Personal story Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Name: JuanFra Alvarado Valenzuela
Master’s degree:
Sociology (Joint Degree Universities of Amsterdam, Osnabrück and Deusto)
PhD degree: Economic Sociology (Joint Degree University of Amsterdam and Università degli Studi di Milano)
Current position: Researcher in Entrepreneurship – Centre for Economic Transformation (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)

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

My ambition with research of socio-economic aspects is to investigate the experiences of social actors, knowing that their decisions are influenced by rationality, emotions and life trajectories. In my work, I combine qualitative data and relational data from their social networks. My PhD topic combined earlier work from my Masters, from my professional working experience and advice from senior researchers that I’ve met on the way.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

The hardest part is to find time to combine high standards in research with meaningful and productive connections with the actors in the field. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I asked leads from other people to strategically build more connections, and actively share ideas with people in professional conferences and local meetings.

Another difficulty was the uncertainty about the working status in the Netherlands. My PhD was linked to a working residence permit that would expire when finishing, and that is usually even before the date of PhD defense. That is why I started searching for possibilities before finishing my PhD, to avoid falling into a limbo.

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

I took a career development course and mapped the different paths in the field of economic sociology that exist after a PhD. Colleagues helped me to gather ideas and some even suggested applying for vacancies. I really like to do impactful and socially relevant research, and the path of applied sciences seemed like a suitable fit to bridge knowledge outside of the university walls.

Another important aspect is language. I took Dutch language courses while doing my PhD and that helped me to look beyond English-speaking positions. I asked colleagues to review my CV and motivation letters written in Dutch to increase my chances. Nowadays, I fluently use Dutch for teaching and research, which helps to connect with local and regional partners.

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

In my career path, I’ve been interested in bridging scientific research with activities of other stakeholders, for example policies from municipalities, advice to entrepreneurs or training for NGOs. That is why, besides collecting data, analyzing and writing, I am active in the field, working together with these stakeholders and disseminating the results we achieve together.

One of the main aspects of applied research is to gather practical questions that are relevant and up-to-date and then use research as a means to provide answers and improve the socio-economic situation that is being studied.

Research in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education go hand in hand. I advise colleagues to include the latest findings from research to their courses, and I use these examples from applied research in my own courses. I provide my students with real-life examples and their learning process benefits from stories of entrepreneurs that they can relate to.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

Ask for help in earlier stages, that gives enough time to find out more about various possibilities and get to know people who already work in those areas. Learn from others what is positive and negative about positions beyond the traditional academic path in universities.

Be courageous to explore other paths, and realize that the skills built during your PhD can be used in projects that include research as a component and go further by having a direct impact in the development of our society and our businesses.

Personal story HZ University of Applied Sciences

Name: Vana Tsimopoulou
Master's degree: Civil Engineering and Geosciences (Delft University of Technology)
PhD degree: Civil Engineering (Delft University of Technology)
Current position: Senior lecturer & Research coordinator (HZ University of Applied Sciences)

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

I started my PhD intrigued by the idea of exploring the microworld of flood protection in the Netherlands, a country with leading experts in the field. I always admired what the Dutch did to protect their country against water, so I was eager to learn the secrets of their ‘craft’ and take them with me to my next career steps.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

It was not too easy. My PhD taught me that the more you study a topic, the more you realize how little you know! There was also a language barrier as I chose a topic that required me to delve into Dutch-language literature. But I did manage to learn a lot and apply concepts related to flood protection practices in the Netherlands in completely different contexts later on.

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

After the PhD I worked in both industry and academia in the Netherlands and abroad, and I occupied very diverse roles. I believe that all knowledge, skills and experiences that I picked up along the way are important in my current work. My affinity with writing funding proposals, coordinating innovation partnerships and of course, teaching and working with students were the reasons that I was offered the job, I think. But this wouldn’t have happened if the timing was not right. In this sense, I was lucky to find a position that suited me in a moment that I looked for it. Apparently, I also happened to be the most competent candidate by sheer luck. You cannot control the dynamics of a recruitment process!

Personal growth: Why does this position fit you?

I really enjoy working with students and people that have different cultural, educational and professional backgrounds. I also love sharing knowledge and bridging gaps between professional practices in different countries and scientific disciplines in order to solve complex problems. My current job concentrates all these elements, giving me energy and motivation. I dedicate one day per week to educational activities for civil engineering students. The rest of the week I coordinate research activities in the Building with Nature lectorate. Conducting research is an important task, but this has to find a way among other equally important tasks, like project acquisition, streamlining student participation in our research and cultivating relationships with our professional network.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

If there is any advice that I can give to prospective PhD students is to keep their expectations low, and only do a PhD for their personal and not their professional growth. Professional rewards after a PhD are not a given, and I don’t believe there is a recipe for achieving this. What could increase the chances for landing a rewarding position in an applied science university or in academia in general, is to be adaptable and embrace change. It can be a change of scientific field, country of residence, even a change of lifestyle! This requires taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone.