“I realized how fascinating the job of a researcher is. I was 21 then — I changed most of my plans and invested the following years to get into a PhD program, and I am more convinced every day that was the right thing to do.”

As an undergrad, Andrea Contigiani was planning to go into consulting and possibly start his own business, but everything changed when he worked with a professor to write his thesis on behavioral finance.

“Through that experience, I realized how fascinating the job of a researcher is,” he said. “I was 21 then — I changed most of my plans and invested the following years to get into a PhD program, and I am more convinced every day that was the right thing to do.”

Before becoming a student in Wharton’s Doctoral Programs, Andrea worked as a research assistant at Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship. “I had the opportunity to see how stimulating, dynamic, and supportive the Wharton environment is,” he said. “So when I was deciding which school to attend for my PhD, it was an obvious choice to stay at Wharton.”

He was also attracted to the diversity in theoretical and methodological approaches in the Management department. “Here,  you often see conversations are ranging from management to economics, sociology, and psychology, and I find the combination of points of view incredibly valuable,” he said.

From Student to Researcher

Before coming to Philadelphia, Andrea had been a student at many universities around the world. “As soon as I started at Wharton, the program required me to become a researcher, not a student. That was a big change in my daily life,” he said. “The life of a student and the life of a researcher are very different.”

Andrea had to switch from thinking about completing assignments and reading textbooks to identifying good questions and finding ways to answer them. “For me, that’s the most exciting part of this profession, so it was a great change to make,” he said.

Connections with the Penn Community

Andrea frequently interacts with students and faculty from other Wharton departments, primarily Business Economics, Operations, and Finance. He is also enrolled in the MA in Statistics, so he has spent a good amount of time in that department as well.

“While I tend to mostly stay within Wharton for coursework and research, I have had lots of other opportunities to interact with various communities at Penn,” he said.

One of his favorite experiences has been with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Together with some friends from all over Penn, Andrea started working with the center to organize a soccer-based volunteering program in West Philly elementary schools last year. “Netter has been fantastic in supporting us so this year we’re excited to keep going and scale the program,” he said

A Platform to Explore Innovation

A couple years ago, Andrea and fellow doctoral student Kyle Myers began meeting over coffee to discuss innovation research. That was the start of the Mack Innovation Doctoral Association seminars (MIDAs).

“We asked around to see if other PhD students would be interested and soon we had a group of more than 20 students,” Andrea said. “It has gone through a fantastic evolution, which I never imagined.”

Now MIDAs meets twice a month and gives students a chance to get together to talk about new research ideas, discuss preliminary work, and makes connections with the industry. He and Kyle credit Eric Bradlow, Maggie Saia, Gidget Murray, and Samantha Ortiz and the Mack Institute team for giving them support to make it happen.

“The most rewarding outcome has been seeing how many new personal and professional connections this platform created among Wharton students,” Andrea said. He has seen many cases in which two students from different departments met through the group then started getting together, discussing work, helping each other, and sometimes even collaborating on a research project.

“Making these connections is really what MIDAs is about, so we’re very happy it’s actually happening,” he said.

Posted: August 31, 2016

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