Personal story Faezeh Alibabaei

Name: Faezeh Alibabaei
Master’s degree: Chemical engineering HSE, Islamic Azad University of Najaf-Abad, Iran
Current position: Senior lab analyst, Ferr-Tech

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

I have always been interested in pursuing a scientific career. As a researcher, I find it inspiring to explore innovative technologies based on environmental science. That’s how I became familiar with Ferrate(VI), a green chemical. My educational background is in environmental science and chemical engineering in Health, Safety, and Environment. Therefore, it was a natural fit for me to pursue a career in this field.

I started my career during my master’s studies. While I was looking for a thesis topic, my supervisor asked me to join their startup company as a researcher to find an application for their product. My thesis project was a collaboration between my university, my supervisor’s start-up company and a large gas company. At this gas company, I worked on the application of the product from the startup company.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

Of course I was very grateful for the opportunity to work for that startup during my Master’s. It was also challenging, because most of the time I was faced with new subjects that I had never heard of before, and I had to find a complete new foundation to accomplish my tasks and prove my knowledge in practice. One of the biggest uncertainties was developing a measurement method to control the unique product and perform that in the manufacturing process.

I really believed in the product and was keen to see its development. It was my ambition to face several uncertain points to solve because I wanted to see big milestones in the future.

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

After completing my master’s degree, I continued working at the startup company. It was a pleasure for me to continue my research and see how my efforts could help a small company become a scale-up company. I worked in their laboratory to develop experiments and also started another academic project in a large steel company to establish another application for them. I was always in close contact with professors and students, which gave me the opportunity to learn from them and apply my knowledge to real-world problems.

The two research projects (at the gas and steel company) helped me to gain valuable insights and skills that I still use in my current job. Working in a company environment allowed me to gain practical experience and develop new skills that I could not have learned in an academic setting.

I found my job in the Netherlands through my previous employer as well. The company transferred their technology from Iran to the Netherlands, and I volunteered to help them develop their startup company in the Netherlands. I became their first qualified employee.

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

I have been researching a stable subject for the past 8 years and my job allows me to extend innovative ideas and develop new applications and procedures. My research will provide valuable insights that can inform decision-making, shape public opinion, and drive progress in society.

One of the best things about working in a startup is that it provides you with daily challenging issues that you have to solve as soon as possible. This can help you develop your problem-solving skills constantly. You are faced with new subjects and through this process, your knowledge and experiences grow and increase on a daily basis. This can be a great way to learn new things and gain valuable experience in your field. However, it’s important to keep in mind that working at a startup can also be demanding and require a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s important to be prepared for the challenges that come with working in a startup environment.

Take away: What can others learn from your story?

Others can learn from my story that it is important to focus on your abilities and have persistence in pursuing your goals. It is also helpful to visualize your goals and imagine them as pictures. My advice to current PhD students is to find a subject for your thesis that is closely related to your dreams and future career. As a researcher, it is essential to follow an adventuresome topic to grow. This will help you stay motivated and engaged throughout the research process.

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Personal story Lonneke Opsteegh

Name: Lonneke Opsteegh
Master’s degree: Human movement sciences and organizational psychology (University of Groningen)
PhD degree: Rehabilitation (UMCG/ RuG)
Current position: Entrepreneur - Owner of StatStories & ResearchStories

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

I was mainly confused. I knew I wasn’t a true researcher at heart. I didn’t feel the same passion about my PhD topic as I saw in my colleague PhD’s. For a very long time -until even years after finishing my PhD- I didn’t really know what to do, what suited me best. So, I tried different jobs. Employers were happy with my work. But in every job, I realized it wasn’t my job. It was never a perfect fit, which led to frustration and boredom: I wasn’t using my full potential.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

It was hard not having a clear goal during my PhD. Not being able to find my purpose in the years afterwards, didn’t make it any easier. Finally, I realized I needed to dig deeper into myself to find out what I wanted.

Five years after finishing my PhD I became an entrepreneur: I wanted to help businesses with better utilizing their data. My ‘specialty’ is data communication. I now see myself as a translator: I translate data into clear visuals in reports and dashboards that support businesses understand their data better, leading to quicker and better decision-taking. I also help with the implementation of more data-driven ways of working.

However, I still felt a strong connection to Academia. I started teaching PhD’s and senior researchers at various universities about data visualization. Together with experts I even started a second company recently in which we teach about science communication, from impact to illustration, from storytelling to making your data physical.

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

Taking a distance from everyday life. Letting go of all fears and beliefs I had about myself and the world. During my PhD I didn’t like to work alone, while today I love it. I was afraid of the financial uncertainty as a researcher. Being self-employed means you can never predict your income. Through personal development I got rid of these fears and beliefs.

And then… just take the jump. Go for it, give it a try. Go all the way, no old connections to previous employers to fall back to. That would mean I wouldn’t believe in myself and my idea, so then why start at all? If you don’t believe in your products or services, why would a client believe you? So, two days after I decided to start StatStories, I ended my job and went to the KvK to register.

Personal growth: Why does this job fit you?

The personal growth has been tremendous. Of course, I was afraid when I started. I was uncertain, and didn't know where to start. But I got help from various organizations, got a business coach, and rented a working space at a StartUp office space where they also offered an acceleration programme. You could plan meetings with experienced entrepreneurs, and ask them everything. From: ‘do you have an idea how I could market my product?’ to ‘Will you be my client?’. I’ve learned so much, became mentally and commercially stronger. Appeared to be a natural talent at ‘social marketing’, even though I’ve never felt like I did any marketing. It is just me, sharing what I love doing.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

If you’re not happy, leave. Find what makes you energetic, happy and you will find your focus. It can take some time, I needed 5 years to find my passion, but I wouldn’t change a thing. And I think I’ll never be able to work for an employer again. It’s ok to take time. But once you’ve found your ‘thing’: don’t hesitate, go for it! Act fast, otherwise these old fears and beliefs might kick in again…

Share your story too!

Are you working as a researcher in the Netherlands and would you like to share your personal story? We are continuously looking for new stories.

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