studies here at Imperial. In the Management department it’s very useful to have a mixed background, and being able to draw from many different competences, as the field is very broad and varied. In general, having worked and studied in high pressure environments helped me to endure the initial difficulties of the MRes, which can be intense. Last but not least, a good knowledge of the literature in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation fields certainly helped me during the seminars.
The Doctoral programme experience
What is the best thing about the Doctoral programme so far?
For me the best thing so far has been the “intellectual” freedom I am granted as a PhD student: each year we have a certain number of deadlines, but they are scattered in a way that allows exploration of novel ideas and a certain degree of agency when it comes to work time allocation. Personally, my supervisors’ trust allowed me to pursue studies and improve in areas that – despite being close to my research – were not of immediate (or apparent) utility. Luckily, these improvements later proved fruitful in several ways – demonstrating that “localised search” is not always the best option!
How did the MRes prepared you for your doctoral research?
The MRes is a very useful experience: it helps in gradually introducing students to the faculty (thanks to numerous introductory events) and research (through the thesis discussed at the end of the year), while improving our knowledge base. As I mentioned before, I believe that a good management scholar should possess an assorted toolkit of knowledge: the MRes modules included methodological classes as well as in-depth seminars in fields that are vital for management. Furthermore, there is plenty of them, allowing for good customisability, which is important to narrow down our academic interests.
What did you enjoy most about the MRes?
There were numerous aspects that I really liked about the MRes: perhaps the most obvious ones are the modules themselves. However, if I were to single out one aspect, it was meeting and building friendship bonds with the rest of my cohort. I have always thought that the best relationships are built out of hardships, and the MRes experience confirmed it.
What has been your favourite modules?
This is definitely a hard choice. Innovation Management, Research Design and Entrepreneurship were surely among my favourite modules. I feel that the most welcome surprise was micro-econometrics. In general, I am fond of learning econometrics in an applied way, and I believe that the instructors did great work in this respect, also introducing me to the value of simulations as learning tools.
In addition, the entire structure of the MRes was meticulously organised, with an overarching emphasis on causality – rather than individual models – that I found very interesting and stimulating.
What area of research will you be doing your PhD on?
I am doing my research in the social network field, a vibrant topic benefiting from contributions from many different studies (sociology, economics, epidemiology etc.). In particular, I am trying to understand how London entrepreneurs’ networking strategies affect their chances of success. We are doing so by looking at their online interactions. We are very keen on exploring the purposive nature of networking, and the interaction between online and offline activities.
The magnitude of the unstructured data that we are working with makes this study both challenging and rewarding.
Which seminars, events or guest lectures at the school have been useful in developing your skills and knowledge?
I am particularly fond of the Graduate School courses, which offer a plethora of opportunities in various fields. I have mostly followed the ones related to computing and data science, with profoundly beneficial effects for my “technical” skills. However, I have also enjoyed their courses on personal networking (despite studying it, I am not the most brilliant “networker”!) and teaching.
The Doctoral programme experience
How would you describe the Business School faculty and your fellow Doctoral students?
Members of the Business School are really professional and competent, that may be expected. What positively surprised me was how approachable professors are. I have worked with many members of faculty in several capacities, and it’s always been a very pleasant experience, oriented towards fairness and learning.
Doctoral students tend to spend most of our time staring at a PC, and this probably does not make us the best party material. However, from day one, I have found my fellow PhD students to be extremely kind and willing to help. Furthermore, convivial moments reveal how friendly and fun PhD students can be!
Opportunities at Imperial
What has been the greatest opportunity you have had at Imperial that you wouldn’t get anywhere else?
The greatest opportunity provided by Imperial has undoubtedly been working side by side with great professors that are helping me to improve as a scholar and researcher. This is the reason why I am here, and luckily enough my hopes are being fulfilled. There are really few other places with faculty this prominent in the field that I am devoted to.
What are your future career goals and how have they been realised since being at Imperial?
I am yet unsure about my future - whether I will stay in academia or not. What I am sure about, is that I want to become an expert in networks, which are among the most ubiquitous phenomena in nature. Irrespective of my career choice, I am certain that knowing them well will provide great opportunities in a number of fields. Imperial has been instrumental in getting closer to this objective, both in terms of learning the underlying theory – taking a multidisciplinary point of view – and in terms of providing the analytical tools to properly analyse them.
The Doctoral experience in London
Do you think studying in a central location such as London is beneficial for networking and career opportunities?
Studying, or more generally living, in London is definitely beneficial for networking and career opportunities. Globally famous professors are a common sight at Imperial College seminars. Similarly, if you are interested in a career outside academia, there are plenty of entrepreneurial events taking place in the city. It’s really just up to you to identify them, participate and get in touch with the people you find most interesting.
Where do you live in London and why did you choose to live there?
I live in Fulham, which is a lovely, peaceful neighbourhood: I especially enjoy its numerous parks, the riverbank and the quiet roads. I am also fortunate enough to have a few dear friends living there – including my sister - providing a sense of community which I believe is extremely valuable in a city as big as London. This combination of factors is what made me decide to stay in Fulham.
What can a weekend in London look like for a PhD student?
That widely depends on the state of your work: I found that in certain periods, there is hardly any difference between weekdays and the weekend. Other times, my weekend starts with a beer in a pub close to the College with the rest of my cohort, and continues with a movie or a pizza. It’s rare for me not to work at all during the weekend, but pleasantries take much more time: long breakfasts spent chatting and indolent reading sessions in Fulham’s parks are a common activity. Visits to exhibitions are another favourite pastime of mine, possibly mixed with a few occasional trips to the countryside, especially when friends come to visit me from Italy.
What have been the benefits and challenges of moving to London? What advice would you give to someone in a similar position?
Considering its size, London is, in my opinion, a very good place to stay: the tube runs smoothly, and the crowdedness never gets inhumane. There’s plenty of interesting events, and everyone will find something of value. It’s great to be able to find something new to do every weekend. For me, the best thing has probably been being able to spend a day in Wimbledon during the tennis tournament!
However, for those coming from small towns (which is basically the type of place where I spent my entire life), a certain sense of alienation will be hard to avoid. It’s annoying to spend two hours to get back home on a late Friday evening, and similarly I miss being able to walk everywhere I want.
I would suggest, especially at the beginning of your experience in London, to experiment while maintaining a few habits that will lift your morale when you might find yourself tired or demoralised. If you are feeling down, treat yourself with some comfort food to get back on track, and start moving forward again from the next day. London can be difficult to navigate, but it’s definitely worth it.
Advice to prospective students
What advice would you share to prospective students considering the Doctoral programme in your specialism at Imperial?
Definitely give it a try! Imperial College Business School is a great place to study Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and every year it keeps getting better.