Catalina Stefanescu-Cuntze is an associate professor and dean of faculty at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin where she was recently appointed to the Deutsche Post DHL chair.
Prof Stefanescu-Cuntze grew up in Romania and has a masters and PhD in operations research from Cornell University in the US. She joined ESMT in 2009 from London Business School, where she was an assistant professor of decision sciences.
In her spare time, Prof Stefanescu-Cuntze enjoys art, history, music and travel – she has lived in seven countries so far.
1. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The balance between research and teaching, and the creative process that underpins both of them. Each research project is different, and I am fortunate to have the flexibility to choose my own research topics. For teaching, each course is different due to the varying dynamics in the classroom. I started by teaching statistics, which is perhaps perceived as not the most glamorous topic. But it is a subject I love and by the end of the course students generally like it very much, or at least feel much more comfortable with it. Reading their enthusiastic post-course feedback is incredibly motivating.
2. What is an average day at work like?
There is no average day at work. My job involves research, teaching, administration and service to the academic community. I may start the day on a research project (trying to build a mathematical proof, writing computer code for a complex statistical model, cleaning up a data set, or editing a paper), and spend the afternoon working with colleagues on the development of customised educational solutions for a company. Or I may spend the entire day at a conference, presenting one of my own papers, finding out about new projects in the field and catching up with colleagues from other universities and business schools.
3. Do you have a teaching routine?
I do indeed. The key for me is preparation and focus; whether it is completely new material or something that I have taught many times before, I always need to prepare thoroughly to feel comfortable when teaching. And I also need to focus; teaching well is not just communicating ideas, but creating an environment where the audience can learn by themselves. This requires a substantial amount of emotional energy and sheer stamina, so focus is crucial.
4. How do you deal with pressure?
Prioritise and focus on the important things, do my best and be confident that it will turn out all right.
5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
Since the beginning of my career I have worked in three very different research fields (biostatistics, operations and finance), and I have published papers in top academic journals in all three fields. This is quite unusual for a researcher, because in order to publish at the top one generally needs to focus on a relatively narrow area.
7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
With reasoning and a smile and with long conversations with my husband.
8. Where is your favourite place to teach?
Besides our Schloss Gracht campus, where we deliver many of our customised executive education programmes, the ESMT main campus in Berlin is on Schlossplatz, and here we teach with a spectacular view on to the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site. But, more importantly, the school is in the building that was formerly the headquarters of the communist government of East Germany. Growing up in communist Romania, I just love the irony of teaching the principles of management under the huge hammer and compass that still graces the wall of our auditorium.
9. What is the last book you read?
Brain Rules for Baby, by the developmental molecular biologist John Medina. As our first baby was born earlier this year, I found this book fascinating in its description of how children’s brains develop and its use of scientific research to show how parenting practices can have an impact.
10. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
That in our job, there is no success without passion.
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