Introductory Interview - Diogo Cotta

Diogo Cotta, Assistant Professor at Maastricht University is interviewed by Shreyas Sridhar, Project Manager at Brightlands Institute of Supply Chain Innovation. Diogo shares details of his current research and his role as an expert advisor at BISCI.


Shreyas: Hello Diogo, thank you for joining me today. How about we start with a brief introduction of your roles and responsibilities in UM.

Diogo: “I am an Assistant Professor in SBE, more specifically the Marketing and Supply Chain Management department. I am in the tenure track which is a defined career path in academia. Within MSCM, I am part of the supply chain management group and my primary role is teaching the master-level courses on supply chain strategy. I am also a researcher though and have developed my research stream to fall within the strategic direction of the department, my broad area of interest and expertise being supply chain resilience and supply chain risk management.”

Shreyas: Of course you also hold a role at BISCI as well, how did that develop and what do you do now?

Diogo: “BISCI was an idea that stemmed from the senior professors at MSCM. I was involved already at an early stage, assisting and helping figure out what this institute could be and should be. I was involved in discussions around what capabilities should BISCI possess, what should the organisational model be and how should this model be developed. So, I had been involved - from the beginning and now I am currently involved with BISCI as an expert advisor on a project researching a modal shift from road to rail for VDL Nedcar. It is an exciting and challenging project because on the one hand the end goal is very laudable in terms of pollution reduction, but also challenging because it implies a total overhaul of current inbound logistic processes. This project has many different angles, mainly related to determining existing rail capabilities and associated reliability risks, but also to understanding what impacts changes in transportation modes may have on other key processes such as flow management or quality inspections.”

Shreyas: You mentioned your research earlier on supply chain resilience and supply chain risk management. Could you share a little more on your current work?

Diogo: “My own research field is on the generic area of risk and resilience in supply chains. Understanding potential problems that might affect an organisation and creating capabilities within the organisation to react and respond to such problems is the general idea of risk and resilience to risk. Once a certain risk materialises it becomes a disruption, so in specific my research tries to understand how organisations and supply chains can use their people or employees across multiple hierarchical levels in order to be better at handling disruptions and become more resilient in dealing with these disruptions. Which basically also means, trying to understand what are the characteristics of the people within the organisation that might benefit organisational resilience and what characteristics assist the people in coping with disruptions. To summarise, my research is about how people as a resource can help organisations better handle unexpected problems and disruptions.”

Shreyas: Very intriguing, so quite a human view of risk and resilience. What aspect of your research do you like the most and may I also ask what you think is challenging?

Diogo: “The best thing for me is really the opportunity to pursue my curiosity and have a social impact at the same time. The questions that pop up during the research process are interesting and typically you can find that these are of great importance because they have social and business relevance. The opportunity to purse these questions, to collect the necessary data, to analyse this data, talking to practitioners and the entire process is extremely satisfying. On the other hand, there are of course the challenges, as you mentioned. It does not matter how much you plan and try to map out a research question, you will always find yourself at a blank space which slows down the process. For example, and I believe this is the most common one, the difficulty in accessing relevant data or the unavailability of the right companies to speak with you, the research most of the times require companies to open their doors for us to collect data. This on-boarding part in some cases is hard to do and time consuming and honestly something that is not of great interest to me. Nevertheless, as challenging as it is, the end result is normally gratifying.”

Shreyas: Understandable in many respects Diogo. Now, what would a normal work day look like for you?

Diogo: “That depends on if I have teaching duties, in most parts of the year I do not have it, and in case there is teaching then I am involved with class work. The responsibilities of a university professor are varied, there are multiple tasks that need to be pursued. An ideal normal day is one in which I am working on my research, analysing data I have, trying to understand its dynamics or characteristics, working on reports and progressing with research. If I am working on a BISCI project then a meeting with the client, working on a requirement for the client which could be any supply chain problem. So, in conclusion I am not sure if I have a ‘normal’ day, it depends on which role I am fulfilling and I do like it this way!”

Shreyas: Well it’s good that you like the way that is is! What parts of your role as a teacher do you like the most and as with research I am sure there are challenges here as well?

Diogo: “As a teacher, what I love very much doing is designing learning instruments for students. This could be designing a session of a course or defining an assignment. Working on these different learning instruments is exciting mainly because the quality of these instruments can have a really big say in how students engage with the topic and a big influence on how students understand a certain supply chain problem. The challenging part with teaching is when some students are less engaged or not motivated which sometimes can make the teaching process less interesting.”

Shreyas: Speaking of motivation, what is your idea of motivation? What would your approach be in motivating a student?

Diogo: “In my opinion, motivation specifically has two main elements. One is a trivial one but important one is to frequently remind them that they are pursuing this level of education and type of education out of their own desire. There is no obligation for them to do that and in that sense it is silly to not devote the required energy to your educational tasks. Second one and a more specific type of motivation is always to really articulate clearly and explain clearly what is the relevance of the topic that is being discussed. What is the business relevance? Why should they care? And how does it link to the type of work they want to do once their career starts? That is typically how I more directly motivate them, in terms of justifying why they are reading what they are reading, why they are working on what they are working, why they are engaged in the courses that they are.”

Shreyas: I agree. Now, I know that you are from Portugal and as someone from outside the Netherlands myself, I am curious to know what differences do you see between Portugal and the Netherlands in terms of regular daily living?

Diogo: “Sure. I have lived in other countries as well before I was here in the Netherlands. So I shall highlight two major differences that I see between Portugal and a few Northern European countries, such as the Netherlands. Obviously overall the differences are big and multi-faceted but I can highlight two very trivial ones. The first one is the weather. It is very different in the sense that in southern Europe in most places you have good weather throughout the year, not just in the summer but the winter is also mild. Does not necessarily mean that the weather here in the Netherlands is not limiting, it just means that, here if it is raining it does not mean that you have to stay indoors, whereas in southern Europe it kind of does. The second one is the different importance that southern Europeans and Dutch give to food, here food seems to be nothing more than a sort of transaction that you do to get some nutrients and so you purchase and consume these nutrients! In Portugal food is an entirely cultural element in terms of variety and the immense amount of time individuals and families devote to food preparation and consumption. There are a lot of social relations and even business relationships that happen around the table. Since food and weather are things that we consume every day I would highlight these two major differences.”

Shreyas: Interesting and does make sense to me personally as well. In the time that you have been here in Maastricht, is there a place that you visit more often? Maybe a café or a restaurant?

Diogo: “I have been living in Maastricht for 4 years. I have small children and my free time is limited. My ability to sample the fantastic range of restaurants the city has is therefore quite limited. I ‘m hesitant to highlight one because my knowledge might not be as vast as a 4-year period would suggest! However, my favourite place is the Tapijn Kazerne. It is an old military barracks and is transforming into something else. It has an “under-construction” look and a nice coffee place. There are a couple of swings from a refurbished gas station where my children can play as well. Now there is a new UM building as well, if not for COVID, it usually has some kind of physical workshop with people doing carpentry and other crafts. It is probably my favourite place in the city and it is a good place to be with the kids, they can cycle, be on the swing and you can enjoy a nice cup of coffee.”

Shreyas Sridhar

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