Reflections on a first visit to the University of São Paulo

 university of sao paulo logoLast week I was honoured to visit Brazil as a guest of the Departamento de Engenharia de Produção da Politéchnica at the University of São Paulo.

My visit was timed to coincide with a two-day research symposium that showcased the work of the University’s Laboratório de Gestão Estratégica da Tecnologia da Informação, do Conhecimento e da Inteligência Competitiva (LETICIC) on 15th and 16th March 2017. The symposium was organised by Professor Renato de Oliveira Moraes of the Departamento de Engenharia de Produção. Renato was also the main host for my visit to São Paulo.

The speakers at the symposium came from the Departamento de Engenharia de Produção, the wider University community, and industry (Ache Laboratórios Farmacêuticos, Alliar Medicina Diagnóstica, and Diebold). The themes of the presentations included: digital transformations in the pharmaceutical industry; the role of technology in the evolution of banking research; the production and consumption of YouTube content by children; competitive intelligence;  information governance; project management; knowledge management; and collaborative practice in virtual teams.

About half the presentations were in English.  I was able to follow the rest in Portuguese  thanks to my fluency in French combined with reasonable reading skills in Spanish and Italian, provided that the speakers displayed slides that included some text.

While all the papers were of direct relevance to areas of research also covered within the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, I was particularly interested in the work of three presenters. This is largely because of the clear alignment between their work and that of my immediate colleagues:

Hugo Martinelli Wakanuki’s research considers virtual teams and groups processes in the context of project management and IT services provision. He has also deployed social network analysis in this work. See, for example, his latest paper: Wakanuki, H.M. & de Oliveira Moraes, R. (2016). Does size matter? An investigation into the role of virtual team size in IT service provisioning. Industrial Management and Data Systems, 116( 9), 1967-1986. There are overlaps here with the work of many of the members of my research group.

Célia Barbosa Assis’ research interests in information governance and its adoption aligns particularly well with those of Peter Cruickshank of the Centre for Social Informatics.

Professor Luciana Corrêa’s work on the production and consumption of YouTube content by children fits well with work undertaken by members of the Centre for Social Informatics (in particular Dr Laura Muir, Alicja Pawluczuk, Dr Gemma Webster and Todd Richter) and the Centre for Interaction Design (for example Dr Tom Flint).

My own contribution to the research symposium was a presentation on the work of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. A full summary of the content of my presentation and a link to the slides is available in my blog post from 12th March 2017.

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My visit also gave me the opportunity to visit Renato’s department and the main campus of the University of São Paulo. The campus itself is vast, with main roads running through the middle of it. I was most impressed with the University’s sport centre, and especially  the open air swimming pool, as pictured in the slideshow below.

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Another aspect of the University that impressed me a lot was the catering. Each day on campus I was treated to a fantastic lunch in one of the seven University restaurants. I don’t think I have ever visited a campus where the variety and quality of dishes is so good. I was astonished to discover quails’ eggs on the lunch menu!

There were a few amusing moments for me at mealtimes – both on campus and off – when I accidentally tried a new foodstuff by mistaking it for something more familiar. For example, on Tuesday I thought that I had chosen roast parsnips at lunchtime, but in fact I had put some cassava (mandioca in Portuguese) on my plate. I also (knowingly) tried guava cheese (goiabada), experienced a lemon Brazilian cocktail called Caipirinha, and developed a liking for a soft drink called guaraná (made from a fruit of the same name.) The latter is supposedly stocked by Waitrose, but I couldn’t find any on the shelves at my local supermarket last Sunday.

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Renato took me out for dinner each night that I was in São Paulo. The best meal (apart from lunches in the University canteen, of course) was a traditional barbecue in the restaurant next to my hotel. Here on Wednesday night there was an extensive buffet where you could help yourself to a first course, then men in traditional (Portuguese) dress brought hanks of meat to the table and to carve in front of you. That evening I really regretted not having a bigger appetite because the food there was so delicious.

We also spent some time off campus to visit the Fundação Vanzolini. The Foundation is a private non-profit body that is managed by the academic staff from the Departamento de Engenharia de Produção da Politéchnica at the University of São Paulo. Its objective is to develop and disseminate scientific and technological knowledge through the provision of certified CPD courses and consulting expertise. It already has some partnerships set up with universities in the United States, Canada and the UK, and is seeking to extend its international programmes.

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The Foundation’s offices are on the Avenida Paulista. This is considered one of the most important streets in Brazil. It was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century, but there is very little evidence of the original buildings. According to Wikipedia ‘old’ neo-classic, Hindu and Middle Eastern style houses on the avenue were torn down in the 1950s ‘overnight’ to avoid popular resistance to a modernisation programme! A couple of the houses that survived the demolition are featured in the slideshow below, as is a wonderful bookshop that is situated in a former cinema, and a very colourful display in a flip flop shop.

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On my last half day in São Paulo we held our last meeting in the downtown area of the city. This allowed for an opportunity to admire the architecture and visit the Mosteiro de São Bento (the cathedral), the Nossa Senhora do Rosário (a seventeenth century church), and the Museu de Arte Sacra dos Jesuitas before we discussed all our actions from all the meetings in which we had participated over the course of the week together.

Renato and I are both keen to strengthen the relationship between our two institutions. From the Napier perspective this will contribute to the delivery of one of the University’s four core strategic objectives ‘to internationalise our work’. So, for example, we plan to identify sources of funding for staff and student visits to our respective institutions such as: The John Moyes Lessells Travel Scholarship (next deadline 28th April 2017); The Royal Society of Edinburgh International Exchange Programme (next deadline 31st May 2017); and Santander Scholarships (next deadline 29th April 2017). We hope in the longer term that we can arrange for our colleagues to contribute to the delivery of teaching (to both students and to professionals as CPD) at our respective institutions, and engage in joint research. In the meantime, there is a chance that Renato may be able to visit us in Edinburgh on his next trip to the UK in June 2017. I do hope that this will be possible, not least because I am keen to replay the kindness that he showed me on my visit.

Post script: observations of a first-time visitor to São Paulo

This trip was my first to Brazil (and my first to South America). Here I list some of observations of a first-time visitor to São Paulo.

  • Traffic: I have never before experienced traffic jams on the scale of those in São Paulo. The speed limit signs at the side of the road seem completely redundant given the torturously slow movement of traffic at all times of the day. The roads seem to be in a permanent state of ‘rush hour’.
  • Parking: I felt like a celebrity every time Renato parked the car. This is because car parks in the city are managed by firms that operate a valet parking system. All I needed was a red carpet and high heels…
  • Vegetation: While much of the city is very built up, where there is vegetation it is very green. This is due to the combination of high sunshine and rainfall. I was intrigued to see so many exotic (to me) trees in an urban setting.
  • Graffiti: Many of the buildings in São Paulo are covered in graffiti. Some of this is artistic; the rest just looks like vandalism. I wondered how the artists/vandals manage to reach some of their ‘canvases’ on the side of side of the tall buildings.
  • Missing children: I saw very few children out and about. It was explained to me that this is due to fears for their safety in the streets.
  • Few redheads: As anticipated, São Paulo is not a home for redheads. I only saw two people with my colouring during my visit (although I cannot be certain as to whether or not they also had blue eyes). I also caught a few people staring in my direction, most likely because they rarely get to see anyone as pale and ginger as me!

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