01 Mar 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Morgane Herculano


by Shona Simkin

How does one manage Olympic aspirations while being a Harvard Business School (HBS) research associate? For Morgane Herculano, it’s how she finds balance and confidence. We asked Morgane about her role with senior fellow Karen Mills, her diving career, and how she finds time in the day to fit it all in.

A side view of Morgane Herculano, a white woman with brown hair wearing a red and black patterned one-piece bathing suit, mid-dive in the air with her arms clasped around her calves, toes pointed toward the water below.
Photo courtesy Alain Baechler Photography.

Where are you from?
I'm from Geneva, Switzerland. I’m 22 years old and came to Boston for Harvard College. I’m a first-generation college student, and my parents have no ties to the US, so that has been a special experience. I wanted to pursue both diving and high level academics, which is almost impossible in Switzerland. I was admitted as part of the class of 2022 and graduated with advanced standing in economics with a secondary in energy and environment. Advanced standing meant that I could graduate in three years, but COVID happened and I didn’t want to have my senior year online, so I took a year off, worked with a startup, and graduated with my original class.

What led to your role as a research associate (RA)?
As an undergrad I did some work at MIT with a great economist, Scott Stern, who suggested I look into RA positions at HBS because he thought it would be a good fit and that I’d learn a lot. I was a little confused about what I wanted to do with my life, and it didn’t seem like getting a job as a consultant (which many students with my major were doing) would work with my athletic career.

What is your work like day to day?
Karen does many, many things. Currently we’re writing the second edition of her book on fintech, so it’s very book intensive—we’re researching, interviewing, and writing. We’re looking at how financial technologies and small business lending are evolving in the US and around the world, and try to form opinions with the right narratives, numbers, and facts to include in the book. It’s pretty varied. We also wrote a case on Wordle and a Harvard Business Review article, and she has other commitments and travels that I help her with. In fact, we are going to London later this month. I am looking forward to it.

Morgane Herculano sits facing the camera in a wingback chair in Baker Library, wearing a white button up blouse, jeans, and a gold necklace. In the background is a full bookcase.

What do you love about your job?
The people. Working with Karen has been amazing—I admire her a lot. She’s been an incredible supporter of both my professional development at HBS and my diving career. This is something I cherish because it’s rare. I also love being able to interact with people who have done so much in the corporate world, in academics, and government—that has been very interesting. We went to the White House—I had never thought I would ever go there. It was quite crazy for me! We met people from the Council of Economic Advisers and got to see the West Wing a little bit. That was a special experience.

But more than anything it’s seeing what people have done and what led them to HBS, because I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do next and what my career goals are. When I was an undergrad, I was often told I could do whatever I wanted and I thought, “Sure, but what if I don’t know what I want?” I think we sometimes look at opportunities instead of what we truly want to do. For me it’s about finding the right people who empower me and help me find my way.

What is something that surprised you about this job?
I didn’t think that I would have that much ownership about the work that I do. Karen really values my opinion and all my input. I think people sometimes think of RAs as being a lower level of the food chain, but I really don’t feel that way, I think if anything we’re the core of the food chain. That was surprising in a very good way.

Front view of Morgane Herculano in a red cross-backed one piece bathing suit, mid-dive above the water, head down with arms outstretched. In the background is the diving board and a ladder into the pool.
Photo courtesy Alain Baechler Photography.

Tell us about your diving.
I started diving when I was 11. During the summers in Geneva, I’d see the Swiss National Team training and I thought, “This is what I want to do.” I was able to represent Switzerland in over 15 countries and compete at the Junior European Championship. That was quite a unique experience as a teenager. Most young athletes quit after high school in Switzerland, but I thought that wasn’t my path. I looked at US colleges because they had great programs where I could dive and study at the same time. Diving with Harvard was special because I learned how to be a teammate, not just an individual diver, which definitely made me more competitive. It led me to become Ivy League Champion in 2020 and compete at the European Championships representing Switzerland last summer.

Most of my diving friends retired after college and I thought that would be too bad—I have this ability to do fun things and represent my country, so why would I stop? I tried to find a way to combine diving with a professional career. Now I’m here and training for World Championships this summer.

What about the Olympics?
In the short term I’m using this as an opportunity to enjoy the moment and my abilities and see where it takes me. It’s very common for athletes to see the Olympics as the ultimate goal and to get very depressed if they don’t make it—to feel that their whole career is a failure. If the Olympics come, that's great—if they don’t, I don’t feel that it will make me less of a diver or minimize the experiences I’ve had. I’ve been trying to get away from thinking about it too much and instead thinking about why I’m doing it and if I’m enjoying it. I’m not doing it for the Olympics, I’m doing it because I love it right now.

What does training look like and how do you incorporate it into your day?
I train about 20 hours a week, with the Harvard head diving coach. I do my physical training at the Murr Center across the street, either in the morning and middle of the day or the middle and in the evening, either in the water or the weight room. I don’t think I’d be able to do it if it weren’t right here. I also live a 15-minute walk away so not having to commute has been a real luxury. It’s definitely a time commitment and it’s easy to think you don’t have time. You have to force yourself to say, “No, this is what I’ve decided to do,” and then you go and end up feeling really happy.

What do you love about diving?
It gives me the sense that I can push my limits, physically and mentally. It’s a confidence boost every time I have a successful practice. Even if I wasn’t feeling great or it was a hard day, I still got it done. I’m able to apply that to other areas of my life, including my work at HBS. I can prove to myself that because I’m able to push my physical limits I can also push my intellectual limits. It makes it seem easier—if I can do a double backflip from the three meters, then writing a case probably isn’t that difficult, and vice versa.

There are times when it gets tough, and I forget why I’m training so much. But it comes back in these little moments of achieving something I’ve been training for and I think, “Oh yeah, that’s the feeling I was looking for!” The same thing comes up in work—not every day is going to be rainbows and flowers. For me it’s about life lessons and staying balanced, making sure I can have both things. It’s a busy balance but still a balance.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like seeing my friends and talking with my family. I’m the oldest of five and my youngest sibling is nine. I’ve been enjoying sharing my experiences here, hearing their stories, and helping them grow and find their paths. I enjoy traveling, seeing new places and discovering new things to do. When I am home, I enjoy spending some time at the lake, it’s very peaceful there.

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