In our ‘PhD Journeys’ series, we focus on the experiences of LSE alumni after their PhD – this blog explores the career trajectory of Nora Ratzmann…
Nora is Scientific Co-ordinator and Research Analyst at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Berlin and Research Fellow at DeZIM-Institut, also in Berlin.
Nora began job hunting 12 months before her PhD submission date. She describes finishing up the PhD without funding as a ‘double burden’; with three years of funding coming to an end, Nora needed high levels of energy and commitment to both complete her PhD and secure her next steps.
During her job hunt, Nora says she spent time thinking about what she wanted and where she wanted to be, considering personal factors as well as professional ones. She then went about looking for formal job advertisements; talking to people in the field, as well as friends and colleagues to make more connections; and cold calling people about potential research affiliations. This last task came from during her PhD when she had developed the habit of noting interesting projects elsewhere and reaching out to individuals with a ‘this is me; these are my questions; we seem to have interests in common; can we chat?’ approach. This meant that Nora and her work were increasingly on the radar of other people in the field.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
Through reaching out to institutions, Nora secured a one year, part-time maternity cover position, which allowed her to complete her thesis and take time off for her Viva. But combining the submission of her PhD with working took a toll physically, and at the end of this period Nora felt a break would do her good. Looking back, she reflects that working while writing her PhD was a mixed blessing because of the significant effort required to complete both successfully.
Nora’s creative approach to her job search also secured her next position – an affiliation at the Berlin-based Centre for Migration Research. Through the official portal, she applied for and secured a second role, this time at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies as a researcher of wider topics relating to socio-ecological sustainability. As a classic application process, this took more time and Nora was employed full time whilst also contributing to the research institute and completing her own publications. Again, this effort is beyond what is generally expected and Nora questions the need for managing three roles in parallel.
Nora’s research work involves combining research with practice and developing policy recommendations. The topics she explores are different from her PhD focus, but many of the skills are the same and she is glad to have ventured away from her core topic a little. Working in a bigger team has benefits too, although adapting to office life (particularly the politics and unspoken expectations) has been a challenge at times. Nora’s affiliations with other Centres have also helped shape her professional profile; CASE at LSE and the University of Tübingen in Germany have both provided Nora with additional project work, research work and access to people and resources.
Continue to learn about yourself
The academic profile Nora has created by publishing and speaking at conferences has established her in her field. She has a book contract secured and her next goal is to write a single-authored monograph. Beyond that she imagines a role as a project leader, shaping research on migration, returning to focus more closely on her specialist field. But first she wants some time to relax, to re-assess her priorities, to discover what really matters for her now.
Nora acknowledges that security is important to her. Perhaps motivated by a fear of gaps in her CV, she has been very busy since the start of her PhD and sees structural difficulties in the system of researcher work and contracts which means applying for jobs is a constant. She’d encourage others not to be afraid of gaps, to take more time and allow for opportunities to unfold. Know your worth, keep trusting the value of your PhD qualification, maintain your contacts and see the bigger picture. Priorities change and you will never know all the roles that are out there, and whether they will suit you, but by talking to people you continue to learn about yourself and opportunities.
With thanks to all our contributors to the PhD Journeys series.
For more support with planning your next steps after your PhD, book an appointment with Catherine Reynolds.