Keep your options open, and invest time in your relationship with your colleagues

Eva Lantsoght

Assistant Professor (Delft University of Technology)

Name: Eva Lantsoght
PhD degree: Structural Engineering (Delft University of Technology)
Current position: Assistant Professor (Delft University of Technology)

Ambition: What was your ambition in terms of career perspective, during your PhD?

I really enjoyed my research, but I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to stay in academia. During the final stretch of my PhD, I considered options in academia, industry, and consulting. I wanted to keep my options open and not pin myself down to one single choice – I learned this lesson during my Master’s studies. I had just started my Master’s in 2008 in the USA when the economic crisis hit and the prospects for finding a PhD position melted away before my eyes. I changed plans quickly and applied for a PhD position in the Netherlands. I think my experience during the 2008 crisis has always stayed with me, and taught me to keep my options broad and pivot when necessary.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

The main obstacle I faced was to find a place where both my husband and I would be able to find jobs. I did my PhD in the Netherlands and my husband was working in the USA, where he had obtained his PhD. It was time to find a country where both of us would be able to find positions. At the same time, I wanted to continue some of my research in the Netherlands. We ended up getting both faculty positions in Ecuador and I also took on a part-time post-doc in the Netherlands. At that time, video conferencing software was not as good as it is now, and working at distance was very uncommon. It took some effort to convince the organization that I would be able to make a contribution to the research at distance.

Helping hand: What helped you in taking the career step?

I would say that the main contributing factor to getting my position as assistant professor was the ongoing research projects that I had, for which I had obtained the funding. However, getting this part-time position (at distance) would not have been possible without the strong support of my colleagues and supervisors. I think good relationships with our colleagues are more important than our publication record, and other metrics that may be used to evaluate us as researchers.

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

As an assistant professor, I combine various tasks: supervision of MSc thesis students and PhD candidates, research (being in the lab and analyzing data), managing the projects, writing grant proposals, writing papers, and service commitments. I’ve grown over the years from a post-doc who was carrying out tasks for my supervisors to someone who now guides PhD candidates in their research. Research still plays an important role in my job, and I still enjoy playing around with data and theory very much. It’s easy to let meetings and responsibilities take over my days, so I need to actively block out time on my calendar for research, writing, reading, and thinking.

Take away: What can others learn from your story?

I have two pieces of advice that others can take away from my story: be flexible and keep your options open (also geographically), and invest time in your relationship with your colleagues and building a network.