Meet Silvia De Conca, an Assistant Professor of IT Law & IP Law at the Business and Humanities School of the Monterrey Tech University (Campus Chihuahua). She is also a member of the Mexican Academy for IT Law, and her main areas of research interest are: Law & Technologies, and in particular Law & Robotics, with a focus on machine learning and data protection. You can follow Silvia on Twitter & Academia.edu.
The academic journey to Mexico
I arrived Mexico from London approximately one year and a half ago.
I decided to give Mexico a try after my second Masters degree at the London School of Economics. I was confused and frustrated at the completion of my studies, and uncertain about what to do next at the time. I decided to keep towing the academic path, but then I needed more time to work on my PhD project. I didn’t want to return to working in a law firm as I had done the previous 5 years, so my partner, who is Mexican, suggested that we consider Mexico, as I might have better employment opportunities there, and less pressure. At the time, I didn’t speak any Spanish so I was very skeptical about my chances of working at a Mexican institution. However, Monterrey Tech, the biggest Mexican university, with a keen international focus, welcomed me with open arms.
Changing jobs at first was not easy on several levels. I took training courses to improve my teaching skills. I learned Spanish and became familiar with the Mexican lifestyle and habits. After the first six months, I was able to fully enjoy teaching four courses, several extra projects, and I found time – and peace of mind – to start working again on the PhD.
Suffice to say that when I was working for international law firms in Rome and Milan, a part of me always knew that this was not what I truly wanted. I had a different ambition: I didn’t want to apply the law, I wanted to create the law for others to apply.
Now that I am teaching the subjects I love, learning continuously from my wonderful students and colleagues, researching and writing until late at night, I feel stimulated and accomplished, and I know I have made the right choice.
Fashion, Style & Academia
One thing I indeed brought with me from my practicing years was my professional image. I had to work long, long, hours at the law firm, and that made me embrace a sort of tom boy look, with brogues and tailored suits. I was then determined to keep my standard high, and not foster the stereotype of academics not caring their image.
The reason is simple. It is clear to me that networking plays a fundamental role in the life of an academic, and I firmly believe that a neat, professional, stylish image is an important tool for networking.
However, there was something missing for me, with regards to my professional image.
As a Law Professor, I often explained the ethical implications of new technologies, discussing them with my students. However, my affinity for ethics was not reflected in my fashion choices; so, a few months into my Mexican teaching adventure, I started looking at my closet with a different pair of eyes.
Thanks to some readings suggested by a friend of mine, who actively promotes ethical and sustainable clothing on her online platform (stylebizarre.com), I grew aware of the importance of building an ethical wardrobe. I established my priorities in terms of ethics, sustainability and quality, and started shopping for clothes that were local, made of natural fibers, and supported fair working conditions or, even better, native realities.
Finding the perfect and fashionable pair of trousers or jacket is almost impossible, but even by simply fulfilling my desire to shop ethically in one or two items, I fell more in love with my new purchases. My outfits were now more consistent with my role as an educator. The quantity of items in my closet has diminished, but the quality of my clothes has drastically improved, making my overall image even more personal, stylish and absolutely impeccable.
Fashion was very much a part of my growing up in Italy. My mother is an incredibly skilled seamstress, and we love to create clothes together. Fashion is, indeed, a way to empower me as a working woman.
Ever since my rebel teenage years I preferred minimal looks, with black and grey dominating all my clothes. Working as a lawyer did not help the cause, since the profession’s dress code itself is not necessarily pro-bright colors.
Mexico, however, has had a wonderful, disruptive effect on my minimal chic style.
When I arrived I immediately noticed three things: first, everyone was tremendously elegant. Male colleagues always wore suits and ties, and female wore impressive high heels and beautiful dresses.
Secondly, color was their friend! They wore beautiful patterns, and were daring in yellow, pink, orange and light blue; yet, they looked absolutely professional.
Mexicans are proud of their popular culture. It is common to see women or teenagers wearing beautiful blouses with the traditional flowery patterns, or traditional jewelry, all combined with skinny jeans, tuxedos and heels. This was simply amazing for me, since no one in Italy would ever wear a traditional blouse, unless they were participating to an historical parade.
I cautiously approached Mexican design shops and websites and gradually opened up to brighter colours. I am giving the high heels a pass however; I still prefer my collection of brogues.
My minimal, black-dominated outfits now often rock some colored, tradition-inspired accessories, reinterpreted by modern Mexican designers.
I am also replicating this behavior everywhere I go.
I purchase local cashmere sweaters from a family business in Southern Italy, and accessories from jewelers and artisans in Rome every time I go visiting home. When I travel, instead of collecting industrial souvenirs, I look for local artisans and design shops, and so do my friends who want to bring me a small present from their travels.
It is ethical, it is local, it is consistent with my lessons, and it makes people ask me “what is your secret to always looking so stylish?”
For Giulio Regeni
As an Italian, an expat, and an academic, I would like to thank the Stylish Academic team for their contribution in not letting the case of Giulio Regeni, brutally tortured and murdered in Egypt, slip into oblivion. Regeni was a 28 year old PhD student at Cambridge, researching on trade unions in Egypt. His research is considered by the Italian public prosecutor as a possible reason behind his abduction, torture, and murder. As an Italian living and researching abroad, Regeni’s story broke my heart deeply. First, because of the circumstances surrounding his death, the death of a young national of mine; secondly, because Regeni’s case is the ultimate and tragic example of censorship of academia and research. It is important for me, and I’m sure for the other Italians researching abroad, to see the academic world band together to ask for the truth about the murder of Giulio Regeni; standing up for him, his family, for whom his loss is immeasurable, and for the sake of academia.
Note: Friends & Tutors Remember Giulio Regeni – Times HigherEd, July 28, 2016