Personal story KiM Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis

Name: Marije Hamersma
Master’s degree: Economic Geography and Marketing Research at University of Groningen
PhD degree: Planning at University of Groningen
Current position: Researcher at KiM Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis

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

Before I started my PhD, I worked as a project researcher in the field of regional labor markets and infrastructure planning at the University of Groningen. I did not yet have a specific ambition of doing a PhD at that time, but the inspiring work environment with friendly colleagues and the available opportunities ‘convinced’ me. My PhD research focused on ‘Living near Highways’ and was part of a broader cooperation between the University of Groningen and Rijkswaterstaat, the Executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Besides exploring this research topic, I liked thinking about the implications of my research for policy and practice. Also, my interest in infrastructure- and mobility-related issues started to grow. After working as a postdoc, I decided to make a shift towards more applied research. I started working as a researcher at KiM Netherlands Institute for Transport Analysis, a research institute belonging to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

The moment I decided to apply at KiM was a natural one. My temporary postdoc contract was ending, encouraging me to think about new possibilities. Given my interest in research and its link with policy and practice, I explored possibilities both inside and outside academia. When I was selected for the job at KiM, the decision to leave academia and Groningen for a research institute in the Hague was a huge step. However, I decided to take this opportunity to see what it brings. Since I am still working at KiM and living in The Hague, we may conclude that this turned out to work!

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

What may have helped me was that there were not one but three vacancies at KiM at the same time. In addition, people I worked with in Groningen thought a position at KiM would fit me. This supported my decision. It also helped that I already knew some people working at KiM. Talking with them gave me an idea of what working at KiM would mean and made my start at KiM more comfortable.

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

I still feel a strong connection to scientific research in my current job. However, an important difference with academia is that research activities at KiM are more demand-driven and applied to feed policy-making with relevant scientific knowledge. I find it interesting to think and learn about how to connect both worlds.

Since I started at KiM, I have further developed myself in working on and leading projects with various colleagues, as well as in understanding policy processes and how to bring research into policy. KiM is a relatively small institute covering research questions from many policy departments within the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. It means that you can work on and learn about a wide array of topics. I also like the variety in roles and activities: sometimes I lead research projects, sometimes I work as a team member. I also spend a part of my time on actively bringing research into policy processes, so-called ‘kennis aan tafel’ (Knowledge at the Table). Besides, I like that there are plenty of coordinating activities to do, such as coordinating the development of the yearly working program, supervising a student, or coordinating one of the various internal meetings to discuss topics, projects, and developments in policy and academia.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

When you think about working outside academia after your PhD, it could help to already connect and talk with people in relevant institutes during your studies or your PhD, for example at conferences. This helps you to get an idea of what their work consists of. Also, it could help to talk with people you work with to reflect on your interests and suitable jobs. And if you would like to know more about working at KiM, please feel free to contact me!

Personal story Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)

Name: Rianne Giesen
Master’s degree: Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at Utrecht University
PhD degree: Ice and Climate at Utrecht University
Current position: Research Scientist at Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)

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

I enjoyed the combination of data analysis, international collaboration and teaching during my PhD project. I did not have a career path in mind, but was looking for these aspects in future jobs. Although I was open to positions outside academia, I knew little about available opportunities. As I liked doing research, staying in academia seemed the most logical choice.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

Temporary contracts are a major uncertainty for young researchers. I was lucky that when one contract ended, a new project came by that suited my expertise. While I remained curious about opportunities outside academia, I made the conservative choice and stayed at the university.

As years went by, I experienced a growing need to see more direct applications of my work. Also, the social connection with my younger colleagues lessened when I started a family. I knew it would get harder to move out of academia the longer I stayed.

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

When my second postdoctoral project ended, I was determined to find a job outside academia. Research institutes would have been an obvious choice, but I looked further. I talked to people in my network working at places that interested me and looked for job advertisements. A career coach helped me transform my CV to reflect my transferable skills.

I managed to get a position as project leader at a company participating in international research projects. It was an entirely different world to me, it took me months to get familiar with my role in the projects and the company. The job turned out to be an eye-opener, it broadened my skills set, my network and my view of the world.

The company and my colleagues were great, but I realized that I do not belong in a commercial setting. I also missed doing research myself. I applied for a vacancy for an ocean winds scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute that appealed to me. My background actually turned out to be the best match for the position!

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

My current job has all the aspects that I liked in my previous positions: data analysis, product development, user interaction, student supervision and international collaboration. There is still a lot unknown about the oceans and I am happy to contribute a little piece of information. The research I perform is mainly aimed at further improving our ocean wind products and therefore more applied than in academia. In contrast to the commercial approach at the company, our wind products are freely available to anyone and that suits me well.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

Although it was scary, opting for a position outside academia was the best career choice I made. Operating in a different setting helped me figure out what job aspects and working environment suit me. In the end, both worlds turned out not to be that distinct: a lot of the experience I gained as project leader is directly applicable in my current position. My advice would be: Do not be afraid to take a less conventional career path, it will broaden your experience and skills.

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