My ambition was to find a job where I could apply my knowledge and passion for migration issues to help others. I always believed that education can be a great tool in bringing people from diverse backgrounds together and reducing discrimination. It was clear for me that I wanted to do applied research and be close to the field. I felt that researchers should translate their findings into practical applications that can be easily understood and applied by a broad audience and practitioners in the field. I hoped that via my work I could help bring research and practice closer to each other.
When I graduated from my Master’s and started searching for jobs, I realised that Dutch language skills were essential. As an international graduate in the Netherlands with no knowledge of Dutch, I could not even read the Dutch-written vacancies, much less apply. English speaking jobs in my field were very limited. A big uncertainty was whether I would be able to learn Dutch fast enough. Not only that, but I also had almost no network of professionals. This is why navigating in the Dutch labor market was at the beginning a big struggle for me.
I signed up for an intensive Dutch language course and followed various workshops about how to write a motivation letter and CV, as well as tips about interviews. I also checked websites such as AcademicTransfer on a daily basis for new vacancies. I approached people with similar backgrounds, mostly via LinkedIn, and asked them to have a chat about their career development. All these steps helped me get a better idea about the Dutch labor market and get my first job helping international and Dutch students with their study abroad procedure. This way I learned more about internationalisation in education and after one and a half year I made a new step by starting my current job as researcher at Nuffic.
My current job fits my personality and ambition very well because it involves very interesting research projects that are societally relevant, for example our research about digitalisation of education in East Africa, or about inclusion, and a recent one on well-being of international students. I feel like I contribute to a bigger aim, that is giving all students the chance to have an international experience. The research insights we provide can help schools and universities to make their students interculturally competent. Students with an open mind and cultural sensitivity will be the citizens of the future, a future that will hopefully have more solidarity, peace and cooperation between people. We are constantly in dialogue with professionals in the field and various stakeholders. That’s a very big plus for me as a researcher because I always wanted to do applied research. Moreover, Nuffic is very human-oriented, cares for sustainability and also gives staff a lot of flexibility and the possibility to learn and develop.
I would advise others to reflect on what makes them happy and choose a research topic and approach they stand for. Even if everything looks very difficult in the beginning, persistence can take you very far. Give yourself time, explore the possibilities and don’t hesitate to try out new things! I was someone with no knowledge of Dutch and network in the Netherlands, and managed to find a Dutch-speaking job that really speaks to my heart. You can do it too! Nothing is impossible! Would you like to know more about my career journey and my job at Nuffic? Feel free to contact me via LinkedIn: https://nl.linkedin.com/in/ethravalou. Read more about research at Nuffic: digitalisation of education in East Africa, inclusion, well-being of international students.
My wish was to combine entrepreneurship and scientific research. They may sound like two different worlds, but both entrepreneurs as well as scientists try to come up with solutions for today’s problems and turn them into reality. Creating a positive impact for tomorrow, that’s what drives me.
During my studies and PhD, I got the opportunity to start two tech startups, together with a small team. This answered my ambition and passion for science and entrepreneurship. After my PhD, I continued to manage one of the companies, but - with more and more management tasks – I started to miss in-depth scientific research. After the acquisition of the second company, I considered different options and decided to return to (applied) research. I joined the national research institute TNO, to work on next-generation telecommunication systems for the space industry; a very exciting field!
I joined TNO with a big thanks to a former PhD colleague of mine, who told me about the optical satellite communications program at TNO. His introduction and a few cups of coffee did the job.
At TNO I experience an entrepreneurial environment, with a lot of responsibility, many degrees of freedom and truly exciting projects. At TNO we aim to bridge the gap between academia and the industry, by turning conceptual/academic ideas into real-world demonstrations. On a day-to-day basis, I work in multi-disciplinary teams with fruitful collaborations with industry partners, space agencies and academic institutions.
Value your network of colleagues, friends and family. Both for getting feedback on your plans for the future and to help you identify (job) opportunities. Be aware, with your specific PhD specialization you may not find a large number of potential employers and job vacancies which exactly match your background and interests. Rather than waiting for the right job vacancy to come online, consider open applications or requesting a ‘cup of coffee’ to meet your future employer.
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