October 2017 Member of the Month: Dr Stefano Tasselli (2010)

"For me, the best place for engaging and learning at Wolfson was in the dining hall. At any moment in the year, you could just sit in front of a student or Fellow or visitor and you could open your mind to a range of experiences from various professional and scientific perspectives from all parts of the world."

Stefano Tasselli

How did you come to study at Wolfson College?

When I joined Cambridge for my doctoral studies, I was looking for a college with several characteristics: an international orientation, a focus on postgraduate research, and a collaborative community involving students, the staff and the faculty. Wolfson was the ideal place for me because it provided the perfect merge of these elements. At Wolfson, I always found vibrant people and a professional environment, as well as a friendly place where I could enjoy my free time. Simply put, I found it home and I maintain the same feeling now as an alumnus every time I visit.

What is your current occupation and how did you get into this role?

I am a faculty member at the Rotterdam School of Management of Erasmus University, one of the leading research and teaching institutions in Europe for organisational and management studies. I conduct research on the micro-foundations of organisational social networks, on knowledge transfer and innovation, and on organisational theories. I teach these topics in postgraduate and business executive classes. When I entered the doctoral program, I had in mind to remain in academia. During my doctoral studies, I strengthened this ambition and looked specifically for a research-oriented institution. Competition to remain in academia is high, and I had to compete with other outstanding candidates. I am satisfied I achieved this position.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the opportunity to answer questions of daily relevance for human beings. How do people interact with each other? What kinds of people are more likely to succeed in social networking? What is the role of personality and cognition in explaining if and how we interact with our friends and work acquaintances? These are just a few of the fascinating questions I address in my conceptual and empirical research. The opportunity to contribute to human knowledge and being impactful in engaging students and executives in the learning process are wonderful elements of my job.

How have your studies at Wolfson helped you in your career?

My experiences at Wolfson, as well my studies at the Judge Business School, have greatly contributed to my career development. For me, the best place for engaging and learning at Wolfson was in the dining hall. At any moment in the year, you could just sit in front of a student or Fellow or visitor and you could open your mind to a range of experiences from various professional and scientific perspectives from all parts of the world. I remember long discussions about philosophy with friends, so long that we used to stay in the dining room far beyond the closing time. Those moments have enriched not only my understanding of what science and research are, but also, and more importantly, of the individual’s passion for building and disseminating knowledge which is the true driver of my job.

What is your fondest memory of your time at Wolfson?

I lived many wonderful moments in Wolfson, but my fondest memory is the day of my graduation. The College was redolent of energy and life. The flag with the College arms was flapping in the beautiful and clear blue sky that only British spring can provide. I remember the drinks in the College garden and the speech by the President, Professor Sir Richard Evans, who emphasised how proud the College was of the achievement we had obtained. I remember then the Congregation towards the Senate House and the lunch with family and friends in the dining hall. All those memories remain in my heart, as well as the graduation picture that I always keep in my office.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

I received the best advice from my doctoral advisor. He always said, 'Simple and elegant, your work must be simple and elegant'. I have adopted this recommendation not only in terms of my writing style, but also for my professional career. I try to combine academic and scientific rigour with the ability to communicate complex concepts in a simple and linear way. This, in my view, is the most important goal of my profession: to develop top-level research combining scientific and practical relevance -- research published in leading academic outlets which is also impactful for managers, professionals and, more broadly, for wider society.

Which person (living or historical) do you most admire and why?

I admire several living and historical figures, and the person I admire the most is Saint Francis of Assisi. He was conducting a privileged life when he decided to give all his material goods away to follow his values. I find his example particularly inspirational today, in an age in which I believe we need to give more importance to spirituality.

Which book has had the greatest impact on you?

I love books, and I could mention several of them that have had a great impact on my life, from Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain to Lord Byron’s Don Juan. But the book that has had the greatest impact on my work has been Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Far from being a ‘horror book’, this romantic masterpiece touches the nuanced boundaries between technology and nature, and between knowledge and damnation. In an insightful chapter of the book, the scientist Viktor Frankenstein claims, 'So much has been done … more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked. I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.' This is a great teaching for all people involved in scientific research: knowledge must always be ethical and oriented towards the good.