Personal story PhD candidate Wageningen University & Research and Utrecht University

Name: Pranav S. Kulkarni
Master’s degree: Masters in Animal Science (Wageningen University & Research)
Current position: Joint PhD candidate Farm Animal Health and Business Economics (Wageningen University & Research & Utrecht University)

Ambition: What was your ambition in terms of career perspective, during your master’s?

I was very motivated to continue in an academic career since the beginning of my Master’s. The reason for this was that I enjoyed performing quantitative analyses and statistical programming. I was especially drawn to the core ethics of academia where you are expected to publish and impart the knowledge that you acquire over the course of your work. It was very appealing to me to not apply the knowledge for short term personal gain, but let it out into the world as my small contribution to the state-of-the-art.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

It was definitely hard to find a suitable position. PhD vacancies announced by Dutch universities are very lucrative and the competition is fierce. For an international student, it is an uphill battle. I did not find anything suitable for one whole year after completion of my Master’s. But I kept searching and did not surrender to the fact that I should probably look for a decent job in some other sector.

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

While searching for a suitable PhD position on various online platforms, I did manage to secure a few interviews. I was tentatively selected for one of the positions, but this ultimately did not pan out as I had hoped. However, this experience made me realize that instead of narrowing the focus of my job search to the specialization of my Master's, I should probably look for a position where I can leverage the skills that I had developed in some other domain.

Once you realize that your skills are not uniquely suited for just one research discipline, you can find a lot of potential areas where you will be effective. This decision made me apply for the PhD position that I eventually got selected for. It is related to the field of study of my Master’s and Bachelor’s study but not exactly the same.

Personal growth: Why does this job fit you?

I really like the multidisciplinary character of my PhD project. Doing applied research and publishing this research is the prime focus of my job. Being a third year PhD candidate at this moment, I am trying to piece together a coherent picture from what I have found so far and what has been done before in the literature. This gives me an understanding of the knowledge gaps I can fill with my research work, while also collaborating with my colleagues and superiors.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

I think that it is important to diversify your vision as to what you can offer and where your skills will be relevant. I had the opportunity to change my study domain and research interesting questions, while still maintaining my dream of being an academic.

I would suggest the current students who plan on pursuing a PhD degree, to diversify their interests and broaden their horizon beyond what they are currently studying. If you find something worthwhile pursuing which is not exactly your area of study but you think you can contribute to effectively, don’t hesitate, dive right in!

Personal story PhD candidate Leiden University Medical Center

Name: Meaghan Polack
Master’s degree: Medicine (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Current position: PhD candidate, dept. Surgery (Leiden University Medical Center)

Ambition: What was your ambition in terms of career perspective, during your master's?

During my Master in Medicine, I did several internships and a research project in different hospital departments and other medical institutes. I have wanted to become a surgeon since I was young and that continued during my master's studies. My master’s research project (thesis) was very interesting and I liked doing research. That is why I am now doing a PhD.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

To obtain a PhD in your preferred specialism, including good working conditions and facilities, is definitely not easy, as there is much competition. I was lucky that I found mine, the interview went well and I am enjoying my trajectory.

Currently, I am still working on my ambition to become a surgeon. The largest uncertainty I will be facing is the high number of highly qualified and interested applicants for a position in Surgery, so I am working extra hard on maximizing my chance.

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

My internal motivation and interest in research led me to my current position. I wanted to do it in my preferred specialism and searched until I found the perfect vacancy to apply for.

Personal growth: Why does this job fit you?

I love being engaged in a specific question, that you can really dig into and learn from, especially discovering novel things and in that, being at the forefront of science. In addition, doing a PhD contains many tasks and this diversity is what fits me well; not only research, although that plays the largest role, but also teaching tasks and project management. Moreover, you are working in a team with meetings, as well as working individually in charge of your own schedule. Not a day is the same working towards your dissertation.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

Internal motivation is key; although it is hard work, if you really like diversity, discovering new things and working towards a final project like a dissertation, a PhD trajectory is definitely something you should consider doing!

Personal story PhD candidate Netherlands eScience Center & University of Amsterdam

Name: Floris-Jan Willemsen
Master’s degree: Computer Science, University of Amsterdam & Vrije Universiteit
Current position: PhD student, Netherlands eScience Center & University of Amsterdam

Ambition: What was your ambition in terms of career perspective, during your master's?

During my master’s I was not sure what my career would look like. I did my master’s straight after my bachelor’s, so I had time on my side. I am broadly interested and liked the prospect of doing research, so I inquired in this direction.

Difficulties: Which uncertainties did you face?

There is no certainty in getting a PhD position beforehand. You put in the work, make the connections and hope it works out.

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

During my master’s thesis I hoped to be able to follow up my thesis with a PhD trajectory as I found the topic I worked on during that time interesting. I discussed this with my thesis supervisor and he encouraged me to go along with this plan. He became my PhD supervisor. The eScience Center is located at Amsterdam Science Park and has ties with the University of Amsterdam and Vrije Universiteit, so I was already a bit familiar with them. I also inquired into other PhD positions but concluded that this one fits me best.

Personal growth: Why does this job fit you?

I get to combine my technical skills with research and writing, which suits me well. Although there are obviously strings attached, having received the opportunity to do a PhD is great because it allows you to do research in your area of interest with relative freedom. One thing I did not necessarily expect is that it helps if you have strong communication skills, because while most of the PhD may be very individually focused, if you can’t communicate what you work on or expect of others effectively, your work has limited impact.

The takeaway: What can others learn from your story?

It’s important that you are motivated for both the subject as well as research in general. Four years can be a long time, and you’ll often find yourself thinking about your research and related work during your free time – whether that becomes a stressful affair or gives you new insights for your research depends on your motivation a lot.