Ekaterina Gavrilova is an assistant professor of finance at the Nova School of Business and Economics. She completed her Ph.D. in finance at Bocconi. Her research interests are corporate finance, innovation economics, and industrial organization.
Why did you choose a career in research?
I have always been fascinated by learning something new. I feel that doing research is like assembling a puzzle: there are different pieces and once you put everything together, you have the complete picture, the knowledge. Sometimes you have the pieces of a wrong puzzle, so you need to understand which piece is wrong and which piece is is right, and then how to put them correctly to have a complete story. You need to understand what noise is and what the substance is.
I think that when knowledge matters in the family, there is room for another generation of professors. My grandparents were professors of chemistry and engineering, and as a kid, I was always excited when they were going to conferences.
How did you decide to do your Ph.D. at Bocconi?
I did my master’s at the University of Bologna, so it was the logical step to move to Milan, to the top university in Italy. I didn’t want to leave Italy after my master’s because I was very much in love with Italy. I think I would do the same, even if I didn’t know much about the Ph.D. program and how I would end up. I’m satisfied with my choice.
What is your best memory from your time at Bocconi?
I think the most valuable part of my experience at Bocconi was the connections and friends that I gained and all the memories I had with them, such as going to the mountains and having a picnic after the exams or watching football matches after work. With my friends I went through so much, struggling to succeed in exams and projects. Now a friend from my cohort and I are going to Portugal, another is going to Turkey, and another to Naples. So, we are all spread across Europe or across the world, but I’m sure we will keep in touch and meet in person when we have the opportunity.
What is the most important skill you gained at Bocconi?
I think it is, besides all the econometrics and economics and finance, speaking in public. Before starting my Ph.D. I was a bit too shy, so being in front of the class trying to teach was not easy. You need to do it in a way that is interesting. Otherwise, they will just hate what you’re talking about. I think this is especially valid during the pandemic when everything was online because it was very easy for students to fiddle with their phones or just mute the professor. So, I think it is important to find the right way to interact with students.
What do you think are the must-have skills for someone who would like to go into research or academia?
I think you need a lot of patience and self-motivation. Now, for example, I have finished my Ph.D., and I’m free because I can choose what to work on, with whom to work, or how much to work. But if you don’t work enough, then you cannot receive tenure, because you need to publish two or three papers in top journals while you are employed on a short-term contract in order to be promoted to a tenure track position, a position for your whole life. So, you need to be motivated to work a lot. For example, during the weekend I work for one day for sure, if not one and a half. You indeed have a lot of flexibility, but you need to have a lot of commitment on the side.
Do you have any advice for students who are considering a career in research?
I think you need to understand what exactly being a professor or doing a Ph.D. is like. It is not just about research, there is also a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, especially in public universities. Usually, 20% of your work is fascinating and 80% is work that you just have to do.
I think it is also good to think about where or on which topics you would like to work. It is important to talk to people who are at the beginning of their career, junior faculty I would say, because, if you know at which university you would like to do your Ph.D., these people will be your advisors or people with whom you would work.
Another important thing is choosing your advisor. I think the match between the advisor and the student is much more important in a Ph.D. rather than in a master’s because in a master’s you don’t see your advisors very often. As a Ph.D. student, I used to meet my advisors at least once a week to talk about my projects and how to proceed, and they would give me advice. I believe you should feel at ease with your advisors because when there is a mismatch, usually, the results are not optimal.
Would you like to recommend to our readers some books to read?
I would recommend Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. It presents suggestions about how to sleep and knowledge about how people sleep in different phases, which I found very interesting. I believe learning about sleep is important because we all need good sleep to feel active and well.