In 2012 Dimitrija was awarded a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship to obtain his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Lausanne. Coming from Struga, a small city in North Macedonia, he is considered as one of the best Ph.D. students at the University of Lausanne, receiving awards for his research. In this interview, he is giving his perspective on why Switzerland’s Universities are among the best in the world and how Swiss Government Excellence scholarships help foreign students access advanced academic education and experience the Swiss lifestyle.
Dimitrija, how did your journey to doctoral studies in Switzerland begin?
I decided to join academia for more than three years before applying for a Swiss Government Excellence PhD scholarship. First, I did my research on European and US schools and than focused on a couple of universities in the US where I applied and (luckily) got accepted. Exactly one year and six months before starting my doctoral studies in the US, I heard of the Swiss Government Excellence PhD scholarship and decided to apply for it as well.
Was the University of Lausanne your first choice for your Doctoral studies? What was exceptional in their program?
Because my research profile and research interests were rather specific, I focused my attention mainly on the University of Lausanne (HEC Lausanne) and the University of Zurich as the best research-oriented universities that worked on the topics of my interest. More specifically, I practice hybrid approach in terms of academic methodology, thus, I rely on data-intense quantitative methods and formal mathematical modeling (usually scholars decide to go for one or the other) to theorize about firms’ ability to shape (alter, create, and destroy) markets and competition through their individual, interfirm and network strategies. Both Universities had excellent programs, but what tipped the scale in favor of Lausanne was the selection of the Ph.D. mentor, Prof. Jean-Philippe Bonardi, an economist working on topics that look at firms non-market strategies like firm’s lobbying, PACs and their ability to shape policy, regulation, firm’s performance, etc.
The Swiss Government Excellence PhD scholarships provide an opportunity for foreign students to receive a quality education at one of the Swiss public Universities or the two federal institutes of technology. How did this scholarship help you?
Getting this scholarship offered me many professional but also private benefits. Professionally, for instance, it allowed me to test the life of a doctoral candidate, firmed up my interest to work towards career in academia aside allowing me to expand my horizons in terms of idea generation and idea testing capabilities. Because I got the grant and due to the encouraging atmosphere at the University of Lausanne, I decided to stay here until the end of my doctoral studies instead of continuing in the US. Privately, during the doctoral studies, I have met amazing people that went from colleagues to dear friends or even family, many of whom I still stay in touch with today regardless of their location in the world.
How did you spend your time as a Swiss Government Excellence scholarship holder, any interesting activities on and off the University?
Outside of the University, I was mainly traveling the country and exploring its magnificent natural beauty with friends through hiking, skiing, or even by catching a concert of bands that I always wanted to see. As for within the University I was in the managing committee of the University’s Ph.D. association where we used our authority to ease the Ph.D. experience of our colleagues by making sure that their working rights are respected and protected; social interactions are encouraged (through informal meetups); integration of new doctoral candidates is eased; and the latest academic developments are brought to our attention. On top of this you have your contractual engagements like conferences, teaching, and administrative services that account for significant amount of your time. I have to say that attending conferences is one of the best experiences you will get because you not only have a chance to spread the word of your research and ideas, but you also get an opportunity to travel the world.
What are you working on at the moment?
It is hard to pick a favorite. But let me try and summarize a range of “cool” stuff that I am currently engaged with in a couple of sentences. These days my focus is on a study that looks at how institutional arbitrage opportunities (firms’ ability to obtain benefits by interacting with different country-level institutional settings) enhance Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) partners’ resource-based considerations and encourage competitive reactions of the M&A partners’ direct rivals on the market. Additionally, I’m working on a project that considers the integration of a firm’s market and non-market strategies by looking at the effects that firm’s non-market strategies have on firm’s strategic market investments within windows of opportunity (election periods) and under different levels of industry regulation. Finally, on more micro level I work on two studies that consider board of director’s interlocks. The first, looks at the effects of board of director’s interlocks on firm’s strategy and competitiveness. The second, is a project that considers a firms’ ability to transfer strategic non-market practices (e.g. lobbying) through board of director’s interlocks and its effects on firms’ performance and competitive power.
How did you integrate into the Swiss environment?
I have spent most of my life living abroad and across different countries, which helped me to integrate rather fast in Switzerland. I think that the university setting additionally helped this process because aside having a very international group of PhDs we also had a significant amount of Swiss representatives who introduced us to people outside of work and into the Swiss lifestyle.
What about your future plans?
Currently, I am a Senior Researcher for the Swiss National Science Foundation, I conduct research, and I teach my course titled “Competitive strategy in the digital era” on master’s level at the University of Lausanne – HEC. However, I will be leaving soon because I have been considered, and in negotiations for Professorship position at one of the top universities in the world, it is a rather exciting period in my life.
Would you recommend foreign students to do their PhD in Switzerland as you did?
I think that Switzerland is one of the most advanced and innovative countries in the world because of its high investments in science and research. In other words, I encourage all brave souls with great ideas and curiosity to seize any opportunity that will allow them to start their academic life and career in Switzerland. All Swiss efforts related to research, science, and innovation were and even now are producing remarkable results in both the academic and industry circles.