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Portrait: Désirée-Jessica Pély

“Be yourself!”

München, 11/18/2019

Inspired by her mother, Marta Pely, doctoral student Désirée-Jessica Pély firmly believes in the advancement of women. In this year’s LMU Photo Contest, she submitted a picture of Marta taken in 1983 – with the hashtag #FemaleConfidence …

Marta Pely (1983) and her daughter Désirée-Jessica Pély (2019) at Geschwister-Scholl-Platz (left photo: Ladislav Pely, right photo: LMU)

Munich 1983: My mother – my first and best role model – is shown here in one of LMU’s loveliest spots. The picture was taken during the Cold War, after she had fled what was then Czechoslovakia. The image not only expresses strength of character, self-confidence and independence, but also a degree of insecurity and a sense of anxiety. But life is never free of uncertainties. And as Women’s Representative in the Faculty of Economics, I want to motivate all women to have faith in their own potential and never to give up – most especially in uncertain times.” (Extract from the note that accompanied Désirée’s entry for the LMU Photo Contest 2019.)

“I have always had a close association with LMU,” says Désirée-Jessica Pély in the course of our conversation in the Café an der Uni. She obtained Bachelor and Master degrees here, and she is now doing a doctorate in the Institute for Capital Markets and Finance. As an Assistant Lecturer, she teaches courses in Finance, supervises graduate theses, assesses candidates for the Deutschlandstipendium and evaluates degrees from foreign universities. And on top of all that, she handles the Institute’s public relations. Unlike her mother, who arrived in Munich in the early 1980s and had to build a new life in the Bavarian capital, Désirée is a genuine Münchner Kindl – as she herself puts it.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes”
“However,” she adds, “there are times when I have to get away from here. I always come back, but now and again I need to break out.” After finishing school, she worked as a volunteer in a kindergarten in Buenos Aires. She spent an Erasmus semester in Zaragoza, attended Florida State University in the course of her Master’s studies, and as part of her PhD program, she carried out research at the University of Miami. Her stay in Florida introduced her to the world of international research. She began to build up a network, making contacts with many distinguished researchers – with three of whom she is now collaborating on different projects. Thanks to this network, she has already received invitations to present her research results at international conferences and leading universities.

Désirée-Jessica Pély

A very special highlight of her research career so far was her contribution to a paper whose senior author was no less a personage than the behavioral economist Richard H. Thaler, who would go on to win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics. “That paper was also my ticket to the Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Sweden, which I was able to follow for most of the ‘Nobel Week’. It was of course an unforgettable experience for me.” In Stockholm she not only attended the Awards Ceremony, but was a guest at the subsequent banquet with the Swedish Royal Family. “I imagine that very few people get the opportunity to take part in such an event. And it provided me with a further motivation to excel in research.”

Nonetheless, her feet remain firmly on the ground. She remains unassuming and grateful for the chances that have come her way. “I always felt that I have been very lucky. I could always count on the support and encouragement of my family and friends, and was fortunate to receive fellowships and stipends … that’s the way it goes sometimes. I have really had lots of luck. Certainly when I began my studies in Economics in 2009, I never imagined that everything would work out so well.” Her immediate goal now is to complete her doctoral thesis. One of the last gaps was closed during a 3-month stint in the group led by behavioral economist Nicholas Barberis at the Yale School of Management. This gave her an opportunity to present her results, to complete an article for an upcoming book that will be published by Oxford University Press, “and to discuss ideas and plan future projects with doctoral students and faculty members at Yale”.

“I’ve always been a good listener”
Her ability to rapidly establish a personal rapport with her interlocutors is something that stands her in good stead not only in matters of research and teaching, but also in the context of her voluntary work as Women’s Representative in the Faculty of Economics. “I’ve always been a good listener, but I’m equally interested in getting things done. I was the spokesperson for the departmental students’ representative committee, and that’s something I missed very much when I began my doctoral studies. So when the position of Women’s Representative was advertised, I knew immediately that it was right for me.”

As the Faculty’s Women’s Representative over the past two years, her job has been to look after the interests of female undergraduates, doctoral students, staff researchers and professors. That involved listening to their concerns and offering advice on topics such as equality of opportunity, coping with the demands of studying while caring for children, and dealing with cases of harassment. Her basic approach was to be a sympathetic listener, let her ‘clients’ do the talking, thus allowing them to bring their concerns into the open. The women who consulted her during this period confronted her with a range of diverse issues, many of them career-related, but also touching on questions of personal development. Often these problems had to do with how best to cope with, and adapt to certain aspects of the academic environment. “I had some prior experience in dealing with uncertainties in the world of finance,” Pély says, “but in order to be able to offer well-founded and helpful advice in my role as Women’s Representative, I first had to attend seminars on coaching, leadership and various types of soft skills,” she recalls.

During her time in the post, she set out to improve communications between faculty and students, and cooperated closely with the Women in Business Program for students and with the University’s Women’s Representative. This she will continue to do – although her term of office has officially expired. In terms of personal development, she places great emphasis on authenticity and self-confidence: “Never be afraid to be yourself! You have nothing to lose.” It’s a message that she reminds herself of, again and again, and this too is something she learned from her mother. “Never give up, always remember that there you’re not alone, and continue to work to reach the goals you set for yourself.”