PhD Series - Meet Diogo Mendes
Why did you start a PhD ?
I decided to study Economics in the bachelor because I have always been curious about efficient ways of creating and managing resources. Economics is much more than money and taxes. It is about how we create welfare, improve policies in health, education, business, or the financial sector, how we promote competition to achieve prices consumers can afford. And how we deal with lockdowns…!
With this in mind I started my educational journey in Economics. I always had the ambition to have an impactful job; however, for some time I was undecided about what to do in the future.
It all changed when I started working as a Research Assistant in a project in Mozambique. This project studied the introduction of a mobile money instrument in regions where no other forms of financial services were available. With mobile money, people could make payments, save and send remittances to their relatives. During the field work, we observed real positive effects of this type of service. It showed me how research could indeed make a difference. This was the trigger to decide to pursue a PhD.
Why did you choose this program?
I chose Nova SBE mainly for three reasons. First, Nova SBE gives a lot of freedom to its students: when I decided to pursue a PhD in Economics and Finance, I was not sure which track to choose. The school gave me the flexibility to start the PhD without any sort of commitment in that respect. I did the course work part and had time to make a more informed decision.
Secondly, Nova SBE faculty has been publishing in top journals and – as a result – the school quality of research is internationally recognized. Finally, as a Nova Alumni, I knew Nova SBE would give me the opportunities to become an academic: I would be able to teach; I would have the appropriate conditions, time and funding to do research; and I would be given the possibility to broaden my network — spending time abroad or talking to people in the several international events held at the school. Now that the PhD has come to its end, I couldn’t be prouder of my choice 6 years ago.
What was the most valuable experience during your PhD?
If I could name only one aspect of my experience, I would mention the amazing people I met during this journey — several became very good friends of mine. No academic can be on its own, and socialization is crucial in such an individualistic profession.
However, I had a lot of other interesting experiences and opportunities. Teaching to Bachelor students; coordinating a team of research assistants in challenging circumstances in Mozambique; doing a visiting period as a researcher in London and being in one of the world research spot-light; and finally to condense my research and skills into 25-minutes interview in the international job market. These are just a few of the rewarding experiences which I would probably never have come across through hadn’t Nova SBE be on my way.
In looking back, did Nova SBE provide you with enough knowledge and skills for entering the job market?
Nova SBE gave me the opportunities and the tools to survive — and actually enjoy!— the challenging job market process. Nova SBE recruits in the international market. As a result it trains students to meet the high standards required to compete with students from other top schools.
Since an early stage, I was encouraged to think deeper about my research, to find alternative explanations for my results, and to develop my critical thinking. These are essential hard skills, but they are not enough to succeed in the job market. Soft skills such as communication and inter-personal skills are critical. Recruiters want to hire an expert, but also a colleague with whom they can work and get along with.
What would you say/suggest to a student starting their PhD?
I would definitely recommend PhD Students to be ambitious! This applies to all stages of the PhD, from the decision of the field, to the first job placement. You shouldn’t get demoralized if people tell you that you will not make it for top positions. In Portugal, people might think that researchers trained in this Southern European country will never be as good as theirs peers from other European or American schools. My experience abroad — especially as a visiting researcher in London (LSE and Imperial College) – taught me this is far from the reality. You can achieve your goal if you love what you do, work hard and chase your dreams.
On what projects are you working now?
I am working on a project about the role of manager’s education on the financial practices and performance of medium and large companies. Does CEO education really matter in very complex organizations, with so many decision nodes and governance layers inside? We try to answer this question with a randomized experiment in Mozambique where participating CEOs were randomly allocated to an Executive Course in Finance. We find that financial education does matter, not only it changes financial practices as it boosts firm performance.
I am also working on other projects in Corporate Finance, such as a paper on distributor finance and a paper on credit guarantee schemes. Finally, I am involved in other projects that I would fit more in the political economy and development economics umbrellas.
How can the results of your research be applied to everyday life/business?
I see each research piece as a single drop which creates an ocean when put together. It is usually difficult to be specific about the contribution of a single project. Fortunately, I can see some implications of my work.
For example, my job market paper studies how difficulties in financing can have implications in product market decisions of companies with long production processes. Because these companies’ products take a long period to be converted into cash flow, they need to be financed throughout the production process. On the one hand, banks and investors need to understand the specificities of the production timings and be tolerant with respect to risk and time. On the other hand, firms need to convince their stakeholders they are a business worth to invest despite the late returns, or convince the regulators that some sort of intervention is needed to correct failures and preserve businesses. In the absence of academic research, claims like these are typically difficult to make.
How did you come with the idea of using the wine sector?
Deciding on an idea to go ahead as a job market paper is very difficult. First, one never knows whether it is good or novel enough. Second, it may be risky not only due to the short completion time but also because results may not be as expected. It may be heart-breaking!
Due to the high uncertainty, I decided to work on a project that would be meaningful to me and from which I expected to learn a lot. For quite some time I made the exercise of identifying financial or economic frictions that could affect some sectors of the Portuguese economy. At point, the wine sector stood out: it is one of the most important sectors in the economy (and the one with the highest importance in the Portuguese international trade), but one where technical requirements (e.g., the ageing period of wine) pose enormous hurdles on financial management. I immediately realized that the wine sector would be an ideal setting to study the role of financial frictions on production decisions.
Initially I was unsure whether I would ever get access to data on wine production and inventory. After researching and making several attempts, I contacted the government agency responsible for keeping track of this information. I was glad they recognized the importance of my research idea for the sector and eventually got involved. I obtained access to a very rich data set crucial to my research and to my curiosity (I can observe how many barrels each company holds from each vintage — with wines dating back to the 1755, the year of the Lisbon Earthquake).