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2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Stella Pachidi, Cambridge Judge Business School

Stella Pachidi is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Professor. Courtesy photo

Stella Pachidi

University Lecturer in Information Systems

Cambridge Judge Business School

Stella Pachidi says she knew she wanted to become a business school professor when she was still a kid. “I loved reading stories about academic life and dreamed of becoming an academic myself one day,” she says. Fast-forward a few years and Pachidi is just that at the Cambridge Judge Business School. Pachidi is an award-winning professor that garnered about 60 nominations for our 40 Under 40 list. In 2017, Pachidi was awarded the Cambridge Judge Business School Teaching Award.

Pachidi’s research revolves around the rapidly emerging field of artificial intelligence. “My research interests lie in the intersection of technology, work, and organizing,” Pachidi says. “My passion has been studying how organizations implement emerging algorithmic technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and how this affects the nature of work.”

We’re thrilled to include Pachidi on our Best 40 Under 40 Professors list this year.

Current age: 36

At current institution since what year? September 2015

Education: MSc (5-year diploma) Electrical and Computer Engineering from National Technical University of Athens (2008). MSc Business Informatics (Cum Laude) from Utrecht University (2011). Ph.D. in Business Administration from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2016).

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Digital Business (core class in our MBA curriculum)

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was still a kid. I loved reading stories about academic life and dreamed of becoming an academic myself one day. During my undergraduate studies I was inspired by my professors who had a real impact on students’ personal development. Back then I was also a member of BEST (Board of European Students of Technology) where I served in various managerial positions and eventually became a trainer of soft skills. That experience made me realize how passionate I was for the field of management and in particular for the topics of knowledge, collaboration and change. I am very happy to combine those topics with my passion for technology in my research and teaching.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

My research interests lie in the intersection of technology, work, and organizing. My passion has been studying how organizations implement emerging algorithmic technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and how this affects the nature of work. During my Ph.D., I performed a qualitative study spending two years in a sales organization and studying the work transformations resulting from the introduction of data analytics in sales. I found that the introduction of such technologies that come with new knowledge paradigms is usually very complicated: in my case, workers resorted to symbolic conformity and pretended to use the analytics tool – but this backfired as they made the tool appear effective and the sales workers ended up becoming redundant. My co-authors and I recently published the theoretical insights of this study in Organization Science journal. I also use this case in my teaching on digital transformation, as it provides relevant insights for how organizations need to manage the changes that arise on the nature of work with the implementation of AI and other algorithmic technologies.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I could have been a software engineer – my geeky side sometimes still kicks in! Or an innovation manager, as I love unleashing people’s creativity and helping them develop something… Or a novelist – if only I had the time to write all stuff that’s in my head! But my ultimate dream would be to open my own restaurant, as I love cooking and organizing large dinners for my friends.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

My excitement about digital innovation which I cannot hide and I am happy to transmit to my students! And the fact that I care about each and every of my students. I will take as long as it needs to ensure that everyone’s questions are answered. My door (or Teams chat lately…) is always open for anyone who needs help or advice. I always get excited to help students with their papers. This past year has been very challenging for everyone due to the covid-19 impact and I did my best to make people comfortable enough to turn those cameras on and participate in engaging discussions in a friendly atmosphere. I addressed and legitimized the challenges we have all been facing so that they can realize that we are all in this together and look for ways to help each other learn and develop.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Thrilling! The first time I entered the classroom at Cambridge University I realized I was in the privileged position to teach some of the most brilliant minds in the world. I was and still am over the moon about that!

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:

That it is important to remember to self-care: Being a business school professor has the amazing advantage of engaging in multiple work activities of different nature: teaching, research, reviewing/editing, organizing, public outreach… And on top of that you have the flexibility to choose and do the research you are most passionate about, shape your lectures the way you want, or even manage your time the way it suits you best. While all that makes a very attractive package, you easily find yourself so immersed in your job that you can easily forget that you also need some time off for yourself. It took me a long time to learn not to feel guilty when taking time off, and to realize that a break is often necessary to be able to be more productive and successful at work.

Professor I most admire and why:

I admire my colleagues as I feel I learn a lot from them. Thomas Roulet is an amazing thought leader and star teacher – I honestly have no idea how he manages to be so productive! Mark de Rond has unique passion for his research and he is extremely talented in translating his unique insights into lessons for managers. Jennifer Howard-Grenville is an exemplar of a successful female academic who not only inspires and encourages junior faculty to develop, but also fights to help women thrive in academia. Michael Barrett always incorporates in his lectures fascinating innovation case studies with real impact. Allègre Hadida must be the most engaging teacher I know, there is so much to learn from her! But if I had to pick one, I would go for my PhD advisor from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Prof. Marleen Huysman. She has been a role model for me as a deep thinker, successful leader, and inspiring mentor. I am deeply grateful for her ongoing encouragement and support.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

The fact that they are bringing their professional experiences in the classroom: Business students can relate to the issues and challenges that we are addressing in class and enrich the collective learning experience by sharing their experiences in engaging class discussions. As their professor, I equip them with the conceptual tools to reflect on and make better sense of their experiences and get prepared for their future endeavors. I see learning as an interactive activity and our very talented students help me help them learn, by offering their sharp comments and critical thoughts.

What is most challenging?

This past year was particularly challenging for me on the personal front: I lost my dad from covid-19 which was devastating in itself and was made even worse as I couldn’t travel back home. On top of that, I struggled with combining work and childcare during the lockdown (I have twins currently aged two and a half.) So I found it challenging to leave the personal challenges aside and be as enthusiastic as I normally am when teaching. But what helped was being open with my students about all this. I figured that many of them must have been facing similar struggles and we need to acknowledge them rather than just hide them. I think this helped a lot. I feel deeply connected with many of my students even though I have been interacting with most of them only virtually. I am looking forward to some engaging conversations with them near Cam river, now that the weather is improving.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Inquiring

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Absent

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… excited to read about the wonderful research that they do for their individual papers. There’s always something new to learn when marking my students’ work!

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies?

Cooking is my meditation! Chopping, dicing, stirring, kneading… all physical activities that help keep me away from screens and relax my mind.

How will you spend your summer?

June and July I’ll be catching up with research and writing. I hope to spend August in Greece so I can reconnect with my family and friends – much needed…

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Sailing in the Ionian sea (Greece.) I must admit though, that was B.C. -i.e. before children came along 😉

Favorite book(s): Shoshanna Zuboff’s “The age of surveillance capitalism” has deeply affected my thinking about the digital era. Randy Pausch’s book “The last lecture” is a great reminder to go after my childhood dreams. Dickens’ “Great expectations”, Austen’s “Pride and prejudice” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” have been favorite classics. Reading ancient Greek texts like “The Iliad” by Homer and “Antigone” by Sophocles during my school years shaped my ethos and life approach. And Julia Donaldson’s stories like “The Gruffalo” and “The snail and the whale” are not only an absolute joy to read to my children, but also have significantly influenced how I think about communicating complex ideas in simple ways.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

I think I know all episodes of “Friends” by heart! It’s the only show that can help me relax and unwind. In terms of more recent productions: I was a big “GoT” fan for the power struggles, I really enjoyed the “Social dilemma” for raising important concerns related to the digital age, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Americans” for the talented performances and clever script, and I was amazed by the humorous yet very dramatic ways through which “Parasite” brought up complex societal issues.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

My “get-energized-before-class” Spotify list includes Queen, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Babyshambles, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana, Oasis, James, The Kooks, Amy Winehouse and Kasabian. When I played R.E.M.’s  “It’s the end of the world as we know it” at the start of a Zoom lecture my students complained it was dramatically correct!…

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… In my view, learning is interactive and experiential. I am glad that our MBA program already embraces this approach and provides many opportunities to our students for working in small groups and on real projects that help the students put the theoretical ideas they learn directly in action. The ideal school of the future will have to embrace small group teaching as much as possible, and engage the students with the world out there in actionable ways.

In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… embracing equality and diversify pragmatically rather than symbolically – I am very proud of the work we do at Cambridge Judge Business School on that front.

I’m grateful for… my brilliant students who make my job feel meaningful and impactful. For my amazing colleagues who continuously support me. For the inspiring mentors who have shaped my worldviews. For my parents who always encouraged me to go after my dreams – I do have my dream job! 😉 And for the unconditional love of my wonderful husband and kids.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“Stella delivered our Digital Business lecture, and was fantastic at engaging the class organising external speakers to supplement and connect her lectures to real world applications.”

“Excellent use of technology to make classes engaging. Always willing to answer questions or follow up with you after class if it was not answered. Uses new resources well and provided additional material and panels to supplement learning.”

“Stella was able to quickly pivot to online instruction in response to new COVID-19 regulations. Even with the rapid change in plans, her teaching was engaging and informative. This must have been difficult to execute on such short notice and was much appreciated by students.”

“Stella has been an amazing lecturer in the digital business space. Teaching students who were not aware about complicated concepts in the digital space in normal times is a very challenging task. Remote learning posed a whole set of new challenges for a professor to keep the students engaged while explaining such complicated concepts. Prof. Stella has done an amazing job in tackling the issue of both by being creative in the class. I even remember her using emoji filters on zoom to keep the classes fun! Apart from her amazing energy and knowledge about the subject, she is extremely helpful. If you want to connect with someone from the industry, you do not have to hesitate even for a moment to reach out to her and she will help you out. Overall, I had an amazing learning by being in her class this year.”

“I am nominating Stella to recognize her continuous effort to empower my students as future leaders poised to reap the benefits and tackle the deep challenges of digital transformation, while embracing the experiential learning philosophy through collaborative exercises and class discussions.”

“Stella is a fantastic professor, role model, and mentor. She delivered a simplified approach to a fundamentally quantitative topic like AI, and she has shared her studies and insights at various webinars. Lastly, she mentors students on group projects, and she has been a massive help.”

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