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Meet the researcher: Valeria Pulignano
Depth interview

Meet the researcher: Valeria Pulignano

Professor Valeria Pulignano is the principal investigator of an ERC project about precarious employment.

4 minutes
21 October 2020

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“I wanted to defend the rights of children and employees as a lawyer or a magistrate. Ultimately, I did not study law, but as a labour sociologist I make analyses of labour and working conditions upon which policy can be based.”

What do your students not know about you that would surprise them?

“I am often told that I am a good cook. Not only pizza and pasta, but also fish. But perhaps my students wouldn’t expect anything else from an Italian woman.”

Do you have a motto?

Vivi e lascia vivere, live and let live. I think respect and tolerance are extremely important.”

Which book do you have on your nightstand?

“I love the work of Andrea Camilleri, who is best known for his detective novels about inspector Montalbano. They remind me of my youth in the south of Italy.

What is on your playlist?

“I enjoy listening to jazz and blues. And I also like the Italian singer Mario Biondi.”

What do you thoroughly dislike?

“Untruthfulness and a lack of transparency.”

What is the worst (holiday) job you ever had?

“I love children, but I remember that I did not find babysitting easy.”

What was the most gripping moment of your career so far?

“I have three. The first is when I was offered a scholarship to Warwick University, where I later also became a lecturer. When I moved to Belgium because of my husband, who is from Leuven. And when I was awarded my ERC grant in 2019.”

Do you have a habit you would like to change?

“I would like to have more self-control.”

What is the closest you have ever come to dying?

“When I was about six, I almost ran under a car. When I saw my mother on the other side, I let go of my father’s hand and crossed the street without looking.”

What was your most recent holiday destination?

“I went to France with my husband and son, to the region around Dijon.”

I wanted to defend the rights of children and employees as a lawyer or a magistrate. Ultimately, I did not study law, but as a labour sociologist I make analyses of labour and working conditions.

What are you most proud of?

“Of the fact that I am open and prepared to listen to what people have to tell me, in order to find the right balance in life.”

What hobby are you saving for your retirement?

“Painting perhaps. I won a prize once when I was fourteen.”

What invention would make your life much easier?

“A robot for household chores.”

What compliment has moved you most?

“One of my former supervisors always says: ‘you are like a train, you go straight for your target’.”

What makes you intensely happy?

“Seeing that my doctoral students attain their goals. And also the interaction with students when I teach; I do not like ex cathedra teaching.”

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

“Always be yourself and do what you believe in.”

Which book left a lasting impression on you?

Les misérables. My father gave me a copy for my eleventh birthday. Did Valerio say the same? That’s incredible.”

What is your worst holiday memory?

“I don’t remember. I often go to Italy to visit my family and I try to enjoy every moment.”

Is there a ritual you cannot do without?

“My office is always very tidy and everything has to be arranged just so.”

One of my former supervisors always says: ‘you are like a train, you go straight for your target’.

Who do you look up to?

“I have great admiration for Sandro Pertini, who was president of Italy in the 1980s and was active in the resistance during the Second World War.”

Who deserves to have a street named after them?

“Greta Thunberg perhaps?”

What would hell on earth look like?

“The Covid-19 pandemic comes pretty close.”

What will we find incomprehensible in fifty years?

“That we fostered the illusion that everything and everyone is not inextricably connected in this global village. We cannot afford not to talk about solidarity.”

What is your best characteristic?

“I think I am spontaneous, direct and transparent. They are characteristics that also sometimes get me into trouble.”

When were you most afraid?

“Covid-19 has taught us all how vulnerable we are. I was very afraid for my loved ones in Italy, especially my mother, who is 85.”

What is the most important lesson you have learned in life?

“Do what you love and what you believe in. My mother was widowed when I was 17 and we were not well-off. They were difficult times but I never stopped dreaming of a beautiful future. It worked out for me and perhaps it can also happen for other people.”