26 Apr 2024

Know Your HBS Staff: Joel Pimentel Alves


by Shona Simkin

Joel Pimentel Alves likes to be actively involved in many pursuits—artistic, academic, and professional—as a supportive background player. He has been working with the Doctoral Program for nearly a year, and is finding that it fits that bill perfectly. We asked Joel about his role, his path to higher education administration, and why his experience as a first-generation student is important to his work.

What is your role, and what does it look like day-to-day?
As the coordinator for the Doctoral Program, I support doctoral students on their academic and personal journeys. I work on a lot of the operational aspects of the doctoral programs, which includes managing different databases, scheduling courses, and taking care of logistics for workshops and dissertation defenses.

The day-to-day depends on the time of year. There are many logistics specific to the academic semester. During the summer we plan and host various events for our students and prepare for the arrival of the incoming class. Throughout the year we work with different stakeholders across the University to make sure courses and events run smoothly for our students and faculty. By making the operational aspects of the degree as efficient and seamless as possible, it lets our students focus on their research and personal needs.

What are some favorite aspects of your job?
We have a small program—only 120 students—most of whom graduate in five years, so we get to know them much better than if the program were very large or if they were only here for a year or two. We have a fantastic team of six people, and that’s also great because we get to know each other and our different work styles very well. We all have distinct personalities and skill sets that complement each other extremely well. I also find being at HBS to be a privilege due to the seemingly endless opportunities that satisfy my love of learning. The beautiful campus is also a major perk.

What was your path to HBS?
Prior to coming to HBS I obtained my MBA from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. While I was there, I worked in healthcare consulting and at Questrom’s Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a graduate assistant. As an undergraduate at Tufts, I studied community health and Portuguese, and interned at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. After that, I worked in healthcare research with populations that are typically underrepresented in the field—such as immigrants and veterans—making sure that they are included in research studies, both so they’re represented in the data and that the findings are applicable to them. Working with these populations, and with first-gen students like myself, was important to me.

How and why did you pivot to higher education?
Going into my MBA I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted a new challenge. My experiences as an undergrad and graduate student with different programs that supported students helped me realize that I could pursue higher ed as a career. I find it very fulfilling to be able to support doctoral students in their development and the process of discovering who they are as people and academics. I can see myself continuing in this space for many years.

Joel in costume for Cabo Verde's Carnaval. Photo courtesy Joel Pimentel Alves.

Tell us more about being a first-gen student and why that’s important to you.
I am the first person in my family to get a four-year degree. My parents are both immigrants from the Cabo Verde islands. I was born in the US but most of my childhood was spent in Cabo Verde with my parents. I returned to the US and lived with my aunt, uncle, and cousins the last two years of high school. I still have strong connections to Cabo Verde and recently went back for Carnaval, which is a big cultural event for us, much like in Brazil but on a much smaller scale. My brother was the king of our local Carnaval group this year, which was a big deal.

My brother is much younger than me, and I put a lot of responsibility on myself as the older sibling to remove the barriers that I had to face. Having the first-gen experience and mindset aids me in supporting students—being aware of resources that are available or barriers that students may face. You can’t tell someone’s background or if they're first-gen just by looking at them. I want to apply that lens to everyone, and make sure they are aware of helpful resources.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’ve realized that I enjoy having many different types of experiences—in sports, music, and academia. One of the things I enjoyed the most about going to a liberal arts school was taking courses in various subjects and getting involved in different activities like being in an acapella group, a gospel choir, and a dance group. During COVID I realized that I really missed that, so I tried taking steps to diversify my free time a bit more. I currently write music with other artists in the Cape Verdean community. I’m also editing a multilingual children’s book that my aunt is writing. And this past weekend I went to support my friend and coworker Aric (Flemming, assistant director of the Doctoral Programs) who was headlining a show at a jazz club.

I was very involved in drawing and painting when I was younger, and shifted into music once I got to undergrad. It became one of the main ways to satisfy my creative side. I like being in the background in supporting roles as an actor or singer. Most recently I was in I Wanna Dance with Somebody and a couple of music videos as a background artist. I enjoy seeing the creative process behind different types of films and music videos. Watching how artists evolve their creative processes, and helping them realize their vision, is something I really enjoy. Although becoming a musician or songwriter fulltime isn’t a professional goal of mine, it’s something that complements my life.

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