Aug 2, 2020 | E013 Mariam Kostandyan on Human Resources Careers for PhDs. How To Become a Coach?

Dr. Mariam Kostandyan obtained her PhD in Experimental/NeuroCognitive Psychology from Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. In her PhD, she worked with multimodal neurocognitive and behavioral techniques, such as behavior studies, neuroimaging, electroencephalography, pupillometry, and brain stimulation. In the process, she became a researcher with broad expertise in behavioral and (neuro-)cognitive studies with a strong emphasis on data-driven approach and data analytics. Yet, after her PhD she decided to step outside academia. 

Today, she works as a Research Consultant at a recruitment agency, Schelstraete Delacourt Associates. She is responsible for a strategic search for potential candidates on the executive level. She works with professionals across the board range of industries — from the agricultural industry to IT. Among other responsibilities, she determines the recruitment strategy based on parallels with the client or the nature of their business model, she conducts market studies to select the best candidates and conducts interviews with the candidates on the phone. In this webinar, Mariam told us about her decision to leave neurocognitive studies on behalf of the industry. How did she land a job in HR? What is the most important while hiring executives? Is this true that most companies don’t trust in the management skills of the fresh PhD graduates? 

Mariam’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariam-kostandyan-phd-6b0773151/

The episode was recorded on 2nd August, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their employer(s).

Natalia 00:10 Hello, everyone. This is yet another Sunday webinar by welcome solutions. Today, we have a distinguished guest, Mariam Kostandyan. She obtained her PhD in experimental and neurocognitive psychology from Ghent University in Belgium. And she was working with multimodal neurocognitive and behavioral techniques. After her PhD, she decided to step outside academia. And today, she works as a research consultant at a recruitment agency, whose name I cannot spell.

Thank you so much for accepting our invitation. I’m very excited that you’re here with us. You have experience hiring executives that’s one of the very hot positions that many PhDs are searching for. Firstly, I would like to ask you, this is a typical way in which we usually start this webinar. If you could please tell us a little bit about your personal story from your own perspective about your PhD and about why you decided to change your career. Tell us in your own words, how your career looked so far.

Mariam 01:49 Thanks for inviting me to this webinar. Thank you, everybody, who joined us so far to listen to that on this super sunny evening. It’s super sunny in Belgium. I also did my Master’s studies in Germany and it was also very hardcore neurocognitive psychology. The reason why I’m telling you this is that I remember, on one of the first days in my master’s program, they told us that we are preparing for academics. They are preparing PhD students who in the long term will stay in academia. It’s very fundamental science.

That’s what I was thinking. This is the thing that I wanted to do. That was the case. After two years of studying there, I applied for the PhD position at Ghent University, which is in Belgium. It’s a lovely beautiful city. And I did my PhD there for four years. PhD was indeed more into neurocognitive psychology. It’s quite a fundamental thing for people who do not know much about what it is. It’s the study of different psychological processes, mental processes, for example, attention, perception, or a little bit higher-level cognitive processes like language decision making, the study of these fundamental psychological processes on the level of the brain. What we do is we would give our participants some tasks like psychological tasks. In my case, we would give some tasks that require a lot of multitasking or require task switching or some conflicting tasks, as well.

While those people are performing those tasks, we would record their brain activity in one way or another. We would use EEG. It’s like a cap that you put on the head with the different electrodes. It records the brainwaves or we put the person in the fMRI scanner. It’s like this classy tomography scanner that you see in the hospital. We would get this beautiful picture of the brain and then analyze it. That’s basically what I did.

It’s very fundamental research, not applicable to the outside world or in a very delayed time. You do very fundamental research, as I mentioned. And that’s always a funny thing, whenever you present your work, you hear from the audience a question, what is the application of your study? I was like no, not this question again.

Because then you have to come up with some ridiculous things like, it’s good. It’s attention. You know, people who are pilots, of the planes, they should be attentive. You have to come up with these really bizarre and sometimes a bit funny applications for your studies. That’s what I did. The reason why I’m saying this is that even though it was a super fundamental research, there is still a possibility to quit it if you wanted and to find something outside the academia. That’s what exactly I did in the third year, at the end of my second year. I started bit by bit realizing that probably academia is not exactly what I would like to do in the long run.

There are a couple of reasons why I came to that conclusion. I think the first reason was more related to the fact of how my PhD evolved. The studies that I got involved in writing from the beginning were a bit too heavy in a way, it was very difficult. They were very difficult paradigms. They were very difficult methodologies. I was one person dragging all this research by myself. It kind of got a bit complicated for me. I realized that I didn’t have much support from my peers because back then, we didn’t have a lot of people in our lab.

I was questioning a lot of things. Another thing that I realized is that there is research. The fundamental research brings a lot of frustration. This frustration is coming from the fact that you don’t see your results necessarily immediately. If you do experiments and best-case scenarios, you’ll see the result, which is usually a paper that is published in two or three years.

It’s hard to deal with when you have like several projects. It becomes a little bit more frustrating. Another thing that I realized is that there would be a permanent postdoc or research-based position. That’s what I would like to do to just stay on the level of the postdoc, and just continue doing the research, not participating in any race towards the professorship, or for publishing any papers and just doing quality research. I would like to do it. This is something I realized: if my goal is not to become a professor then what am I doing here because the end goal is very near.

In academia, unless you find a teaching position, you go more towards that but that’s quite rare, at least in the European scope as far as I know. That was another thing that I realized that this is something that was for me plus some of the rules of the academic game.

There was something else that I started to doubt as well. It’s not a very stable job as well. Every two-three years, you have to move. You have to think of your contract where am I going to get funding from. This was something else that I realized that probably this is not exactly how I would like to live my life because I already moved quite some time.

I made this decision to quit academia and I’ve started checking for and applying for different jobs. It was a different range of the things I was applying for. And in the end, I ended up in the company, Schelstraete Delacourt Associates. That’s the name of the company. It’s just the family names of the founders of the company.

It’s an executive search company. What they do, is they are consultants for big corporations or medium corporations for the searches for executives and top managers. I’m one of the consultants. If you want, I can tell you now what I exactly do. But if you have a question, just go ahead and shoot it. Because I think I already talked too much answering your first question.

Natalia 10:54 Great. Thank you, Mariam, for this introduction. I have to tell you that I feel for you. I was doing fundamental research. One of the most frustrating parts of the PhD for me was that I couldn’t meet the beneficiaries of my projects. And I have the belief that there were no beneficiaries in some of these projects. I think most people who I know, who have that fundamental research, also mainline of their PhD research, are also surrounded by more applied scientists, which might be very frustrating indeed.

After a few months, you don’t feel the difference. But after a few years, it can burn you from the inside. And I had the same feelings. But we have a question from Laxmi, what was the observation of your PhD work concerning multitasking?

Mariam 12:10 I generalized a lot of what exactly I did. I’ll tell you a little bit quite shortly what exactly I did. My research was about rewards, and how we process rewards during the cognitive conflict in tasks. That’s a very popular task. It’s called the Stroop task. And the Stroop task is basically when you present people with the name of the color, so for example, red, but it’s not in the color of the word but it’s presented in the green color. For example, the word red is in green and the task of people is to name the color of the ink. It’s quite difficult because you always want to read the name of the words, so you always want to pronounce them red. But actually, it’s a green color. The correct answer is green.

That’s a variation of multitasking. It’s not exactly multitasking but it’s a commonly cognitive conflict in tasks. And what we did was we reward people for the correct answers and we didn’t reward or we take the money from them for incorrect or slow answers. That’s what we did. The general observation is that people are much better in the cognitive conflicting tasks or multitasking tasks, in which they are rewarded compared to when they are not rewarded. There is a certain threshold for the rewards. At a certain point after reaching that threshold, it doesn’t even matter anymore.

There are no differences in the answers. This is a very subjective concept. It can be a big reward for one person and no reward for another person. That’s also something you should look after.

Natalia 15:00 I think the question was also about multitasking because, in your bio, you mentioned a lot about different types of experiments. I think the question was about that.

Mariam 15:14 Yes. If you mean, my combination of different techniques, what I did, I indeed did a lot of things. It’s multitasking from the point of what kind of methods are used. When I was researching these topics, I did a lot of combined experiments, EEG combined with fMRI, EEG combined with eye-tracking. Eye-tracking is a device that tracks where your eyes are moving on when you’re performing a task on the screen. I also combined TMS with EEG. TMS is a kind of way of measuring brain activity when you do not report the brain activity, but you stimulate the brain. You just send the very subtle electrical impulses to the brain of the participants. It’s mainly related to the motor brain regions or visual brain regions. I did it in the combination with the EEG.

I think the main thing was that I had this very long-running project of four years combined EEG with fMRI. That also got me a little bit frustrated during my academic career. I’m not sure whether the question was exactly about that.

Natalia 16:55 Before I ask you the next question from the audience. I am curious. Why did you go in this particular direction? Because hiring executives are quite distant from doing neurocognitive experiments. Among all the other options on the market, why did you choose this one?

Mariam 17:20 I’ll start from the fact that actually, any other job is quite different from cognitive neuroscience. If we talk about the private sector or the public sector, it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not only fundamental research, but it’s also something that you come out from the academia. It’s much more difficult to find a job for people who studied the things that I did because it’s so multi-disciplinary. You’re a psychologist, but you’re not a psychologist, because you don’t have a license to be a therapist. What you can do is, you can coach but for that, you have to go for some short training.

You know how to do analysis but you’re actually not a data scientist, or you’re not a data analyst. You also have to go through some courses to be able to do so because you’re not in competition with people who learned data science. You know how to work with all this medical machinery like fMRI and TMS but you cannot go and work in a hospital because, even though you know how it works, you’re not an engineer, you’re not a physicist who studied all the things behind it. Why am I saying that? It’s because I had a lot of flexibility because none of the things that I did during my academia, I could have translated and I could have done it outside the academia in the private sector unless I would start my own startup.

I would try to get into the company that also has EEG or eye-tracking and the company that does research like neuromarketing or maybe more like behavioral studies. That’s a certain niche. It’s a niche study. The reason why I ended up doing this is after half a year of searching already, in the last six months of my PhD when I was searching for jobs. I tried many things. I applied for many positions as a data analyst. I applied as the coordinator of clinical studies for the behavioral researcher in a company like that I mentioned right now. This was just the job that came to my attention as a research consultant, they needed specifically a PhD level of people.

They needed a person who can coordinate a lot of projects, and who could do a lot of structured interviews. In a way, this is something I also learned back in the days during my Bachelor’s studies in psychology. That was kind of rang the bell of what I was also studying and doing as an intern during my Bachelor’s studies. When I was studying just basics in psychology, that was something that I wanted to do.

I wanted to have a bit more human interaction. I wanted to work with the team to be more involved in the team from the corporate aspect of that. After I met my future boss, I felt like there was a good connection there as well. In general, I thought that this was something else that I could do. It was a challenge. It’s something that I’ve never done before.

Back then, I also had another opportunity that they offered me the job, but because of certain conditions I didn’t take and that was already a moment I was searching for, for a long time. I thought, I’ll just take it. If I don’t like it, I can always quit. It’s different. You should think of it a bit differently. Because in academia, it’s really hard to quit because you get attached so emotionally to the projects.

In the end, academia creates this kind of allure around it that if you quit, you’re a loser, which is not the case at all. I disagree with that. But here, if I don’t like it, I can quit and do something else. But at least I will get experience in the business sector, which is needed for many jobs.

That was another reason why I decided to take this job because I was in so much contact with the business world. I knew how different industries work, and how the business, in general, works from a philosophical point of view as well. That’s a great experience. After that, when you apply for different jobs in the private sector, you don’t have to prove to the potential employer that you know what is the business world because they look at academics as naive people who are coming smart.

But naive people who are coming from another planet don’t have any idea of what it is. In this case, they were quite open about hiring PhDs who are just making this job. I got lucky in a way that they appreciated that.

Natalia 24:22 I can add something to that. I don’t know about you, but when I look back at myself three years ago, I think I was very naive. It costs me a lot of money that I lost on some very speculative investments and a lot of projects where I was working for nothing but being promised some shares or some other benefits from some con artists and I didn’t end up with any benefits from them. People are just running with my work. I mean, I don’t know about most people. But I felt like, after all these years in academia, I was not prepared for adult life in many ways. I think to some extent that it might be true that we have to kind of relearn how to live life in the open world, once we leave.

I also have to tell you that I feel for what you said about the fact that you feel like you don’t fit anywhere because I had quite similar feelings. When I finished my PhD, my programming skills were good, but not on a professional level. I was coding but only for my own projects. And it’s nowhere near the level that you need to have to work as a well-paid developer. I knew that I’m far away from that level and it would take me ages. And probably it’s not the right thing to do. It’s the same with management skills. I managed projects, but I was not trusted that I had management skills.

I can see what you mean because I also had a very niche topic. It was the causal inference. Now, it’s a bit more popular, but back then, it was very new. And everyone was invested in machine learning and prediction paradigms. And the causal inference was like a black sheep, an unnecessary, complicated thing because you don’t have enough evidence to establish any causal links. It’s much harder because you need much more information to establish causality than to make a predictive model. After all, predictive models are based on correlations.

That’s enough to make a predictive model. But it’s not enough to establish causality. Causality is much harder to get. Most of the time, you get nothing out of your analysis. You’re very lucky if you get anything. I felt like I have specialist knowledge that’s useless because no one is interested in using it. I see what you mean because I felt very similar.

Mariam 27:25 I want to comment on two things. The first thing is that we’re like these naive people. We don’t know anything about the outside world. That’s how I felt a year ago when I decided to make the switch. I realized that I know nothing. I don’t know how the private sector works and how the public sector works because it’s not in universities. The part of the public sector is dependent on the country. This is something I think is a fold of academia because academia doesn’t prepare you at all and doesn’t give you any information about what you can do afterward.

It doesn’t give you any encouragement. I noticed, in some places, not exactly in my department, but I have a wide network of PhDs and postdocs and academic people around the world. Many of them would complain to me that they would say if I start talking about quitting academia, people look at me, like, I’m a fundamental loser, and I just failed.

That creates this kind of bubble around you that you don’t want to share with anybody about your thoughts of quitting. At the same time, you’re afraid to ask around. You don’t know what is it like to quit? What can I do? At the same time, you also don’t have much of connections unless you have some friends who are working a lot in the private sector or outside academia. You have no connections, so you don’t have anybody to ask. You don’t even think about that maybe, the person in the office next to me is also thinking the same way. And most of the time, that’s the case. That’s what people don’t realize and they don’t openly talk to each other.

That usually depends on what is the culture there, whether it’s a bit unhealthy culture in the terms of academia. It’s seen as the only way how to do it, but on the other hand, I also think it’s a part of the responsibility of the researcher who decided to quit because you have to become much more flexible and much bolder. You have to understand what you have done in academia, and even in my case, we’ve done very fundamental research. It’s not like the things that we can take and exactly do the same things, like data analysis. I did the type of data analysis you did. We’re not going to be able to use it. But what can we use, we can use the analytical mindset that we have to run this data analysis and that we can transfer as a soft skill for the potential job.

That’s something many people don’t realize. That’s something I knew in advance and right now working in the sector of job hunting and job recruiting and so on. I realized that there are many jobs that they don’t care about what is your background? What did you do? They care about if you have a diploma like a Master’s diploma, it means that you come with the capability of reaching that stage, or you have a PhD depending on the job. They care about your soft skills like communication.

Let’s be honest, a lot of people in academia haven’t problems because of how you communicate in academia, sometimes it’s not exactly the way how you communicate in the private sector. That’s a completely different dynamic.

We can also have things like analytical thinking, and resilience to stress because academia is a quite stressful environment. In a way, we also have not been taught about our soft skills. Sometimes, it takes us much longer to realize that we’re capable of much more things like the hard skills of working with the EEG, analyzing a certain set of data, running, single-cell recordings, and so on. But the last thing that I would like to add is that it depends on what you did as a PhD or a postdoc. It is true that for me, what I’ve done for my specialization or my background, it is objectively harder to find a job as compared to the person who did a PhD in engineering.

That’s much more difficult because everybody needs engineers, Even we need engineers in neuroscience. It’s another topic but engineers are starting to take over a lot of jobs because they have this background. Sometimes, it’s objectively harder and easier depending on what you studied. But in any case, I don’t know anybody from my network who quit academia and who’s searching for jobs for two or three years and cannot find anything. Everybody finds something.

Most of the time, people are happy with what they found in the end. I mean, they can switch a couple of jobs before they find what they want to do. But in the end, it’s okay. I mean, it turns out that you’re gonna be in the dark hole of nonexistence forever. It’s just a matter of how flexible you are. That’s also important.

Natalia 34:27 I think it’s really important to bury the previous life and at some point, say, I’m done, and focus on the future and stop grieving about the past. That’s difficult. I sometimes wonder, why don’t they tell us more about the possible difficulties before we start the PhD program because there should be some guidelines so that you know that these are the statistics. You have a 2% chance of getting a professorship and a 98% chance of going out at some point.

And I agree with this. During PhD, you have a chance of landing a job here and there. Just think about your possible scenarios for the future. And this is your scope of choices and opportunities. Do you think that this is the best choice for you at the moment?

Mariam 35:33 I think, at the end of the master’s program, they should have seminars for mental health that you will lose during PhD. I mean, that’s not been done, because I don’t even know why they don’t do it. I think sometimes, it’s not just a good image of the PhD. One of the biggest problems of academia right now is that there are many more PhDs. The ratio of PhDs is much higher than the ratio of the available postdocs. I don’t know, how is it possible to solve this problem by either becoming more selective or either open up more postdocs. It’s a problem in 80% of the academic stages.

They just cannot find PhDs. They cannot find a postdoc afterward. Because there are fewer postdoc positions. I see a couple of questions coming in.

Natalia 36:58 I think we are interested in your current job and what it looks like. There is a question from Laxmi. Tell us more about your current work.

Mariam 37:12 I’m currently working as a research consultant. Why research because what I do is that there is a certain client, usually a big company or the midsize company. I deal with different industries. The company can be an IT company. It can also be a company that produces cars, or produces wind turbines, or produces food and beverages, something like that. It’s like a wide scope of the industries. If companies need to hire a CEO or CIO or any other top management level professional, they come to us. And they brief us a little bit about whoever is going to be the boss of that position. And usually, HR directors are also presented there.

We had a briefing about that. In that position, they explained what kind of a profile they were looking for, and what kind of responsibilities are there. We’re talking about the culture of the company, which is also very important to find a person who can match the culture as well. And then basically, my work starts, and I do the research that’s not academic data related. We can call it qualitative research.

What I do is try to figure out what are other companies that can match the culture of our client? What are the other companies that do more or less the same type of business with our client, or they can have an interest in people as well? Sometimes, I have to call these companies and talk to the people at the reception.

Try to figure out what exactly do you do and what is your business and so on. I also get in touch with the potential people who can be interested in this position. And basically, it’s not only research of the business market and the industry. It’s not only research of the potential people, but it can sometimes be a bit of hunting as well. I can act sometimes as a hunter as well, as a person who can just boldly pick up the phone and call the person and ask, would you be interested in this job opportunity? If yes, yes. If not, then it’s okay.

Natalia 40:32 I have a question for you. I watched too many Hollywood movies, but my vision of how this process usually looks like if one company in a competitive field looks for a high executive, then I would expect that they already know who is the big fish in the industry and that they by themselves try to buy out the good people. I’m just trying to figure out what’s the added value for them of going to this external recruitment company since they already are in the market, so you have to learn from scratch?

What are the Players? And what are the different companies there? What are the different options? What’s the value of delegating this task to someone else?

Mariam 41:28 The value of delegating specifically to our company is that our company is tailor-made. We call ourselves tailor-made research for the positions, not only we are searching for these people, but these candidates are going through psychological and business assessments as well. Now, you would say that the HRs in this company can also do that, but you would be surprised that many HRs are not good at assessing the people’s capabilities and assessing the people’s cognitive and cultural bias toward the company.

Moreover, there are many companies where the HR directors are more responsible for soft and hard HR skills, basically, for payroll, talking to the unions, more responsible for office management, and so on.

They are a little bit more responsible for just making sure that all the people at the company are in the right place. Most of the time, the HR people in the companies do not have the recruitment or talent acquisition responsibility. But even if they do, this takes a lot of time for them. That’s a lot of time actually to search for a person to contact, and to search for the company to understand if this is a potentially interesting company or not.

They also advise us when we start collaborating with them. They say, these are the companies that do more or less the same things. Maybe, somebody is interested there. They also give us advice. But it takes just a lot of time to do so.

You do not only have to just call the person and ask: are you interested or not? And if that person is interested, then basically it’s not the case. It’s a couple of rounds of the interviews, talking about their experiences explaining what the company does, and whether it can fit as well. It’s a very open conversation. It takes a lot of time just to find this person, to make contact with this person, to get in touch with that person to kind of touch the basis about this possibility. Many companies don’t want to get involved in this because they will just simply lose a lot of time. It’s gonna sound a little bit arrogant but why do they also address us specifically our company.

Most of the people are on the PhD level. Most of the people who did the work in my company are PhDs. I would say 50% of my company’s people are PhD graduates. The other 50% are Master’s graduates. I don’t want to sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something that the private sector values. Sometimes they think, okay, the person who got a PhD is going to be a super-intelligent person. He will know things better. He will have this capability of assessing people much better. That’s why they also come to our company.

They don’t want to spend the time doing this work because it’s a lot of work. They need to hire internally, just a separate person who does the recruitment only. Many companies have HRs who don’t spend their dime on doing the recruitment only. They just do much more other stuff related to HR. And again, they just don’t want to spend time on that as well.

Natalia 45:58 That sounds positive about PhDs that they’re appreciated for their work. A natural question that comes to my mind is, what are the characteristics of a good executive? What type of people are you looking for?

Mariam 46:21 That depends on the company culture. Sometimes, I’m having requests for more entrepreneurial people who are good at selling stuff and selling themselves as well. Sometimes, I’m having requests for people coming from more IT companies who are technical and you don’t need to do a lot of intrapreneurial things with them. We know their stuff and they will be very intelligent. But in general, if I would have to summarize usually, these are people who do not oversell themselves.

They’re not bragging about themselves. They’re structured in a way they think. They’re really humble as well. That’s something very appreciated that they’re humble about their achievements, even if they achieved a lot.

They did all the things that they indicated in their CV, for example, if the company asks our client about their experience with managing a big team. That should be the case. It’s really hard to generalize in that sense because it depends on the company. I would say, they should be humble, smart, constructive, and be good with people, and can also manage people.

Natalia 48:07 Let’s get back to the questions from the audience. Would you consider going back to academia at some point?

Mariam 48:19 Sometimes, I’m having these thoughts. At this moment, I would say I’m not going to go back. I cannot say that I won’t change my mind in the future. The only thing is that I think I have to be aware of the fact that the longer I take to take that decision to jump back, the harder it is in my field because it evolves technically so fast that I might go back a year or two years later. And I will have to learn again, how to work with the EEG or fMRI because they will now introduce not three-tesla scanners, but five-tesla scanners and something like that.

I have to be aware of that. And I also have to be aware of the many professors or postdocs that I’m going to work for. If I go back, they will have this question. Why did you quit in the first place? And why did you have this break? That’s something many people can see us as not motivated enough actually to do the research. That can be an obstacle but I cannot say that I would never consider going back but at this stage, probably I’m not. I wouldn’t like to go back. It’s also, the longer I take that decision, the harder it is for me to go back.

Natalia 50:04 But I know a lot of people who did come back. It’s doable if you are determined. That was my next question. Do you see yourself in the long run in human resources and in this type of profession? Or do you see any other stage in your development?

Mariam 50:31 Good question. I am really curious about the other things as well. One of the things that I was thinking about is to read more about user research experience and attend some online workshops and online courses. It’s actually what is a little bit more related to what I’ve been doing in from point of data management. That’s something I would still like to learn more about. Tere are some other things that are more related to coaching, like career coaching. That is also very interesting for me. At this point, I cannot say that this is the path that I’m gonna go on. A consultant job is something that I would like to do for the rest of my life. I’m comfortable right now at his job but I like certain aspects of this.

At the same time, I’m not going to do HR. HR is really not something that I would like to do for many reasons. But the consultant is something that this type of the position of being of consulting people. It is quite different from the way how I used to work during my PhD. Because here, you depend much more on the clients. You build different relationships with the clients. It’s a more client-oriented job. This seems something that I’m still trying to figure out whether I really like it or not. I’m not even considering becoming HR because it’s really not something that I would like to do.

Natalia 52:38 I still have one question about the executives and hiring executives. Do you sometimes also have applicants or hires that have this title or that’s not very common?

Mariam 52:56 I do have to say like 40% of the people that we try to hire or at least contact regarding these high positions, top management positions, have a PhD degree. People who are in the hardcore industries like chemicals, or in engineering, have a PhD. It’s not exactly the requirements of the company. Sometimes, It’s the requirement of the client that the candidate should have a PhD degree. But most of the time, people who did a PhD have a much more successful career track.

Natalia 54:03 That’s a very positive thing to hear. That’s great news. I’m surprised that it’s not much percentage, but it’s the good news.

Mariam 54:15 It depends on the industry. If you’re searching for salespeople, you really don’t need to have a degree to be a good salesperson. You need to have good communication skills and a good ability to network and that’s something you actually study for. You either have it or you don’t have it. For positions like commercial sales positions, it’s really not necessary at all. A bachelor’s level master’s level is more than enough. It depends if you go into more technical or you go a little bit higher in the rank. On top of that, if it’s technical, then the percentage of the PhD graduates is high.

Natalia 55:19 I guess it’s hard to get your first executive position. But having the technical skills in your hand is always an advantage in the long run. That’s really positive. In the States, graduate students associations usually organize events in which they invite PhD graduates who will be working in academia and industry to tell the story and hold the QnA sessions. I found them very helpful. There is a big tendency in Europe and I can see more and more such events. That’s great. It’s like, the job market is also changing very quickly.

I think the more information you get, the more open you are about opportunities. And there should be more of such events. And Laxmi is asking, this is not related to whatever you spoke about, but what are your views on the evolution of emotions in humans from point of view of our development? I’m not sure if this is actually a question for this webinar, honestly speaking.

Mariam 56:36 I won’t be able to answer it because emotions are really not the topic that I studied. Emotions are really different. It’s also in cognitive neuropsychology. It’s also divided. You have your niche and you kind of stay in your niche. I cannot say anything about emotion studies. Sorry, Laxmi.

Natalia 57:08 Okay. I would like to ask, Is there anything so far that you regret? Or you would do differently if you had the chance? Any skill that you would build earlier? Or any career decision that you would take differently?

Mariam 57:30 I don’t have regrets regarding my PhD. If I would go five years back. And I would get to have to make this decision again, to do a PhD or not. I would still do PhD. I think I would just know already in advance what is going to be? And maybe, I would process different negative fishy-related experiences differently. I wouldn’t take it so emotionally. I wouldn’t be stressed out too much in situations where I would say there is actually no need to stress out. But you can never know, you can learn it only on the run. But maybe what I would do is that during my PhD, I would maybe consider to subscribing some online courses that are actually interesting to me.

If you’re more interested in management skills, go ahead and just subscribe for people management. If you’re more interested in project management, go for it. If you’re more interested in data analysis, go for data analytics in business. If you’re more interested in Python, go for it. I would just be a little bit more practical in learning something else on the fly as well. But it’s always easier to say than to do because during PhD I was also so overloaded with work that I would have to work on weekends, or in the evenings. which actually I don’t do right now at all.

It’s easier to say rather than to do but I think if you have this time, it’s a good investment in your future because when you come out of academia, you also had these other skills as well that you gathered by just going through an online course or attending a couple of intense seminars or something like that. I would definitely do that. If someone wants to leave academia and go to a more business-related sector, then he should definitely spend some time learning more about the industry and how the business works.

Natalia 1:00:23 I have one more question for you today, which is do you have any general advice for early career researchers? It could be any type of advice. Is there something you would like to share?

Mariam 1:00:38 I have a few pieces of advice. First of all, try not to be afraid of leaving academia. Because it’s not the end of the world. You should not perceive it as a failure because it’s definitely not a failure. It’s just you deciding to do something else. Most of the time, it’s much more. It’s a very brave thing to do. Because in a way, you’re completely bending your career and what you’ve been doing before compared to the other peers.

It’s also great that some people stay in academia. We really need them. But sometimes I see that some people continue and stay in academia just because they see that they don’t have any other choice. It’s more on the inversion that they continue. Then years later, when they’ve done their first or the second postdoc, it strikes them, and then it’s a bit harder actually to quit. Don’t be afraid of failure. Get yourself informed about what you can do by talking to people who quit by being actively interested in the things, in the topics, or in the skills not only within your academic specialization.

If you’re interested in design, just attend a couple of courses on digital design. If you’re interested more in marketing, you can also attend some courses in marketing. Talk to your colleagues as well because you will be surprised with how many people next door also think like you. It’s just that you stay in your own bubble, and you don’t talk to other people. But by talking to other people, you will see that you’re not alone.

Be quite bold and try to sell yourself very smartly in a way that you have a lot of skills that are being valued outside as well. They might not be the skill of conducting EEG experiments, for example, or analyzing brain images but it can be your analytical thinking. It can be your ability to solve problems, your ability to work hard, your ability to understand difficult mental problems and mental riddles, and your ability to fight. I can make quite a long list.

Be aware of the soft skills that you have. And also be aware of other capabilities rather than the hard skills that you got during your PhD which are very valued. And get yourself informed of this type of webinars. They also help a lot and I think they should become more common as well.

Natalia 1:04:20 I can confirm, that the people who are thinking of leaving academia, often behave a bit like couples that are trying to get pregnant. No one knows but the closest friends and the closest family, and everyone else only knows when it’s already done. When the belly is big, then they know about it. The same is the case with shifting jobs. You only know about it because you see the status on LinkedIn changing into a company. Sometimes, I’m also getting surprised by my own friends changing their status without telling me anything beforehand. I see the same phenomenon. Thank you so much, Mariam. One last thing I might ask you. What should we wish you on your way? 

Mariam 1:05:22 You should wish me just more courage. I guess that’s something needed to take further steps as well. Because there are so many more things to learn and to try out. It’s not the end of my career. Maybe, that’s a bit of luck. Luck is always good in that sense.

Natalia 1:05:55 Okay. Then I wish you courage. Courage is always wanted. And thank you guys for joining us today and thanks for sharing your story.

Mariam 1:06:17 Thank you for listening as well.

Natalia 1:06:19 Okay, great. Have a nice evening, everyone, and see you on some other occasion. Take care and bye!

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