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Gizeh Perez Tenorio is an Associate Lecturer within experimental oncology and Online Facilitator in the Open Networked Learning courseat Linköping University. She also collaborates with Didacticum as PBL tutor where her key interest lies in incorporating technology to some of her courses, to support her colleagues in enhancing their digital literacy.
Research is not a race – unless it is against a disease.
– Dr Gizeh Perez Tenorio, Associate Lecturer at Linköping University
Hi and welcome to Phd Career Stories! My name is Maria Sjögren and I’m one of the co-founders of this podcast. Every second week, we bring you a new episode of PhD Career Stories – the podcast in which PhDs tell their stories, inspiring you to take the next step towards your dream job.
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In today’s episode, Dr Gizeh Perez Tenorio shares her career story and how she, after studies in Cuba, Sweden and the United States landed her current position as an Assistant Lecturer in Experimental Oncology at Linköping University in Sweden. Welcome Gizeh!
Hi and thanks for inviting me to PhD career stories!
My name is Gizeh Perez Tenorio. At present, I work at Linköping University as assistant lecturer in Experimental Oncology and facilitate online PBL groups as part to the Open Networked Learning course.
If you want to know about how I went from an international postdoc to unemployed academic to assistant lecturer, please listen to my story.
I discovered research since very early, when I still was in the high school. What triggered me was a lecture about monoclonal antibodies and a sight of a frozen tumor.
Cancer research has been my focus of interest since I was 19 years old. My career started in Cuba, at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology. My main research question has been: What’s behind the resistance to hormonal treatment in breast cancer? I wanted to do something meaningful about it.
In 1999, I came to Sweden thanks to the coordinate efforts of my Cuban thesis advisor and some professors from the Oncology Department at LiU.
The Swedish PhD was a natural continuation of my research topic in Cuba and helped me to focus on some aspects within endocrine therapy resistance, namely communication between cancer cells and which alterations could cause the therapy failure.
During my PhD years there was plenty of opportunities to doubt myself and to give up. Let’s face it! It is a tough period where the hypothesis not always get along with the results, the reviewers totally misunderstand your papers and the happy periods are very short. We are working toward diffuses deadlines and often alone in a project and suddenly the time is gone and the defense is on top of you.
It is a time of high performance, late nights and work on weekends. Moreover, coming from a more paternalistic system and a traditional education, it was little bit of a shock to get used to the Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach that predominates at LiU.
My supervisor gave me freedom very early and although it made things a little bit frustrating at the beginning I was very much grateful at the end. So, I decided that there was no point in trying to “change” my supervisor. The next best thing was to adapt and work together.
For me being a researcher is a way of thinking and not only a profession. I could do research about everything that awakes my curiosity. I always have a lot of questions in my head and I like looking at things from different angles and perspectives. Due to my training, I can accept failure and recover very quickly. I also understand that sometimes a problem is so complex that you only unveil part of it and the rest of the answers will remain elusive. I also understand that research takes time and need resources if you want to do it properly. I believe that research is not a race unless it is against a disease. When you are, not only a researcher, but also work as one, your time schedule gets totally messed up. Sometimes you’ll find yourself on a sunny Sunday morning in the lab or at 03:00 am feeding your cells. It is the way it is. Your family will suffer and hopefully understand your late and irregular working hours. If you’re lucky the kids will turn normal and you and your husband won’t divorce…
After the PhD, I remember that I felt disoriented and empty for a while. I didn’t have clear for me what to do next. I had never received career coaching, I didn’t even think strategically about a career. A postdoc in USA came to open a new path for me and I was so lucky to get the Swedish Research Council scholarship.
I choose my postdoc place not based on the name of the PI or the institute but based on a project that I loved and the friendly research environment that I found in San Diego. I don’t regret my choices. It was a wonderful period in our lives. For the whole family.
It was a great experience and then we had to come back to Sweden. Although I wasn’t ready when we did.
My former PhD advisor re-opened the doors for me and this was great but at the same time a very risky solution as it proved later.
After the postdoc, I needed a seed grant to establish my research group but VR grant grade was only 6% and I didn’t get it. This, together with my unfocused career plan and a poor economy at our institution led to my dropout from Academia.
And I found myself without a job…
So, basically from an International postdoc to unemployed academic. Imagine!
All the feelings that are involved: shame, sadness, despair, rage. A lot of negative feelings I should say. It takes time to accept such a situation and even more time to cope with it and try to do something about it.
But to shorten my story, in the middle of this black period, I received help from many people and specially from my career coach. I didn’t even know that tailored career coaching existed. This person gave me three wonderful presents that I didn’t understand at first. She said: 1) – Relax and take time to talk to people, 2) – She said MOOC and 3) – Never ask for a job when you are unemployed. It makes no sense, right? However, like in the fairy tales, these three presents were unpacked in the right moment and changed completely my professional life.
The first one helped me to be more open, more curious about people around me, their life and what they have to tell me. I listened and cared. The second made me curious and took me to a wonderful online course: Open Networked Learning that allowed me to acquire new professional skills, meet new people, network and discover that I love to facilitate online groups and the pedagogy behind. The third present was the weirdest but finally I understood that sometimes is better to make a job that suits you, people will be more interested in you if you come with something to offer instead of asking.
This present helped me to get a job.
I also learned many more things about myself and people around. Some tips that I would like to share here:
- Be proactive, Network. No one knows better than you what you want and can do.
- Life is uncertain. Living with uncertainties is the new black.
- Be positive and surround yourself with friends.
- Allow yourself some grieving but keep it short.
- Don’t get angry at people, shit happens. Focus on a solution.
- Don’t be afraid. Get rid of fear paralysis.
- Help others.
- Don’t sit and wait for help. People will help you better after you help yourself.
- Invest in your future: take courses, have a career coach. Choose well!
Thanks for listening! And good luck!