E018 How to Self-Navigate as a PhD in Humanities? On “What Are You Going To Do With That?” Project
September 6th 2022
Danni Reches received her BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Leiden University, the Netherlands, during which she co-established a student society. As part of her BA, she spent a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on an exchange program. Danni also holds a BA certificate (1 year) in Peace & Conflict Studies and an MA degree in Diplomacy (cum laude), a specialization in International Relations, from the University of Haifa. In this framework, she received a scholarship for outstanding students.
Currently, Danni Reches is a PhD fellow and research associate at the Haifa Center for German and European Studies (HCGES) at the University of Haifa. Her PhD dissertation focuses on policy and perceptions of immigrants in Europe. For this research, Danni receives a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Her supervisors are Prof. Stefan Ihrig, head of the HCGES, and Prof. Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski from the Political Department of Leipzig University. Danni also hosts the podcast “What are you going to do with that?” of the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions at the University of Haifa. In the podcast, she talks with early career researchers about their academic journey and raises awareness for mental health in academia. In this webinar, Danni told us about her story so far, her motivation to help PhDs with their careers, the “What are you going to do with that?” project, and her outlook on the jobs for PhDs in humanities.
Danni’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danni-reches-6b6b7671/
Danni’s Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/DanniReches/
The “What are you going to do with that?” project: https://linktr.ee/what2dowiththat/
The “What are you going to do with that?” project’s Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/What2DoWithTHAT/
The episode was recorded on September 6th, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the opinions of their employer(s).
Natalia 00:09 Good evening, everyone. This is yet another webinar by Welcome Solutions. In these webinars, we talk with PhDs and PhD candidates working in interesting areas both in science and industry. We talk about careers. We talk about life hacks. And we talk about how to develop yourself in the right direction and how to navigate yourself in the very complex job market. Please join us if you would like to explore this topic and learn something. Today I’m very happy to introduce a great guest, Danni Reches who is originally dutch but no longer lives in the Netherlands.
Today, she’s connecting with us from Israel. Danni received her BA, Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies from Leiden University in the Netherlands. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts certificate in peace and conflict studies and a Master of Arts degree in diplomacy with colada with a specialization in international relations from the University of Haifa, in Israel. Currently, she’s a PhD fellow and research associate for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa. What is also very important for us here is that Danni also hosts the podcast, “What are you going to do with that?” It’s a very interesting podcast. The podcast is hosted at the Minerva center for the rule and law under extreme conditions at the University of Haifa.
In the podcast, she talks with early career researchers about their academic journey and raises awareness for mental health in academia. I’m very happy to see you, Danni, and thank you so much for accepting our invitation. As you are doing a PhD in humanities, this is one of the areas where at least in the Netherlands that is not that’s underrepresented among PhD candidates. I’m very happy to be able to talk to you today and look at your perspective on the job market. Thank you again. And please tell us a little bit about yourself and your story in your own words.
Danni 02:55 Thank you very much for that introduction. And also a big thank you for inviting me to speak at this webinar today. I think what you’re doing is wonderful to be able to speak with people from different fields and what they’re trying to do after academia, career-wise, which is also very relevant for me at the moment. I also understand that most of the people you’ve invited so far already have their PhDs and are already doctors. As you mentioned, I’m still an appeal PhD fellow. I hope I can live up to expectations. And we’ll see about that, once we get into our conversation. Because I was invited to talk here today, as the host of the podcast that you mentioned, what are you going to do with that? I’d like to briefly say a little bit more about that and the Minerva center before I start fully introducing myself.
What you should know is that I am the host of the podcast, what are you going to do with that. But the brain behind the podcast is either Rosensweig and he is the producer and the editor. It’s not something I’m doing alone. We have a small team behind the project. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself. It’s great that we have each other to go through it.
The podcast is embedded at the Minerva center for the rule of law under extreme conditions at the University of Haifa. I am talking to you from Haifa, in Israel, as you said. The Minerva center is focusing on two things, mostly law and geology. And we joined half of our center at Hamburg University in Germany. You can view any talks by our PI’s and postdoc fellows who are working on these topics of the rule of law under extreme conditions, for example, terrorism or Natural disasters.
At the Minerva centers, we also have a YouTube channel. The Minerva center also facilitates our podcast. We just finished the first season of 20 episodes. You can listen to all these episodes through Spotify, YouTube, and any other major podcast platform, whatever you’re using, maybe Google or iTunes. In each of those episodes, I chat with an early career researcher or an ECR, as we call them about their academic journey, including struggles they faced but also some of their successes.
And what they want to do with that, is the title of the podcast. I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about the podcast and what people want to do with that and careers later on in the stock. Now, I can talk a little bit maybe about my journey. You already mentioned in the introduction that I am originally from the Netherlands. But I’m now in Israel. How did that happen? And how did I get to study in both places?
I was born and raised in the Netherlands but I have dual citizenship. I’m also an Israeli citizen from birth. After high school, I decided not to go into academia and study immediately. I went for a gap year to Israel. For a whole year, I figured out what it was that I wanted to study. And by the time that year ended, I figured that I wanted to do a bit of smaller studies, not something huge, like political science or law schools that have 500 first-year students on their benches of which then quite a big percentage quits within the first year. We see that statistics in the Netherlands a lot.
I decided to go for something smaller that combines all of the things that I liked a little bit of language load of history, a little bit of cultural of these things. I decided to start my BA at Leiden University in Middle Eastern Studies. And through that, I was also able to do an exchange program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to return to Israel where I had so much fun during my gap year. After my BA, I didn’t know that I wanted to continue with an MA. But that was also a good time for me to travel which I always really wanted to do. I took a break between my BA and my MA. I traveled for about nine months in Asia, including India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and places like that. It was a great experience.
And then straight from that, I moved officially to Israel because, in Israel, I was able to go into social sciences for my master’s degree for my Master of Arts, whereas in the Netherlands, to continue an MA in political science, which is what I now wanted to do, I would have had to do an extra year to bridge my BA that was based in humanities to move on to an MA in social sciences which is a different faculty. In Israel, I was at the University of Haifa. I was able to straight go into the MA in political science in diplomacy which is a specialty in international relations that I finished. I was able to go there straight because I had taken some courses at the university in Jerusalem and the university in Haifa, in political science.
That saved me some time and had me an opportunity to move to the country where now also had my partner. That helped me very much. It was exactly this partner that I traveled with to Australia after I finished my MA. I took a lot of breaks in between my academic career. How did I get into the PhD? I wrote an MA thesis for diplomacy on the refugee crisis in the European Union.
My MA thesis supervisor told me, Hey, you’re working on the European Union. And there are not so many people who are doing that here at the University of Haifa. And I’m also affiliated with a centre that works in the European Union, as you said, the Haifa centre for German and European studies. She said Why don’t you try to apply for a position that we have for PhD students that comes with a scholarship.
I said, Alright, I can try and do that. That would be interesting. I liked what I wrote. I got passionate about the topic I wrote about for my MA thesis. I wanted to continue with that. But I applied from Australia because I was traveling at the time. While I was traveling, I got the good news that upon my return I’d be able to start my PhD in migration study which is an interdisciplinary field. It’s very interesting to talk to someone from humanities. And that is my background. I’ve done my BA in that. But my MA is in social sciences, in political science. And now in migration studies, I’m combining both of them, which to a lot of people in both of those faculties is also very confusing.
Sometimes, I have to prove myself to either one that I do understand to a certain extent, what I’m doing as a student. Now, I’m in the second year of my PhD. In total, I’m supposed to take four. I could extend it if I have to. Due to the corona situation, the university allows for extensions but four years is supposed to be the time to finish. And now in my second year, since March, I also started doing the podcast through the Minerva center. That’s been great fun but also a very good learning experience where I get to chat with people in the same field but also in different fields, also from STEM that I don’t know anything about. It’s been wonderful. I’m ready for questions if you have any.
Natalia 11:24 Fantastic. Danni, thank you so much for the introduction. I can tell you that when I hear someone saying, I decided to take a gap year, then I know that there will be an interesting story coming out of it. Because for myself, it also happened. I decided to take a gap year after my PhD contract expired just to take some new perspective and to rest a bit after my PhD before taking a postdoc. Then my story completely changed and my scope of interest changed. When I hear someone saying, I just took a gap year, I knew that they would get some new inspiration and new ideas and probably change the course of their studies or their work.
That’s funny. Great. Thank you so much for your story. My first question is a bit off-topic but it drew my attention. And I cannot help not asking this question. My question would be, I left the Netherlands for almost 10 years, I’m very curious. because the quality of life and higher education is so high here. My question is what made you take this decision to stay in Israel? And how would you compare the quality of life there and also the research opportunities there, to the opportunities you would have in the Netherlands? Are you ever planning to come back or Israel your destination, and you would like to stay there for your career?
Danni 13:18 I knew that that question was going to come up at some point. It’s a question that I get from almost everyone. And my answer is pretty much this. It’s not a final destination for me to be here in Israel now. But the Netherlands is also not a final destination. I am born and raised with the idea that I fit in both places. I speak the language in both places. I have family and friends in both places and they are very dear to me. I am capable of working in both places. I’ve studied in both places. It’s very difficult to say that one is better because of ABC because the other country makes up for it in XYZ. And whenever I am in the Netherlands, I do miss a little bit of Israel, especially the sun and the beach, but also the food.
And when I’m in Israel, I miss things from the Netherlands. We just had a little chat about how coffee from our time is pretty good. And we don’t have that here. It’s really in the small things. It was a smart move to come to Israel, education-wise. I did because I wanted to continue in political science. And here I could do that without delaying studying for an extra year and also paying tuition for an extra year. It is in a way cheaper to study at any university in Israel. I got a little bit of help from the government and I also got some scholarships here in Israel that I would have never gotten if I had stayed in the Netherlands. It would have been probably much harder and bigger competition for me to do a PhD in the Netherlands, whereas here in Israel, I’m able to do that.
It depends on what stage in life you’re in and what you’re looking for. I love this city. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any pictures of Haifa but it’s on top of a mountain with breathtaking views and it’s right at the beach. I get to go whenever I feel like it.
Natalia 15:39 It sounds fantastic. Relating to what you said before about the fact that you’re still a PhD candidate, I must say that I was myself a PhD candidate when I was starting this webinar because it was in April, and I graduated in June. Formally, I was still a PhD candidate when I first started. That doesn’t say much about how much you have to say about the job market for PhDs.
Danni 16:08 Congratulation!
Natalia 16:11 Thank you. This is like the ocean in which I don’t often swim. Because I’m a STEM researcher. I’m familiar with the job market for PhDs in STEM. In this webinar, we are mostly actually interested in what opportunities does our academic education give us later in our careers when we want to try ourselves in the real world, in the industry? I would like to ask you a little bit about that. My question would be, how do you perceive your scope of opportunities as a person who is related to political science and as a background in humanities?
Could you explain what is the scope of professions that you might potentially consider and the scope of places that you might consider as your future employers? What type of career tracks can you consider? And what do you see among your peers who are a little bit more advanced? What are the typical tracks that people around you that have similar education?
Danni 17:51 It’s a very good question. I don’t know anything about the humanities. And there’s this myth that people usually say, and it’s the first thing they asked me like, oh, you studied the Middle East? Oh, you studied diplomacy. And now you’re migrating? And then the question is, what are you going to do with that? And that’s exactly why the podcast is titled that way. Because we started with the idea that we’re going to start talking with friends in our episodes and people from our Minerva center.
We get these questions all the time. This would be a good title because it shows like, we’re going to explain to people through this podcast what we can do with these fields of study. I’d be glad to explain that a little bit. But it would be very much from my own experience and I believe everyone has their own journey and their own professional goals, so it will be very different for everyone.
And what are you going to do with that? To be honest, I’ve been very lucky that my mother has always been telling me that it’s more important to do what you like because then you’ll be good at it and you could also make money with it instead of doing something you don’t like, just because you’re chasing the money. I honestly believe in that. That’s a little bit of how I tried to shake my life. That’s why I wasn’t afraid. A lot of people sometimes tell me they are to travel or volunteer in between different degrees. Of course, you need to be a little bit privileged for that. You need to be able to do that and take time off to have some money saved for these things.
But if you’re capable of doing that, I think it will give you a lot of extra just like you mentioned that people who have a gap here or have traveled a lot, have some good stories but also have done some soul searching to figure out what it is they want to do. What did I figure out so far is that I want to do it to change in different stages right now. I’ve been trying to develop different skills that I’m interested in developing. I’m interested in going into the field of policymaking or advising policymakers on what works and what doesn’t in the field of migration and integration. What do I need to get there? That’s a good question that I’m still figuring out.
I’m trying through social media and LinkedIn and following all kinds of companies that work in this field such as think tanks or larger organizations such as the EU or the UN. They’re promoting what the trends are so that they know that I can focus my research a little bit more on these trends. It stays more relevant. I’ve also tried to always work next to my studies, not only because it was necessary but because I needed the salary.
But it was also jobs that would give me these skills that you would need for the job market outside of academia. This could be something that I’ve done in my last job, which I’ve been doing as a PhD student as a part-time job. I used to work as an academic assistant or a bit of someone who helps with organizing events at the research center. There, I managed to organize all kinds of events such as bar talks and international conferences. I’ve also facilitated visiting foreign delegations from politicians to academics.
I’ve also helped supervise some interns that we had every semester. Through doing that job, I gained a lot of extra skills that I wouldn’t have had only through my education in academia such as organizing skills, all kinds of communication skills, of course, to organize these events, but also basic stuff like being part of an administration of a larger body and understanding how that works. That hasn’t only given me those skills for the job market but it has also helped me understand the way that the university works better. It has also helped me get through the system of the university and its administration in a way that is also very valuable. It’s also very important when we talk about resumes and what skills you want to write on them.
If you’re looking for a job outside of academia, you’ve to explain the skills that you’ve learned and how they’re useful outside of academia. For example, I’ve been to quite a few conferences to present my MA thesis research. If I just write all of these conferences on my resume, it’s very full and it doesn’t help someone, an employer from outside of academia. You should write that you’re comfortable in public speaking and you have experience in that, you can explain complicated issues to people.
That’s a skill that you can use also outside of academia. It’s a little bit of tweaking and understanding of what skills you already have and looking for part-time jobs while you’re doing the studies that will help you get skills that you want to work with later. I hope that sort of answered your question in a way.
Natalia 24:01 I can tell you one thing about moving towards policymaking because it was two or three weeks ago in this webinar, we had a guest Adriana Bankstone, who made the successful switch between a postdoc in biology to policy. It was hardcore STEM sciences. She made that leap toward policymaking in the US. And it took her quite a while so I like to be realistic. I mean, if you will make that huge switch in your career, then it takes time.
And in her case, it was between two and three years. Her successful strategy was that she got hired in a few nonprofits. And I think she was also really working hard on her CV so she was taking a lot of extracurricular activities. That’s very close to what you said. I can tell that she’s very active and she actively searches for opportunities to speak well so that she is visible.
She also helped me with my book. She also wrote for my book. She wrote a little bit about her transition to the industry. She is very active and it takes time. I can tell that, at least in the Netherlands, this is the case also that if you have a PhD, especially in STEM sciences or you have any programming skills and you want to get any job in data science in AI, in any in IT in any area where programming skills are necessary, then it’s very easy. It’s also easy to get a job in biotech. Now, we have a crisis but biotech industries are also very welcoming to PhDs in sciences. Making the transition is relatively simple if you are thinking about laboratory work, but to get any of these positions that are based on soft skills, so mostly communication, logistics, and management, it’s quite hard.
I think it requires more time as a rule of thumb than just jumping from a specialistic position that requires very specialistic hard skills to the position in the industry that requires the same. I don’t know about how the situation looks in Israel, but in the Netherlands, there is a bit of a stereotype that students in humanities have a hard life in that department. Because it’s much harder to find the funded PhD if you’re in humanities or political sciences, in the Netherlands. Most PhDs are not even paid. In STEM sciences, it’s quite obvious that you will be paid and these are very good salaries. Whereas in humanities, according to the stereotype, it is quite hard also to transition to industry after finishing a PhD.
Indeed, it requires more self-navigation skills and requires patience as well. And also building your CV, a portfolio, and your contacts work as well. But I think you’re doing great. I like the way you start the podcasts with Amaretto. I think it’s a very classy way of starting. When I saw this first, I thought about doing something along those lines. But then I was like, No, this is Danni’s style. I will not do anything like this. And let me ask you this question then. And, guys, you can ask your questions in the chat, please. You’re very welcome to ask.
Danni 28:27 Before you ask the next question, I just thought of something else that I might be able to add to your last question if that’s all right. It’s like you say, for people coming from humanities, it might be harder also to figure out what you want to do with that. Because if you study medicine, then you’re studying to become a doctor. And if you study law, you become a lawyer. It’s very clear what you could do with that. But when you study history, then you’re going to be a historian. The world doesn’t need that many historians as many people start studying history every year. You have to put in more effort to find what it is you want to do with that. And then to see if the industry is also open to that. What I’ve seen from peers that I’ve studied with, in my BA in Leiden in Middle Eastern Studies, is that most of them worked with the language skills that they gained, so we had to study either Persian, Turkish or Arabic in our degree, and a few of them are now actually working for the integration and migration services of the Netherlands.
They’re working there focusing on incoming asylum seekers. These are very interesting things. And it’s a government position. It’s not even that bad. It’s very interesting because it changes every day. This has always been something on my mind that I thought if it doesn’t work out in policy and what I inspire to do, then at least I get to work with asylum seekers or with migrants and help them move forward which is something that I’m passionate about.
Natalia 30:28 What do you think are your biggest strengths? It can be something you learned in your study. It can be just your personality traits. What would you name as three things that you’re the best at?
Danni 30:47 I am the organization kind of type. Maybe that’s the half-Dutch of me that comes in handy here in Israel to be able to be punctual to work in an organized manner. I think that’s very important. It also works for most PhD students because they have to plan their work and they’re independent workers solving issues by themselves. It almost feels like a job interview. Now I have to think about it for a minute. I’m switching a little bit in the kind of research that I’m doing. I’m doing my PhD dissertation on the perception that the media creates of immigrants coming from the Middle East and North Africa into the European Union. What do Europeans from these areas come in and how that perception influences policymaking and changes in migration integration policy in these countries.
Germany and the Netherlands are my case studies because they can read the sources in these languages. For other reasons, these are the easiest to mention right now. But I’m switching now a little bit because I have more peers in the Minerva Center where I know a lot of people who have studied international law. I’m focusing more on the crisis. There was a migration crisis in 2015 or the so-called refugee crisis. And now, of course, the corona pandemic, which is a crisis of mobility as well. And mobility is essential for migrants. I’m focusing very much only more now than I used to on international law and asylum. I think that this intersection is a bit more practical. After all, you go into the field of law which you combine with migration. I have more knowledge than another lawyer because I come from the humanities and social sciences. That might be something coming back towards the end of our conversation.
Natalia 33:13 Great. It’s not easy to answer if you don’t have the answer preferred. I agree with this. But actually, this is something I was once asked at one interview many years ago for one of the PhD projects that I was applying for. That was actually something that surprised me that the interviewer who was also the PI in the lab looked in my face and asked me, you know, that was an online interview, but he looked into the camera, and he asked me straight, you know, what are your three best qualities? And what is your weakness and the biggest weakness? I thought I have to come up with something. And the good strategy for answering this type of question, especially about the bad qualities is to say something that can be good in many circumstances, so things like I’m a perfectionist because perfectionism can be good as well.
That’s a good life hack to keep in mind. I don’t remember what they said about the party. I said something that he was happy about because I was a top candidate. But still, it was shocking at first if someone asks you in the interview to brag about yourself, but it can happen. It happened to me once. Now, I’m always prepared for this question.
Danni 34:43 The imposter syndrome is real, right? I just came up with a thing if you do want to know. I have strong intercultural communication skills. I’ve moved countries which helps in that respect. But I’ve also studied the Middle East. I know a lot about different religions, different minorities living here in the Middle East, and also minorities, or even from the majority of people coming from the Middle East to Europe, and how these cultures and traditions and religions have interacted and developed over time.
I think a lot of polarization is very important to have a solid base of this knowledge of facts, scientific proof. Intercultural skills are very important. I haven’t only gotten that from academia, from my studies, but also I have done some training courses. There’s the EU program for education and they do training courses for people who work mostly with youth.
These are people who work with municipalities, for example, social workers who work with youth, mostly who are a little bit behind the majority of their peer group. And these courses that were held in Turkey, Istanbul, and also in Berlin, in Germany that I’ve joined, were funded by the EU. I got to learn how to provide and facilitate workshops for youngsters on anti-racism and more inclusion. Those are skills that I’ve gained outside of academia but connected to what I study to strengthen my own theoretical framework, but also some practical skills. And then regarding that imposter syndrome that I just mentioned, that would then maybe be a nice twist. But I would ask your advice as a bit more professional than I am on this topic?
What do you think about it? If someone would ask, what is something you’re not so good at? Right, like a bad skill, in a way you said that you can mention perfectionist being a perfectionist? Because that could go both ways. And it’s not a bad thing. But what about saying like, I suffer a little bit from the imposter syndrome. I always try to do better. And I’m always a bit nervous about not having done well enough. That way, you would maybe expose yourself to a little bit more of a vulnerable person. On the other hand, it also shows that you always try to do better. What do you think?
Natalia 37:49 It’s a very good question. I have some opinions about this. I think that imposter syndrome is another bad thing to mention in the job interview as long as you frame it well. If you say imposter syndrome, that sounds like a mental disorder. That sounds not good. That sounds like a medical problem. I would not frame it this way. I would say, I’m hard on myself. And I require a lot from myself because it means that you pay attention to what you do and you really put a lot of pressure on yourself. It kind of implies that you are hard on yourself. And you’re critical of yourself more than the environment. It sounds more like I’m really professional and dedicated.
Danni 38:46 It’s all about how you frame it.
Natalia 38:49 Yes. When I get this question about my three best qualities, I have the opposite problem. I’m like only three. I could say 20, like which ones I should choose now. I don’t think I have imposter syndrome. I have no idea. I just have to pick depending on with whom I’m talking. I have to pick another three qualities. I think this’s the best first thing you should do before you go to industries to heal from imposter syndrome to start looking at the positives in yourself because we all have at least 30 qualities that we could consider the strength of the job in the job market.
You think about them. You list them and put them on your wall. You look at them every day. Just embrace that you have all these good sides and just focus on those. I don’t think I ever had severe imposter syndrome. I hear about it a lot. But I think you have to focus on the positives. I also have weaknesses, but it’s like, I’m just choosing to do things where my weaknesses don’t come out. Because I know that I learned to program slower than some of my peers. I could easily notice that I’m not an efficient programmer and I don’t learn as fast. And I will probably never be a top programmer. In my PhD, I chose a project where the conceptual part was actually designing a new method that was more important than how many lines of code you write. In the end, the number of codes that I had to write was minimal. It was really small as compared to the impact of the whole project.
I choose projects where I could show off my skills. In this case, my conceptual thinking was always better than my programming skills. And my writing skills were also better. I was just conceptually thinking a lot before and then in the programming part, I was making the minimal effort. It was still a lot of effort but I try to put as much focus on the writing part and presentation as possible. And, I wasn’t impressing people with the quality of my programming. I was impressing people with my new concepts and also the way I can explain them to the audience. It’s up to you to know your weaknesses and try to get around them.
Danni 41:53 I do like that message of focusing on the positive stuff. I mean, everyone has weaknesses. And that’s something we have to deal with. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any skills or other positive things. We have been researching complicated issues for almost 10 years. If you complete a PhD, and you do everything straight in a row with the BA and MA and the extra courses that you have to take and the PhD, so you might not have been in the industry but you have been doing something for over 10 years. When do you recognize them?
Can I ask you about your skills in journalism because I can see them? My question will be, wouldn’t you want to also kind of go that direction and throw yourself as a journalist in the future.
Danni 42:55 I love writing. This is something I’ve always liked doing. Not only academic writing, of course, but also short stories, or just personal diaries. And I’ve always loved it. I’ll probably keep doing it. But the thing is, my mom is a journalist. And she works for a Dutch newspaper in the Netherlands for over 20 years now. I understand that the world is shrinking very fast. It’s probably because it’s adapting to all kinds of technology that’s out there now and also using our smartphones and not having a long focus span anymore. To have a paper newspaper in the morning and to open that over breakfast, for example, like our lives are faster and in that fast pace and newspaper as we knew doesn’t fit anymore.
I’ve always considered journalism a dying breed. That’s why I’ve never really considered looking into it. Because the competition is so rough. A lot of people have been fired from this world because newspapers are selling less. They also have less money and less staff. Most of these people have become freelancers. There are a lot of them out there. They all have their little specialties and they’re not getting paid very much for what they do. It’s something I’d be interested in but it’s not something I’ve ever seriously considered.
Natalia 44:45 I agree with your view and that was also one reason why I was a bit hesitant when I was thinking of writing books because I knew that if you have any technical skills, these days like at this market that we have so-called hard skills and like research skills is just valued so much more. In the Netherlands, if you go to companies as a data scientist or machine learning engineer, or any type of laboratory worker, you can three times the mean salary or two times the mean salary. You start from a very high level and you have a higher middle-class lifestyle. It’s a really good quality of life straightaway.
You don’t have to fight for it. You just get your desk. You get your salary. You get your company car. You get everything in place you want. And when, if you want to leave off from writing, it’s a lot of self-navigation. This is a type of activity that is based on personal brands to a high extent. You have to work on it for years to build your name. I’m now learning a little bit about that. I can see how much of it also happens behind the scenes. What you write is just the front end. On the back end, you have like a sale or you have to build a Twitter following. This is what people do. They kind of tinker around their careers. They spend 20 or 30% of their time doing the actual content and writing and 70% of the time is to draw attention to what you’re doing. This is also the part I don’t particularly enjoy. And this is the majority of your time at some point.
Sometimes, it’s just not what you expect at first. I can see where your concerns come from. And it’s a real problem. This is not the very best market for people who can communicate and cook and write and create content. But I think it’s also hard to predict what it looks like in 10 years because most people slowly switch to people who don’t professionally write. The ability to put together text is also shrinking because we live in an era of these short messages, you know, like texting, SMS, and Twitter. I think, in 10 years, the number of people who can write and put together a consistent text, and that is deep and understandable, and grammatically correct, will be much lower. This will be a much better-paid profession. Who knows what it will look like in 10 years?
Danni 48:02 It’s very interesting. And that’s what I said. It’s simply dying journalism. It’s just changing at a very fast pace that a lot of newspapers aren’t able to catch up with. But they are thinking of how to do that. I’m curious if it will still allow me in the future to work with that.
Natalia 48:31 Great. I have another question which is more about your career. I would like to ask you this. It was mostly education, and the different stages of your education were interesting. But when you think about that, like all the steps that you did so far, is there anything that you regret from your perspective right now or is there any decision you ever made in your professional life that you would turn back on if you could? And before you start answering, I have to tell you, almost everyone tells me that they don’t regret anything. But I don’t believe it. If someone tells me that they don’t regret absolutely anything in their life, I wonder what this is like? This is an easy answer to the question but I think everyone has few regrets. I think there’s something that anyone would do differently. I could talk for hours about all the things that I did wrong but is there anything that you would like to change?
Danni 49:52 It’s always easier to say that. That’s why I was going to say that. Generally, looking back on a lot of decisions I’ve made, and things I’ve done, I don’t regret anything. It’s not the answer you wanted to hear, as I already said, but I think there’s a big difference here between regrets and having made mistakes. I have made my fair share of mistakes. When I look back, I’m like that might not have been the smartest move at that time. But having made that move has made me who I am today and has gotten me to the place where I am now. And luckily, even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s hard to see the end of it all, I can say that I’m pretty happy at the place where I’m as a PhD candidate looking for a job.
That is what I’ve been trained to do through my education and training. I’m not sure if I can necessarily think of any mistakes that I’ve made. I would have chosen different topics to write papers about to be more consistent. For example, during my MA, I took very strange classes that were all over the place, and that somehow related to international relations but they all came from their particular field, some were more on terrorism, others were more on psychology, and others were more on the history of all kinds of politics. It doesn’t seem coherent.
And maybe my resume or my degree would have looked better if it would have been more coherent that way. But on the other hand, it’s a mistake. I feel like I’ve also learned a lot from that. I learned what I didn’t like about some of it and what I did like about it and that’s how I got to the research topic for my thesis. It is a bit of a difficult question. And obviously, I have made mistakes. But in the end, it’s gotten me where I am now and I’m happy with that.
Natalia 52:33 I think you have some skills for a diploma. I can tell. You’re probably the right person in the right spot. I will not torture you with those questions anymore. Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing right now and your plans for the future. When is the next season of the podcast starting? And what are the plans? Do you have some reflections after the first season? And could you please tell us a little bit more about how your project is developing?
Danni 53:15 I love talking about the podcast. It’s a really fun project that we’re working on. The second season that you asked about, we’re going to do that when our semester here in Israel is starting again which is not last week, like in the rest of the world in September, but it’s going to be halfway by the end, or by the end of October, because here in Israel, there are the Jewish holidays that are public holidays. They take place from about next week until the end of October. Our semester only starts after that. We’re gonna start the second season with that semester. However, that may look right, whether that’s going to be courses in class on campus or not. We’re going to keep doing our podcast recording long-distance as I’ve been doing, just like I’m doing with people from all over the world in all kinds of fields.
What I’m doing is I chat with early career researchers about their academic journey. They tell me how they’ve moved from a BA to an MA to a postdoc into their first position in academia with very much focus on people who are in academia, even though some of them have decided or have already left academia for different jobs. I’m trying to have them talk very openly in a supportive environment about their successes, articles that they’ve written, positions that they’ve landed, grants that they’ve received, or conferences that they got to go to, and also about some struggles. Some of the struggles that we have had guests talk about in our podcast have been things such as the imposter syndrome and how academia seems to be a lot about rejection.
For every grant you get, you didn’t get for every publication. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in it. There’s probably also been quite a few rejections. We talked about those things but also things such as being diagnosed with bipolar, or cancer, and someone who has also been sexually exploited. Then some things are good but that distracts you from what you want to do in academics or in a career, such as having a family while you’re doing all of that as life happens also when you’re trying to build a career or when you’re doing that in academia. I hope to do with this podcast to show everyone that everyone has a very interesting story to tell and a very interesting journey.
Those things are very personal and they’re different for everyone. In a way, there are a lot of things that everyone has been through, and that people can relate to. We want to share that with everyone and have tips and recommendations for people who are going through it at the moment. That’s what we’ve been doing and focusing on in the first season where we’ve had people from STEM and law. We’ve had people from all over the world. I’ve been talking to people in the early morning hours because they were in Australia. I’ve been talking to people in Canada or in Europe. It’s been a real roller coaster. We intend to keep doing that for the second season that we’re already planning.
We don’t have the episodes ready. But we’ve already made a little list of who we’re interested in talking with. If anyone is seeing this, and you are someone who thinks that this is an amazing story and I want to know more about it, then do find us on social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and email us. You can reach us there and we’ll be in touch with you. It’ll be very interesting. This is now open for the second season. This is when anything can still happen.
Danni 58:00 The aim is to share the stories and have people relate to them and try to make their journey less lonely. Now, we’re all working from home and most universities are still closed due to the corona pandemic. But even before that, we know that there’s a higher percentage of people facing feelings of depression among young academics, more than in the average population. I think it’s very important to create a safe space. And I’m very glad to see that we’ve reached you in the Netherlands. I didn’t know you before. I’m very glad that you reached out because you’ve heard about the podcast and we’re now reaching everyone.
Natalia 58:51 Fantastic. I promise to go through the first series of the podcasts. I’m still not done with this. But that’s definitely on my to-do list. I hope you get great speakers and more recognition. I also know that actually since I started doing webinars, and posting them, I see how much is done in this space. It’s also all of a sudden in the corona crisis that there was an outburst of all kinds of initiatives both launched by universities but also independent career experts and enthusiasts to increase awareness about mental problems in academia and also careers after you leave academia. I can see that there are a lot of different types of materials now being posted. Recently, I try to make an ontology of like, bringing together all the resources that are available only on the topic of careers in industry for PhDs.
And I couldn’t and this list is being upended almost every day now because I’m still finding new things. I already found around 15 different books on the subject, 10 or 15, different podcasts, 10 or 15 different blogs, and 10 or 15 communities. There are so many different things going on in parallel. I hope that your podcast gets the attention it deserves because there’s so much going on right now. I know sometimes how difficult this is to bring your message across to a wider audience. I hope that the audience across the seas will recognize this podcast and become your recurrent viewers. Hold for that. And let’s talk a little bit about your general advice for PhDs, in humanities, political sciences, but also STEM. Any general advice that you might give to early career researchers thinking about their careers?
Danni 1:01:36 Alright, I think we have discussed some of these things already. Because I mentioned before how I think it’s very important to realize what skills you have built that you might not be aware of during your time in academia and this is also something you said, like, make a list for yourself with what skills you do have, and pin it above your bed so that you wake up in the morning, and you know that you have all those skills and be confident about them. I think that’s very important. And you can look it up online, so I’ve done this and did some research. And I’ve written about that and what can I do with that.
Go out there and find out that there are a lot of things that you’ve been training for and discover that you have that long list. I think that’s a very important thing. The general advice, especially for people who are coming from humanities, as you say, is that you have to realize not at the start when you’re 18, you’re studying a BA, but as you go along with it and you’re trying to figure out what it is you want to do with that when you get that degree is to figure out what it is you like to do. If you’re studying law because you’re interested in helping people who were a victim of fraud or something like that, then choose courses and choose an internship and try to do extracurricular activities that would fit your path narrow it down towards what you’re interested in.
Because like I said earlier, what it is you’re interested in, is probably what you’re going to be best at. If you’re the best at something, you can also make money with it. That’s the second thing. I think those are the most important things. Also, a message that I do want to send that I tried to say in the podcast, is that doing a PhD is a very difficult and sometimes lonely experience, even though it comes with a lot of good things, and a lot of people enjoy it. You also mentioned that you didn’t experience the imposter syndrome while others do and it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you’ve started a PhD, and you’re not happy with it because it wasn’t what you thought it would be, then it’s very difficult to continue doing.
It’s not a failure to stop something you set out to do. If it doesn’t give you what you need at that point, I think what is beautiful about academia is that it’s always there. And if I may say, for example, I’ve been speaking to people on the podcast, who have done their BA and MA, and then started working in fields for 10 and 15 years, and then decided to go back with that experience to do a PhD. This is if you find something that you want to do and you’re interested in, that you’re going to be good at, you can later on always go back to it. Don’t try to squeeze yourself into something that doesn’t work for you. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. That’s it.
Natalia 1:05:40 Perfect. I couldn’t agree more with anything you said about the things. I thought about it a lot. Because my father is a chess player and he was always choosing what he liked regardless of how much it was paid. During the transformation, once Poland became capitalistic after socialism, you know, ended then being a chess player was not very profitable and he couldn’t push himself to do anything else. He wanted to do chess. He was always obsessed with it. Even when I was born, he was playing a chess game at that point when he got the call and he still won the game. He is so crazy about chess. You have to be able to focus enough to win the match. If you know that you have your first child, you know, it’s like your priority.
This was his biggest flaw and he was always choosing that versus my mother who works in a corporation and she was always choosing whatever is best for the family. She was always choosing for the good pay. She was always playing this corporate game to learn as good a position as possible. And honestly, she has much more regrets right now than my father. And my father has no regrets. I have nothing to say here because I always liked my every day at work. How could I regret anything? And my mom has a lot of regrets. You had to sacrifice a lot of your dreams. I can agree with this. In the end, you have to know your strengths. I mean, you have to have a plan. Because if you are just floating without any plan, then you will always land in someone else’s plan.
If you just want to do things you like, then first have to know what these things are and have a plan because otherwise, it will not happen. That’s also true. Great. Guys, if you have questions for Danni, this is the last chance to ask. Because if not, then we will come to the end soon. Please be proactive. This webinar is about self-navigation and productivity. That’s your chance to show your productivity. Is there anything that you still would like to add to the picture? Because I’m thinking what else I could ask you. What I like a lot about your approach is that you’re this happy-go-lucky person, and you’re self-confident and you don’t know the future, but you have really good hopes for it. I like that.
I think this is something that we also have to learn in real life outside academia. It’s not that you have like one goal to become a professor at one point or to climb a mountain. But it’s more that we don’t know the final destination. We have to just orient ourselves to the gradient of what am I strong at? And what do I like? And don’t have that one fixed picture of a precise point where we want to get. I like the fact that you don’t have that fixation on that one point. That’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Danni 1:09:43 Thank you for your kind words. I do always try to stay positive. And the only thing I wanted to add is please listen to our podcast. I think it will be wonderful and we’d also like to hear some comments and feedback if you have any. We’re very active on social media, so we can chat with you there.
Natalia 1:10:06 Fantastic. Then on that note, I would like to thank you guys for coming and for listening to this webinar live. If you have any comments, especially if you’re from humanities, I would love to hear comments about how you perceive your career opportunities. This is very interesting. I would like to know more about this. If you have any questions and comments, please put your comment under the movie because we will answer. And again, as Danny said, please check out her podcast. That’s great. As I said before, a second season is coming and it’s a project in progress.
I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thank you so much, Danni, for joining us today. Thank you for sharing your story. I will be watching closely what you do next. And I hope that all your plans be more flexible. But whatever your plans are, I hope that you will get there soon.
Danni 1:11:43 Thank you so much for having me.
Natalia 1:11:46 Good luck, guys. Thank you for your attention.
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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2020, September 6th). E018 How to Self-Navigate as a PhD in Humanities? On “What Are You Going To Do With That?” Project? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e018-how-to-self-navigate-as-a-phd-in-humanities-on-what-are-you-going-to-do-with-that-project/
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