#096: Dr Ulrikke Voss Story

Transcript:

Hello and welcome to PhD career stories, the podcast about career path inside and outside academia. I’m Alice Corani and it is my pleasure to introduce Ulrikke Voss. After spending years in Academia she is starting a long journey, mentally and physically. Here is the first part of the preparation of her adventure. Please listen to Ulrikke’s story.

I am here to talk about my my career and the big trip that I’m about to get on. My name is Ulrikke Voss, I have the last six years been working as a postdoc and associate researcher at Lund university. I also did my PhD at Lund university and yeah….thought that I was going to have an academic career even though that I did all the wrong things to have an academic career. 

But we can talk more about that later. 

So I ran out of money here in November and ended my position. 

And I was sitting on the couch, unemployed and all I knew was that I wasn’t feeling better. I had worked really really hard for a long time and I hadn’t realized that I had actually probably hit what most people would consider a wall. 

So I had for, I think, about almost two years, I’ve had problems sleeping where I had woken up every night or every other night, drenched in sweat and I had been, you know, I’ve been complaining that the room was too warm or the draft from the window was too much and too little and I had not at all considered that it was actually my body trying to tell me that I wasn’t feeling well. 

But once I stopped working. I also started sleeping without having heat issues, sort of say. 

So that was sort of an eye opener but it was also a sense of what have I been doing… I’ve been trying to work so hard to get this academic career knowing that I had…. I had done so many wrong turns trying to convince myself that: 1) that it was my dream to have an academic career and that despite me not doing what was needed I would still be able to have it… I had been working helplessly against this goal and we all know that one of the big things that you need is that you need to do a postdoc somewhere else…And I didn’t because my boss at the time was very much like: no we’re having such a good time and you can take over the lab when I’m retiring in a few years and you will have all the freedom… and I thought he I’ll have freedom I’ll be able to do whatever I want to do and….yeah it might not be seen on paper, as being independent but I am. So…I decided not to decide… I just said yes and then I…and I thought that this was the career I was going to have. But it wasn’t… it wasn’t… I did all the wrong turns for having an academic career, at least giving myself an opportunity to have an academic career and I…. And I may have done it slightly…by not choosing, I have actually chosen. So when I collapsed over the finish line here in November and I was unemployed, it was also the first time that I had to think about what I wanted to do with my life in about six years because throughout my time at the university after my PhD, I had not taken any active choices for what I wanted to do. 

So what I did was that I sat down on the couch, started to apply for jobs because it feels like that something you should do… not really knowing what kind of jobs that I wanted. 

I love research but I don’t want to be in the lab. And I love talking with people but I don’t really want to be in sales…so I was really…I was struggling for where I was heading and… I was just….I was sitting and falling apart even more then I had throughout the time I was in academia, where I, in two years, I had it at night sweats… all of a sudden I didn’t have night sweats but I just felt… I felt like a failure and a mistake and I felt that I didn’t know what to do. 

And….I then decided that I needed to do something because sitting on the couch was not going to do it. 

Trying to add more, like, you know… bake a cake or something wasn’t going to make me happy and I wasn’t sure if that I would be able to find out what would make me happy if I stayed on the couch or at home or….not taking any sort of…I don’t know. 

But I knew that it wasn’t good to sit. 

The first week was fine… you get up, you get a routine, you look for jobs and you write your applications— but then Christmas comes around and all of sudden, you sleep in a little bit and you forget whether it is Sunday or Monday or Wednesday or Friday because the structure that you used to have is gone and that’s not something that I work well with. 

So, I decided, together with my husband that we needed to do something…something drastic that wasn’t just a small, small gesture…but something truly uncomfortable or something truly to shake up my life. 

And initially we were talking about going for long bike ride and we’ve always enjoyed riding a tandem bike, which is very cosy because you can talk with each other and yeah it’s a cosy way of traveling on a bike. 

And we’re thinking: well, we could maybe go for a long bike ride, like really long, like go to the coast of France or something to that effect but there the administration about it was just…It was a little harder than anticipated. 

For a little while I think for about a week, where we started to think about it, and I started to plan, I started to think about what we could do, went find bike routes and looking at potential tandem that we could use, all of this stuff I felt like that sort of energy again… and then when I started to look into the feasibility of it, with and what is allowed while you are unemployed…well you can, you can do if you are looking for a job in a specific country, you can go to that country and be, take your support system with you… but one country that should be… you know… a country that was warmer than Sweden in the winter, but also where I would have job potentials for just…it was kind of…it wasn’t an easy choice to find out and then… It’s also that maybe, you can you can, then sign out of having your financial support but that’s also kind of difficult to be without financial support and then you still have to live. 

So after some reconsideration, we got to be changed. And I think that…It was… it was a good change. It was a change that, that made the ability to do something that was out of the norm but also…that would allow me to have a goal to work towards something that I could use on a C.V., instead of having “unemployed on the couch”, I would have something that I felt gave my CV value. And also more than a bike ride would do. 

So we had changed from the bike ride to, now we’re gonna walk up along the Swedish coast. A hiking…the entire coastline. And…it is going to be a challenge because that I need to bring of course all of…all the I. T. equipment so we can maintain an activity. 

But it has also developed into something that I… That I’m looking forward to because that…I was thinking what what would I like to put into my days, what is it that I like. and I like to talk about research, and people’s research ideas. I decided that I would set up meetings and invite researchers from the areas that were walking through when we walking through Sweden and set up these interviews, invite researchers out on a walk, to sort of just talk with them about their science, the research, what drives them what it is that science can do for our….for our understanding of who we are and sort of that human condition that we’re in, both looking backwards but also looking to the future.

And when that idea started to sort of, merge together with the…,with this challenge of walking the coast of Sweden… so you have the physical aspect of it, what happens when you physically do something that is hard and that hasn’t really been done before and then you combine it with this idea of exploring, not just a landscape, but exploring what science is, in Sweden. 

That sort of made me all of a sudden, have that feeling of direction, feeling of having something that excited me a little bit. And would hopefully give me this opportunity to strip away some of all that comfort and look at what it is that I want to do…what is it that I want to do when I move forward in my career.

Because that I for such a long time had pretended that an academic career were…Or was there..was a goal of my life… then having this change makes me also having to reconsider who I am because I spend so much time doing research and education, teaching and all of these things…and administration. That it was just sort of that sense of right: I need to get out of this comfort zone, I need to not sit in my home where things are comfortable…I need to move that…I think that this journey will do….Exactly that thing. And I also feel that It is…it’s not what was initially the plan, the bike ride…Yeah. 

But it is almost a better plan. And yeah we will start while it is cold outside…we will stay in Sweden because that is what will enable me to maintain my…financial support as well as having the…the ability to go to interviews within Sweden because Sweden is still small…or not small but it’s well connected with transport…so it is possible to get to an interview for a job if there is such a thing or that opportunity is opening up. 

So it is actually ticking a lot of the boxes and I think that is one of the things that I…I look forward to that, this idea of getting out of my comfort zone has now grown into something that…I don’t know, it feels…It feels like I’m spending this time finding out not just what I want to be when I grow up or… whatever you might want to call it but I’m also adding value, exploring new sides of myself to add to my CV so that it’s not just a hole that I have, but it is filled with…with challenge and curiosity and…and stepping outside of the comfort zone, showing that I am able to change and adapt to new aspects of life. 

So I hope that…that’s how it will be… and I have then to sort of support it, I have started up a blog and a Twitter account and I have started my youtube channel where I will share the interviews that I make with these amazing scientists that I’ll take out for a walk and talk. 

And I will also share videos about what happens when you walk so far, what are your thoughts that go through your mind when you have so much time to…to think about what’s next and also about the gear that will get you through such a journey both in warms, but also in battery power and gear and how do this actually work in such conditions because we can say it: well normally I have an office that I go to I go to a desk and I sit and I have my cup of tea and I have my computer, and I have unlimited electricity coming out of the wall but how do you do it when you are now limited. 

I’m going to bring an I.T. box, which is kind of cool. So it’s one of these pelican cases, so it’s waterproof and bounce proof, that got lots of little…a protection on the inside so you have gear that stays warm…well, not warm but at least dry and protect it and that’s where we have battery banks, I have a computer and…like the camera and microphones and all the adapters that is needed and stuff like that, to to be able to do the project but also maintain my job search activity. And, you know, how is that when you, all of the sudden, are sitting in a lean-to shelter, it’s six degrees outside and you’re not warm and comfortable…how do you get to motivate yourself to do all of these things? 

And that I think is going to be part of this journey as well and part of the videos that will come out…So I’m actually quite excited. 

We have gotten pretty much all of the gear set up and packed and it’s heavier than we wanted and we had thought that we would aim for maybe like sixteen kilos per person. 

But we are at eighteen…and when we’re out walking yesterday, you feel it… I mean… one thing is just to put it on your back and you’re like: yeah, that’s fine! but then walk five kilometres, ten kilometres, twenty thirty kilometers a day with that weight, it’s the… we’ll see how it will work and we might end up reducing a lot along the way leaving with friends or family, or sending it back to the apartment and things like that, to sort of reduce the weight. But…still it’s quite impressive that you can pack everything that you need to live and stay warm including your electricity and all of this stuff into what amounts to less than forty kilos. Two bags of twenty. Or eighteen kilos…I think that’s impressive and it puts a lot of perspective into what we have around us the comfort that we pad ourselves in…which I think is…is sometimes good to put your own existence and comfort and what you have around you, into a perspective of what do you really need. What do you need to survive, to be happy, to be warm to be nourished…Yeah yeah that’s what this journey is going to be about. So we will start in the beginning of February, we’ll start in Ystad and we’ll walk up. We will stop at all the “högskola” and universities that lay along the coast. And we will talk with people or I’ll interview them with my set up and in about four months, and three thousand five hundred kilometres, we will hopefully be up in Abisko. And be there in time for, hopefully, the midnight sun. 

So yes, this is…this is part one of this journey and I will send another one when I’m on the trail and I can update you on what is…what’s happening. 

But this is the preps, this is the thoughts that have come into this journey with the preparation and also realizing about myself that I need to have goals, I need to have direction. Otherwise I feel like I’m falling apart. 

So, that’s it! Thank you for listening in. And I look forward to updating you all on what happens next. Thank you!

And that is it for another episode of PhD Career Stories. As always, you can find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram as well as on our webpage phdcareerstories.com.

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Good-bye for now, we will be back with a new story in 2 weeks.

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