From PhD to Postdoc

Last week I attended the seminar ‘Transition from Ph.d. to postdoc’ organized by Det Unge Akademi at the University of Århus. I have to confess that I had really high expectations for this seminar, willing to find a way to come back to Denmark in the near future. The seminar and the venue were just perfect.

Before attending I was warned by my friend Thomas, who went to this seminar last Spring -it is weird dividing the year into seasons, back in Ecuador there are just two: winter and summer, the first meaning lots of rain and the second lots of sun, and when I say lots, it’s LOTS of both. So 4-season references make me doubt when they actually happen- and suggested 3 take-homes: leave Denmark, learn to handle rejection and you’ll probably fail and never make tenure.

As my aim is to go beyond that first take-home and actually come back to Denmark, I was quite discouraged, but still made my way to the seminar, enjoying the good mobility in Denmark both referring to the superb public transportation  (I know that people claim for train delays some days … but that is not often and the service is always good) and the possibility to move from one university to another.

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Århus – train station

Århus has no bus terminal, I was alerted by my friend Kjerstin, who made her best to explain me how to catch the bus to the University. What I didn’t figure out was that there are different bus stops along Park Allé which means that buses 2A and 16 stop around the corner on this same street. Anyway, I took the next bus and arrived to Århus University’s iNano building.

In my way to the building, with Googlemaps in hand, I found a couple of students, visibly lost. As I approached I heard them speaking in Spanish. Both were from Venezuela, on their last year as industrial PhDs at Århus and Ålborg, respectively. I got ‘shocked’ when after telling them that I come from Ecuador, Nestor, the Ålborg PhD, said: “great, so we have another Bolivarian fellow”. It is not that I couldn’t understand the words, but … I have NEVER think of me as being ‘Bolivarian’ and all that social imaginary of the ‘patria grande’ (big homeland) … Stop tissing!  So anachronic! No, we have gone beyond the independence. It happened for precisely 192 years ago a 24th of May back in 1824… no, no, no Bolivarian. Ecuadorian! Forget reviving the past. We have moved forward. We are not the same as Venezuela nor Colombia. I was so shocked  that I didn’t say a word, but mumbled this the whole day as the seminar started.

The first key-speaker, from the Carlsberg Fund, which is known by its support to research, had a last-minute cancellation. Sad. Then the next speakers encouraged us to apply to high-ranked universities, improve our profiles in LinkedIn and network, network, network to find the postdoc position of our dreams but … outside from Denmark.

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Astonishment face

Then it got hilarious … as a way to say. The next keynote-speaker had a wonderful profile, got a postdoc position at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and back in Denmark she decided to leave academia for a very interesting job at Vestas, the Danish global wind energy company. Then, in her presentation, she used the metaphor of the ladder, to scale positions in an organisation, and contrasted to the interconnected jungle-ladders of children playgrounds where she, together with her kids spend lots of time nowadays as she ought to quit her job and is entirely devoted to homemaking.

Homemaking is a very respectful activity, but I chose academia. I like teaching, I love researching and reading and studying and learning, and writing … why do the organizers bring as a postdoc exponent somebody that does not share the interest of the rest of us, around 100 PhDs from a wide variety of disciplines, looking forward to continue studying? Strange.

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25.05.16 17:10

The best of Århus was the cycle-meter standing in front of the building of the Faculty of Law. A little more than 100.000 bikes have crossed this year that corner, and the screen changed to 768 bikes for that day, right after the picture was taken when a bike rode by.

And from the seminar, as my take-homes I got the presentation card of the Vice-Dean of the Arts Faculty at Århus University, and I am sure I will continue watching my daughters climb jungle-ladders some place, leave the past in the past and persist in this academic journey with failures and hopefully sometime also with success.

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