From USI to Oxford
Institutional Communication Service
1 December 2016
Ilaria Piatti, b. 1983, after completing the full academic curricula at USI (Bachelor, Master and PhD), has left the region where she was born and raised, to take on the position of assistant professor in finance at Oxford.
Ilaria, the journey from USI to Oxford is full of “strong emotions”. What were your first thoughts when you got the news?
One of the first things that came to mind was that I would be teaching in English, at Oxford in England, so I reckoned that I was lucky to be concerned with finance rather than literature! Seriously speaking, it is an important responsibility, as well as a great opportunity. I would not say that I have accomplished something “extraordinary”, if you consider that the international reputation of USI in terms of research in finance has grown significantly.
The Institute of Finance produces leading research; its Faculty members publish articles in important journals and prepare graduate and doctoral students very well and therefore applications hailing from USI can count on a high quality “startup capital”.
A “capital” for an interesting system that leads to an academic career in finance.
Yes, indeed one does not apply for a position at a specific university, but “offers” him/herself in a global “market” of institutions in a certain field of interest. At first, you apply for the various open positions by submitting an original piece of research. Then you attend a series of interviews at a “trade fair” in the USA. I sent out around 80 applications, resulting in about 20 interviews, 8 “fly outs”, and 5 offers, including Oxford, with its “British” tone and its century-old prestige, to which I was immediately drawn.
We understand that you love mountains: will you not miss them?
Certainly, but actually I am an overall sports fan. I also play basketball and five-a-side football, or futsal, and at Oxford, I could perhaps consider rowing…!
The UK, by the way, is a sort of comeback for you, is it not?
Yes indeed, thanks to a FNS research grant I spent part of my doctoral studies at the London School of Economics, where I joined Andrea Vedolin, USI PhD and now assistant professor at LSE.
Which works of yours convinced Oxford, one of the top universities in the world, to “invest” on you?
My research focuses on Asset Pricing, which, in simple words, is about understanding the price dynamics of financial assets. I try to develop new mathematical models to explain what is observed empirically, focusing on the disagreement among investors about the probability of a systemic “shock” in the markets and on the consequences of such disagreements, or divergences, on asset returns.
What brings you to do what you do?
I have always had a crush on mathematics, I like resolving problems by reasoning. I initially thought I would study “pure” mathematics, but I already have two brothers who have graduated in that discipline at ETH Zurich, therefore I chose to go in a different direction to differentiate and in which calculus had empirical applications.
Therefore, you started with Economics at USI, and then you discovered quantitative finance.
Yes, and I must thank in particular Prof. Fabio Trojani, who I met during my undergraduate studies.
In order to continue attending his classes I chose the Master in Finance, a “tough” programme and unique in Switzerland for its quantitative focus.
Then, to continue working with Prof. Trojani, who at the time was lecturing in Lugano and in St. Gallen, I started my PhD in the latter university. When Trojani eventually settled down in Lugano, his group of doctoral students, me included, followed him. That was perhaps my lucky break, because at USI there is a unique environment. There is open dialogue with Faculty and personal ties are established with colleagues from different parts of the world – these are elements that encourage research as well. I would of course like to return to Lugano in the future, but first I want to accomplish my mission at Oxford, which will be quite a challenge indeed!