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Anastasia Moiseeva is a life coach, mentor, teacher and a life-learner. In 2005 she moved from the cold far-away Siberia to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s degree in Urbanism. In 2013, she defended her PhD in Urban Sciences and Systems at the University of Eindhoven.
Her way after receiving the PhD degree was not straightforward: after working less than a year as a coordinator and analyst in the ABN ARMO bank and then refusing several high-profile positions in academia, she landed a challenging position as a tutor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Rotterdam (EUC) in 2016.
Today, she dedicates all her time and energy to work on her project Urban Life Coaching, which aims to help current and former PhD students to get control of their project, to get out of negative thought spirals and find balance by focusing on the right things in life.
In this interview, she reflects upon her own journey from a master student to a life coach and tells how life coaching helps to overcome various difficulties like finishing a thesis, finding a dream job, or reconciling personal and professional lives.
Don’t be afraid to try different options. There is always a reason behind, why certain jobs or certain positions happen in your life.
Dr. Anastasia Moiseeva, Life Coach, The Netherlands
Natalia: Hello everyone! This is PhD Career Stories — a podcast for people interested in career possibilities after their PhD. My name is Natalia Stolyarchuk and I’m very glad to present our guest today Dr. Anastasia Moiseeva.
Anastasia is originally from the cold Siberia land in Russia but in 2005 she practically moved across the continent to pursue a master’s degree in urbanism in the Netherlands. Right after completing the master program she started a PhD in Urban Sciences and Systems at the University of Eindhoven and finished it in 2013.
After receiving her PhD she changed several times quite polar jobs before she landed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of Erasmus University in Rotterdam as a tutor. There she taught a wide range of courses social and life sciences, humanities, academic skills, leadership skills etc.
Earlier this year she decided to dedicate all her time and energy to work on her own project called Urban Life Coaching and follow her passion to be a life coach, in particular, for the current as well as former PhD students.
Hi Anastasia and welcome to our Podcast!
Anastasia: Hi Natalia thank you so much I’m very glad to be here.
Natalia: I have tried to cover your biography within a minute, there is definitely more to tell about [it]. But let’s start from the beginning: What has motivated you in the first place to pursue a PhD after your master program?
Anastasia: First of all, I want to say that I had really an amazing time during my Master study in Delft University and I really enjoyed students ambience. And to be honest, before I never thought I would like to do a PhD. But during my master I learned that there is a possibility to continue, and to do a PhD in Delft or any other university.
And, I think, one of the reasons why I decided to go with PhD — it was clear for me that I want to learn more about urbanism and how people behave in public spaces.
I wanted to learn more how to be a better writer and, actually, I also wanted to travel around the world for different conferences. And during my master I also had an experience to do an internship in couple of architectural and urban planning companies, and I realized: I’m not yet ready for this kind of job from 9 till 5 o’clock. I really need to have my freedom. So PhD was also a choice to continue learning but already at a higher level and having my freedom.
Natalia: Great! What was the hardest challenge for you during your PhD? Did you have some particular struggles?
Anastasia: I think a lot of enthusiasm.
I wanted to do a lot of things, I collected a lot of data and only later in the end of my PhD and after my PhD, I realize that with the amount of data I collected, I can write 2 or 3 PhDs. And the people with whom I worked, particularly, my supervisor also was very excited about my ambitions and doing a lot of things.
So my struggle was that, I think, I really needed someone to tell me at that moment: “Anastasia, that’s very great everything that you want to do but you have to focus, you have to decide what is the most important”. Because at the end of my PhD I ended up being overwhelmed with this huge amount of data, with possibilities to write a lot of articles, and I really had to narrow down and focus. And once you dedicate a lot of time to work on your project, collect a lot of data, communicate with different kinds of people, it’s so difficult to cut these pieces of information, it’s like cutting a part of your body.
I think this was probably one of my biggest challenges.
Natalia: So you had to learn to manage your time and to set your priorities, so that’s basically had to coach yourself in a way how to do this. Or did you find someone who helped you?
Anastasia: So, actually, I was my own “doctor” let’s say it in this way. I realized at the end of my PhD when I was close to the end of the fourth year, I still had a lot of writing and see how I can analyse my data in a significant way, and make connections between chapters, and articles. But I also realized that my motivation significantly goes down, and I had the feeling: is something wrong with me? What can I do about it?
I was always this kind of person who likes to read a lot of books, and at that moment my focus shifted to the direction to read less about my own subject because it seems like I knew everything and I couldn’t read any more about my own subject, and I started to read books about motivation, basically self-help books.
How to manage my time, how to stay on track, how to decide what is the most important but also being able to say No to all type of activity that was going on in my department. Because besides being busy with writing my thesis, I also was a head of COST action and this action were running for 4 years, and I also a taught research skills for bachelor students and was busy with so many things. So thanks to these books I learned to manage my expectations, how to set priorities and decide what is the most important.
So answering your question at this moment in my life in 2012-2013 I was my own life coach.
Natalia: Did you start already at this moment to think that you would like to work as a life coach? Was it like a beginning of this process or it came later to you?
Anastasia: I think at that moment I realized that I have a particular set of skills.
I can be a good life coach but at that moment I still didn’t conceive a career as a life coach. I always from my childhood was a person who likes to talk a lot to other people and help other people. And also what I realized with my last years of PhD, is that my friends and colleagues also when they faced last years of PhD — there is so many things happened in their lives, which is not necessarily related only to their professional life, finishing PhD but also in their personal life. Because PhD is a big project 4-5 years, so of course there is lot of things going on. Maybe they met a partner or got married or there is something else. And I like to talk to my friends and to my colleagues and we discussed different range of subjects: it could be professional related to PhD such as struggles with a proposal, writing paper, going to conferences or it could be more personal topics.
I think at that point I realised that this is kind of my talent, if you want to say, or strength.
One day one of my very good friends told me “Anastasia, actually I really could see you in the future working as a life coach. This kind of person who comes at your door at eight o’clock in the morning and say “Hey, now you’re going for a run and then you have to do this”
Of course, first I laughed at this, it sounded so funny for me but later this conversation more and more came back to my head.
Natalia: Yes, but as you said you still didn’t consider this as a career so what was actually happening after you finished your PhD? What were your feelings about academia and did you immediately start looking for a new job outside?
Anastasia: Well, that’s a very good question.
Exactly, I had a couple years of transition before I really realized this is what I will do and to what to dedicate my life.
When I finished my PhD in 2013, not everything was really straightforward in my life and I didn’t have a clear vision of what I want to do. I only knew I needed to regain my energy back after the PhD. So I was very happy that finally I finished it and I think I did that it in quite a good way. To be honest I wasn’t sure at this point I was so tired, I couldn’t see myself to continue in academia, I was considering to go to work for a consultancy.
But also what happened in my personal life — my partner received invitation to continue his postdoc in UK, and we moved together. But I could not join him in the UK.
So I joined a couple of months later and in the UK, basically, I had to start everything from scratch.
It didn’t work out to find a job that I wanted to have for different reasons, I will not go in details. So actually I had a lot of free time while I applied for different positions in academia but also in consultancy work.
I continue more to read this motivation and efficiency books and also I started to follow several online courses about the positive psychology, motivational thinking and follow consultancy to school.
And when you follow those kind of consultancy school one of the task you actually should start to coach other people, and this was my homework. And then I continue my contact with all my friends in the Netherlands, friends, and PhDs and I said “Hey guys actually I’m doing now consultancy school about life coaching I can work with you and can help you and give you free consultaion.” So this is how it started back in 2013 and 2014.
Natalia: Great! But I know that you also you found a job at the end. And within a bit more than a year you managed to work in the bank in quite prestigious position, then you switched back to academia and you took a postdoc position, and, I know, that you travel to Africa. And it was in a very short period of time before you actually took this tutor position. It feels rather intense this period. How would you describe your experience? Was it like an attempt to re-discover yourself and your passions?
Yes, indeed. It was quite an intensive period. After one and a half years together with my partner, we decided to return back to the Netherlands and then like in one and a half year I was able to get three or four different positions.
First, it was a position in a bank in Amsterdam, where I stayed, unfortunately, only for half a year, because again I realized I need to have more freedom. It also was a very nice experience because I tried it and as we say in Russian: ”You better try and regret than don’t try and regret.” And this is what exactly what happened to me. I had a nice experience, I met very interesting, amazing people, with some of them I still stay in touch but I also realized: Yes, I need more freedom, I need to go for conferences, I need some possibility to learn what I want to learn, and again – I’m very honest to myself – I cannot have a job five days a week from nine to five.
I think all people who listen to me, who are doing PhD now they can see themself. When you do your PhD, PhD is kind of a lifestyle. You really dedicate your time, your energy, your mind and one day you will work from nine till five and another day from 12 to 12. So it’s a different lifestyle as for consultancy.
And it really become clear for me – I just can’t continue this way and, well, “You tried, Anastasia, very good, but maybe it’s time to go back to academia?”
But also I want to tell, still one the side, even when I worked at the bank, I continued to do coaching on the side. So I always had two, three or four people, whom I was helping at the same time.
And then I landed at same time two positions in academia, and I had to make a choice: either to pursue and go for a position of assistant professor but it was only two years position, which will be discontinued after two years, or go for a postdoc position and it was a 3 years position. So again, being honest, for one and a half year after finishing PhD nothing basically was going on my hands and I was really frustrated, and after one year and a half I had three positions and I had to decide.
And I was very excited about this project in Africa in Kampala, Uganda, and I decided to join to Wageningen University and I took this job proposal.
Natalia: But then you change to the tutor position. Why, what motivated you?
Anastasia: Yes, exactly, a lot of job searching. Let say, I had certain expectations about project to go on, and it was still searching for myself to decide: Do I really want a go and pursue this conventional career path: postdoc, assistant professor/associate professor and professor? And one year was enough for me to understand that yes I like academia, I like teaching, and that teaching duties should consist like 80 to 90% of my time, but not research, which is usually 80 to 90% percent of my time.
So basically this position let me learn more about myself, that teaching and coaching people, mentoring people this is much more important for me than doing the research.
And then I decided to change. I came across – at this moment – an interesting position for me at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And I was really fascinated about their philosophy, for teaching students they used problem-based learning method.
And it really resonated with me. Because usually – at least, this is what happened to me when I studied – you come to a lecture room where you have fifty people or hundred people.
Problem-based learning it’s very different you have each week tutorials for students, and it’s very small groups, small scale education between eight and fourteen people.
I decided “Let’s try!”, maybe it’s something for me, because it also attracted me in the description of the position that I don’t need to stick only to one field, teaching, for example, social sciences. That I can now also teach students in different subjects, in relation to life sciences, humanities. This is also actually one of my strength, because I had classical education from Russia, and I was exposed to all kind of study so chemistry, mathematics, but also economics, and philosophy. And it’s sounds basically interesting, exciting and it was only 100% of time dedicated to teaching to students and I applied and I got it.
Natalia: That’s wonderful! So you were there, if I’m not mistaken, for two years, you enjoyed this experience, if I can understand correctly. But then you came to the decision that this is enough and you want to dedicate all your time to coaching. How did it came to you?
Anastasia: Yes, you are right. I stayed at the Erasmus University Rotterdam College for 2.5 years and, again, still during all these years, I continued to do coaching. I always helped students and, I think, during last 1.5 year, I realized that type of people whom I met, and who wanted to work with me, [whom] I helped during coaching – it is not only PhD students, but also people, who are in the stage of their life [when] they want to do something different. Maybe they have master [degree], maybe they don’t have master, so they feel that they want to do something different, but they don’t have courage to embark on this new journey.
And I am just this kind of person, I am always trying to see what kind of events happen in my life, what kind of people come to my life, and what does it mean for me – actually, what these events and people want to tell to me. And I realized at some point that I am not only person, who is capable to work with PhD-students, but also, let’s put it, with the un-professionals, not necessarily with professionals. I have people who are 10-15 years older than me and they work with me, and they come, and I work with them and help them.
During last year at my work, I also realized that I put too much energy to my work, and I don’t have time anymore to work with my clients, with people who I like t help. To be honest, the last half of the year, it was again kind of transition period for me: Should I stay, because I like my students, I like this career at the Erasmus University College, but it also consumes so much of my energy – I don’t have enough energy to work with people who come and ask for help.
And then I put myself back in the situation in 2016, when my friend told me: “Hey, Anastasia, you will be an amazing life coach.”. And I was thinking – this process of transition from PhD to life coach already going on in my life for six years. Maybe, finally, it’s time just to be honest with yourself: “You can do it, you don’t have to have any other job. You actually grown up enough and you helped already so many people. So why not to continue and do what you actually like to do a lot?”
Natalia: That sounds amazing! On our channel PhD Career Stories we speak quite often on the importance of career coaching. How would you describe your goals and purposes as a life coach, in comparison to career coaching?
Anastasia: I think, if we talk about career coaching – it’s already a keyword career coach – usually, if you come to a career coach you discuss your career, this is why you come to a career coach. When we talk about life coach – our life consists of different spheres: professional relationship, social relationship, also relationship to yourself, self-development. So when I work with people, I try to see how different spheres of our life interconnect between each other.
So let’s say you have certain dreams – you want to totally change your career direction. Let’s say you did your PhD in Chemistry and now you discover that you want to do scientific writing, and you don’t have enough courage to change your career path. And then I start to discuss with people. Actually, because you have these beliefs, your thinking patterns from your parents or also, for example, from your partner: “You can’t do it. You spent three years of your Bachelor, two years of your Master, five years of your PhD, work in the chemistry field and now what is it? After ten years dedicated to Chemistry you want to totally change your career path to do something with scientific writing?” So quite often people don’t have this courage.
As a life coach, I not only discuss what are your career goals, where do you want to go, but I also help people to make this shift and see what hinders people from not making this shift. Is it only their limited beliefs and ideas “I can’t do it”, but it’s also maybe something to do with their relationship with their parents, with their partners, or maybe something related to a health issue etc. I really try to look – let me use this word “holistic approach” – to look at all spheres in life, in order to help people to make this meaningful shift. Basically, so that they have courage to make this shift in their life.
Natalia: Yes, this is indeed important. You mentioned this topic of courage – I believe that many PhD students are really lacking it, when you need to make this leap into the unknown. What is in your opinion, from your experience, is it a fundamental difficulty of all PhDs? Or did you notice some other difficulties that they have during their doctorate and after it? Something common?
Anastasia: I see that a lot of PhD students get into this kind of trap that “after my PhD I should stay in academia” or “I have to do something in relation to the subject on which I was working for 5-6 years of my life”. A lot of PhD students have a feeling “If I change direction, if I don’t stay in academia – I fail, I will lose 5-6 years of my life”. And this is not true.
What I always tell people, with whom I work: you have to look at this process as at experience and look at the benefits – what you gained during this 5-6 years. What I noticed, a lot of students in the end of their PhD they are exhausted from their project, they don’t have a capability to think what they want to do with their life. All their focus is “I just want to finish this huge project to which I dedicated 4-5-6 years of my life”. And a lot of them – because they are tired – they don’t have courage, they say “I want to continues as a postdocs, or as a researcher in the similar field”. There is only one path what they see, the majority of them.
But also what PhD student have to understand – in the way how academia works, from 100% of PhD student who will graduate, only 10% or 15% of them will stay in academia. And out of this 10-15 only 2-3% will become a professor. This is basically how it works, this is how many positions we have available in academia. So it means, that the rest 80-85% will get out of academia and they will do something else in their life.
What I think is that at the end of the PhD, a lot of students they don’t consider this option, just because they are very tired.
Or let’s say you work in particular environment with particular mindset and you don’t consider other options because you don’t see these options.
What is important to understand: if you want to go out of academia, or at the end of your PhD you decided “I want to do something totally different with my life, because I am not anymore interested in this subject”, it’s possible and you should look at this 4-6 years – I know, sometimes the project takes up to 6 years – to see that it was an interesting experience, you learned something, but don’t tell yourself “I just wasted 4-6 years of my life”. I don’t believe it’s a waste of time.
Natalia: If you could give some advice – one advice – to our listeners, who are now in a process of their PhD or in the job search after their PhD, what would it be?
Anastasia: I think, the first advice, which immediately comes to my head: Don’t be afraid to try different options. There is always a reason behind, why certain jobs or certain positions happen in your life, and maybe after your PhD it will be a job for 1, 2 or 3 years, but this will be your way to discover what you want to do.
I have a very good friend – very wise Dutch man twice older than me – and one day he told me: “After a person finished – doesn’t matter – his Bachelor, Master or PhD, and embark into the professional world, it always takes around five years to discover who you are and what you want to do with your life.”
And this is what I also can see from a lot of my friend and colleagues, who finished a PhD – it’s not always straightforward. Yes, for some people it’s straightforward: postdoc, Assistant/Associate and Professor. But for some people, they are trying different fields, but indeed after 5-6 years they always find themself and what they want to do.
So, I will say – try, don’t be scared about it. Yes, maybe it can take 5-6 years, but you will find.
I am also always telling people: No one stays without job until the rest of their lives. Unless you really want it! But if you want to find something, if you want to do something meaningful – you always will get a job.
And other thing, which I also will tell – maybe for some people it will sound very abstract, but – know yourself and follow your heart. And by knowing yourself, I want to say that you have to be honest with yourself, what is important for you, do you do it because of parents expectations, other people, social expectations, or you choose this job or change your career path, because actually your heart wants to do it?
I think this is also very important to me: just stay honest to yourself and be brave when it’s necessary to change.
Natalia: Yes, I agree with you. Thank you very much! If our listeners want to contact you for an advice, a coaching trial session, or any other reason, what would be the best way to reach to you?
Anastasia: They can look my Linkedin profile. On Linkedin profile, you can find all information about me and also a link to my website urbanlifecoaching.net. And though the contact form you can send me a request, if you want to talk to me. And, I believe, on Linkedin profile there is also my personal e-mail: email@example.com – this is the easiest way how to reach me.
Natalia: Great! Thank you very much! That was indeed very interesting to speak to you.
Anastasia: Thank you so much, Natalia. I am very happy that you hosted me today.
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