Interview with Marc-Olivier Del Grosso

Updated: 2 days ago


Lecturers have the ability to shape leaders of the future in the best way for society, to build a positive and inspiring future generation and therefore design society in a positive way, both on a local and global scale. They have held the power to empower the youth using their past experiences and knowledge. As students we often look at our lecturer for guidance and help. Often, we see them as a figure head. However, how well do you know your lecturer? Like many of us, we live an interesting life doing interesting things. Our lecturers are no exceptions!

Among our lecturers there is one distinctive lecturer that everyone knows for his engaging and fun classroom activity, and that lecturer is, as you might have guessed, Dr. Del Grosso. A very unique and interesting individual, who possesses 2 doctorates in Political Science, International Relations and Modern History as well as in Sociology.


However, as students we may not fully know him. Check out this interview of Dr. Del Grosso to get to know him on a more personal level and learn how he thinks of us, how he keeps his classroom engaging and fun and his past experiences that lead him to us. You may find something interesting about him that you didn’t know. We guarantee there will one or two things you will learn about him in this article.

What is your secret for being always in such a good mood? 


What you don’t know is that I have a very aggravated portrait of Dorian Gray in my bedroom.… Honestly, I am quite lucky to teach crucial topics to a crowd of students who are intellectually curious and want to make a difference, which are the two most important qualities in my opinion. I am happy to help them in this endeavor, and I am also lucky to have great colleagues, so I really cannot complain!

What has been your favorite/most important research project so far, and why


Undoubtedly, my doctoral research on the perception and management of religious minorities in France and Australia, because it was the first time that I really felt what is creating knowledge. Of course, I had written articles and papers before, but drawing on the theories or the methodology of other people. Here, for the first time, I was using a theoretical system and a methodology that I had built myself, to compensate existing gaps in knowledge. When this takes shape… at your small level, you feel like Alexander Fleming discovering that penicillium has antibacterial properties! This is a feeling that I wish to everyone.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a researcher?

Absolutely not! I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. That's also why I chose the most general study that you can do in France: a classical repertoire, where you cover subjects from sociology to philosophy and mathematics and so on. However, I have always known that I wanted 3 things:

1.Travelling and living interesting experiences. André Gide said that you cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore!


2.To create knowledge

3.To transmit this knowledge to as many people as possible.


I am lucky enough to do a job that enables me to do just that. That is also why I have a lot of respect for writers, filmmakers or investigative journalists, all these people who are, in their own way, knowledge smugglers…

What are your hobbies?


I am an avid reader and a cinephile (a person who is fond of cinema). I have always done a lot of sports, in particular running, swimming, and martial arts. On the side, I am always looking for new experiences: when I travel, I like nothing more than exploring hidden gems, like a scarcely known archeological site or a secret spot for diving…

What do you believe are the top 3 skills necessary to become successful in Safety and Security field? 


It is hard to name only 3, especially since it may not be exactly the same if you are in industrial safety or in international security, but if I had to pick some that are transversal, I would say:

Assessment :

However incomparable they may be, a common point between the Chernobyl incident in 1986, the 9/11 attacks in 2001, or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 is that they could all have been prevented. A common point between the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and even the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 is that many deaths could have been avoided if red flags had been taken into consideration.

I remember that in 2006, a study by the US Army Corps of Engineers found that the levees (artificial wall that blocks water so there will be no flooding) supposed to protect New Orleans from flooding were poorly engineered and that provisions had not been made to evacuate the poorer residents.

So assessing potential hazards is the key to prevent risks in the first place. How do you do that? That is why we need scientific knowledge from many disciplines, not only industrial safety, counter-terrorism or criminology, but also sociology, political science, international relations and also psychology to understand our own biases or limitations.


Responsiveness:

That is the ability to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis situation. It is also true for those of you who will work in the corporate world. To take a couple of examples that every student in marketing knows, when seven people died from poisoning due to bottle tampering, Tylenol was reactive enough to immediately stop the production and order a national withdrawal that saved their company. Conversely, the lack of response from Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018 made the company’s stock valuation loose $130 billion in two hours after the news.


We might think that keeping a head cool in a hectic, stressful situation is not something we can learn, but it is. Hence the necessity to have a very applied science approach, to practice during simulations and projects!


Resilience:

This is the ability of a system to absorb, adapt, or recover from the effects of a shock in a timely and adequate manner. The interesting thing with resilience is that it can be a societal process, but also an organizational process and an individual process. You can apply that to Counter-terrorism. There is actually a good article that was published in March 2020 in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism on the subject, in which the author shows that since 9/11, resilience has become a central pillar in the academic terrorism literature. And it is true that countries that have faced attacks in the past are often better prepared. For example, the Spanish authorities were very fast in identifying the victims of the Barcelona attacks. Resilience can be boosted by simple actions. For instance, in France, the main associations for victims of terrorism are now integrated into the teams bringing support in the aftermath of an attack. To use an example from the Netherlands, I remember that a digital information and advice center was installed for families of victims of the MH17 incident. What tips would you give for students who still do not know what they want to do in the future?

1.Look at the job market, identify a niche and pursue a degree accordingly



2.Forget advice number 1, which is only in case your parents are reading this, and move to tip number 3

3.Identify a field of interest or, if you are lucky enough to have one, a passion (counter-terrorism? Psychology? Investigations? Etc.)

4.Work on a specialization that makes you useful in that field (a special language (Russian, Arabic, etc.) or a skill (are you good with computers? Good in martial arts? Can you film/edit videos? Do you love statistics? Etc.)

5.Network in that field, and don’t be afraid to fail!

6.When you are in the field, you will end up finding your niche.


I personally studied sociology of religions, at a time when everyone would have told you that it was impossible to find a job in that field. Most people advised me against it. Retrospectively, many people now think that I wisely chose a niche…

What is one of your favorite things about interacting or teaching students?


I have been teaching with all kinds of audiences, from delinquents to senior military officers and members of parliament. I constantly try to adapt to the audience and I make it my mission to help the people in front of me to reach a new level of capacity. I like to think of it as an alchemical process: when you adequately transmit a new form of knowledge, it empowers your audience. If this does not happen, you are merely conveying information. Now, the only thing that I really want and that really matters to me is that people chose to be here. I want to teach people that want to learn and that are interested not only by a diploma, but by getting actual knowledge and using this knowledge to make an actual difference afterwards. And honestly, that’s my purpose, to share my knowledge. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing someone go from point A to point B to which is a new level of capacity of its own by my knowledge and I know I took part of this. There is this quote from Mark Van Doren, an American poet. His quote “the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery”. That is something I always remembered. That is how I really perceive teaching. For me, teaching is a two-way street, not a top-down process.

Why did you start a YouTube Channel?


I would never even have thought of that without the coronavirus crisis. At the very beginning, I was seeing many demotivated students, which I really could understand and I tried to put my self in the shoes of the students staying at home and having no real motivation or stimulation. And that’s where I started to think that I wanted to do regular videos at least to tell students that I haven’t forgotten about them and that I think about them. Then I realized that many other people could also be interested in these videos, so I decided to make it a public channel. A secret idea is that if one day we have a big enough community on the channel, we may be able to use this as a platform to try large-scale social experiments! Because this is outside of the university, it leaves a total freedom, so I can address fascinating or practical questions for instance: How can video games help science? How do you conduct psychological warfare? How can you become a better negotiator? I’m working on this one as I speak….

How do you manage your time between being a lecturer and everything else?


I have a twin brother, so he teaches and I do the research.

Seriously, I found that when you thoroughly enjoy what you do, time is rarely an issue. When I’ll start counting my hours, I’ll need to find myself another job!

Why did you become a teacher?


I am going to let you in a secret. I personally was always passionate about learning new things, but I was often very bored at school. I remember sitting in classes with professors that would just read a book I already knew without even looking at their audience. But I also had the privilege to meet some teachers who inspired me, and I promised myself that I wanted to be like this. There is a beautiful sentence from Mark van Doren, an American poet who said “the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery” and that’s the most eloquent way to put it.

What's your favorite topic to research/talk about?


There are two notions that are the backbone of almost all my research work. They are complementary as you cannot understand one without the other. The first one is the notion of perception and the second is the construction of identities. In my doctoral work, I tried to understand the relationship between the construction of religious identities and their political perception. To put it blankly, being “a Muslim”, “a Christian”, a “Buddhist” or even “a minority” does not mean the same thing if you live in the Netherlands, in Lebanon, in France, in Iraq, in Australia, in the United States or in China. In return, this has effects on socio-political processes, like the marginalization or criminalization of specific groups.


In my work, I have developed a theoretical framework with these two notions, as that they are key to understand all human behaviors, from everyday dilemmas (How can I convince when I negotiate? What is personal charisma? What is a moral action? Etc…) to abnormal cognitions or behaviors, for instance psychopathologies or processes like radicalization or responses to crises.

It is probably why, for someone who does not know my research works, it may seem destabilizing that I have so many fields of interest! Understanding these notions requires, more than anything, an interdisciplinary approach, ranging from domains as broad as anthropology, sociology, criminology, neurosciences and political science.

Is there any book you would like to recommend?

In light of the international situation, two timeless books that spontaneously come to my mind would be:

  • 1984, by George Orwell

  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley


Critic Neil Postman insightfully compared them in Amusing Ourselves to Death. He noted that Orwell feared was that books would be banned, when Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban books, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Take your pick!


Written by Hannah Beltran & Kevin Haake

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