Are you figuring out what you want after your PhD?
To help you and your fellow researchers find your career path, we developed a new platform: AcademicsConnected. Here you can explore six research focused career journeys, get expert advice and read personal stories from other researchers.
Today we share Lonneke's personal story. After her PhD graduation, she started her own business.
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
"Once you have found your ‘thing’: don’t hesitate, go for it!"
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…
Want to read more personal stories from researchers in other sectors? Navigate your career on AcademicsConnected and be inspired!