#090: Interview with Sven Totté

In this podcast, Tina Persson,  the founder of PhD Career Stories has an interesting interview with  Sven Totté, who is a Management Consultant using the knowledge and the skills gathered over 25 years in different commercial and leadership roles in a large variety of industries. He is passionate about improving companies’ performance through organizational and business development, often enabled by innovative technologies. 

Finding, engaging and keeping the right talent is according to him the most important key to success, hence his deep understanding of the Future of Work including trends like the gig economy.His favorite missions are to build sharper customer experience, implement innovative value-adding services and shape happier teams.

If you are curious about gig economy and its definition, please listen to this episode.           

Enjoy Listening!


Transcript

Tina: 

Welcome all listeners to PhD career stories, it’s a podcast for PhD students made by PhD students and I have the honor to sit in Malmo, south part of Sweden, and in front of me I have a very interesting person, very excited about the interview with him and that is Sven Totte and he has a fantastic background, very interesting background so it’s very hard for me to wrap it up so I actually leave it to you Sven to describe yourself and give the audience a bit of a background who you are.

Sven :

Hello everybody, it’s great to be here. My name is Sven Totte. Today I work as a management consultant, predominantly working with small and medium sized enterprises, helping out with everything from strategic development, organizational development often linked with, you know, the implementation of new technology and exciting new business models. I do that in a variety of industries, either on the board level or working with C. level with, the management of the company. I have been doing that for about ten years. Before that I have worked in larger companies in different industries, telecom and banking and so forth, and I live in Sweden but once upon a time I was born and raised in Belgium in the wonderful city of Antwerp.

Tina:

Thank you very much and the topic we are going to discuss today, I know when I’m out meeting all the PhD students at university I really don’t know what it is, we call it the gig economy and both you and I we have been doing a lot of gigs but I know you’re an expert here in Sweden and explaining for companies about the new talent management how to recruit and identify top talents and I’m very proud I’m PhD myself and I know that many of the PhDs they are fantastic talents.

But what is these gig economy actually if you just start describing the terminology and the phenomena.

Sven :

Yes, so a gig is a short mission or task that you do, without a permanent connection with the person that asks you, the company that asks you to do. It has been existing for many many years so it’s the word gig is not new; what is new and what is growing enormously is these phenomena of online gig economy. It actually started maybe within a very simple tasks you know transporting things, doing very simple manual tasks or linked to the sharing economy where you share your car with somebody, which, you know, a company like Uber does that is also a gig, right?

I think what we will talk about more today is knowledge work where somebody’s competence or knowledge is being matched with somebody’s need for that competence and knowledge. And of course, there are some synonyms that link to gig like freelancing or new economy or cyber economy but basically it is not a small phenomenon, it is an enormous phenomenon, where there is, I would say, a more efficient way of matching the supply and demand of working capacity, in the simplest sense explained.

Tina:

Why has the gig economy developed, where does it come from?

Sven:

I would say that some people say that it is because of technology, technology is the reason why this is happening. My view on this, is that technology is an enabler, it is not the main driver. There are other various mega trends in that that actually all together help or drive the application and the growth of the gig economy. A couple of these mega trends, I just want to mention, are the fact that economical power in the world is being divided in a very different way than maybe years ago, in industrialization period where newer markets, like emerging markets, like China or India are growing much faster than the traditional industrial or developed markets.  But also how society is developing with the fact that people live longer and maybe it is not that obvious that people will work in the same career or the same job during their life, also the fact that there is much more focus on sustainability, so the fact that you go, travel to work every day and do a nine to five work or work from nine to five at the office is something that is being questioned. The fact also that there are now today different generations in the place of work or in the work market and all of these trends are actually driving more or less in the same direction and that direction is changing how we work, where we work, especially how the business regarding work is changing, so how do we find work and how do we get paid to do work and which type of contracts are the most normal ones if you deliver work to somebody. What I am not saying is that everybody will be a giger the whole of their life.  What I’m saying is, and what is clearly shown by statistics, is that more and more people are testing to be gigers or doing some gigs that could be either temporary work of course, or it could be full time work or adding on top of maybe a permanent employment they have. 

It could also be because they want to, because they want to do something else than their regular work or because sadly enough there are forced to because they can’t find anything else.

It could be that it’s combined with, you know, having retired from work but could also be that it’s combined with something that you have, if you’re studying but you also want to work for a couple of hours driving around food or helping somebody with creating a website or whatever.

So my conclusion is that technology is an enabler but the real reasons why this is happening is very strong and deep demographic, economical, societal and sustainability trends that are pushing this.

Tina:

Just listening to how you push it here since I’m representing the PhDs here we know the fact that some of the PhDs they consider it’s very hard to get the first job after the Phd after some years of postdoc-ing, this could be a possibility to show off your talent.

Sven:

Absolutely.

Yes, not only the first possibility to show off your talent, it’s also the first possibility to maybe make some money. Like I said now that the big growth of the economy is probably happening in emerging markets and for this the existence of gig platforms in different ways are allowing people that are in other parts of the world, that are not developed to actually very quickly come in to a possibility of making some money, if you’re really good at developing a website or doing data science or translating but you happen to sit somewhere in Africa, it is technically very easy to still deliver that service or help somebody here in Sweden and for them it either helps the companies or the organizations in Sweden or in Europe that need that help but it also allows for economical development in other parts of the world and that I think is a positive thing.

Tina:

So when I think about how I work is that I actually have two gigs helping me it’s just that I don’t call them gigs and I don’t go through the platform but the gig is that is connected to a technology driven platforms enabling the global perspective here.

Sven :

Yeah so if you look at the deeper definition of gig or gig platforms what actually these platforms do is they are better at matching supply and demand. And what is clear, what we predict right now is that they will have a significant influence on global GDP, the growth of the global GDP. Actually, it looks like only in the next ten years the value of what is happening in these platforms will supersede, will be larger than the value of comfort work. 

Agriculture, we’re talking about trillions of dollars here, two to trillions of dollars, why are they able to do that is because these platforms are able to match more precisely by knowing, having data about what kind of work is needed, matching that with the kind of skills, competences and availability they have, they also reduce this formality, when you’re finding a job, you know there’s formality like interviewing. They make that easier and less timely, less costly also. But also what they’re really good at is that these platforms are able to look for matches that human beings maybe don’t think about. And also if there’s more and more data in them that they actually are able to predict what kind of competence or skills are needed, when and where.

They are getting even better at when they see a gap in skills that they help people to maybe learn some new skills so these platforms are really contributing significantly already now but I think you know the effect of them will be, if you look at the next ten years, be enormous. 

Technology in this case enables really these trends that are existing. They really result in that more people actually find work, probably find work they enjoy, probably find flexibility in doing work when it fits them better in their private life so the work life balance. There’s a lot of positive things about.

Tina:

That is what I hear, it’s a lot of possibilities in this business here and I obviously can say, you know I’m coaching PhDs and some very technical driven PhDs that not necessarily, put it this way, that they find it very hard to survive the CV writing, to survive the interview. They have to perform some kind of, and they are not natural performers but they are very good in the technical skills. These platforms would actually ease them because they can be who they are, they would be selected for who they are by a machine without any people you know using the feelings and opinions.

Sven:

Yes things like you know human bias is taken away. You made a very good example about you could be very good at doing certain work but you’re not good at writing a CV. You know there’s other ways in catching your capabilities, your competences and proposing them to somebody else by not using your CV.

Tina:

Actually people are buying CV support so you get a template, it doesn’t show the person anyway.

Sven:

No but it’s a different subject. My belief is that CV which is basically a tool that has existed for more than five hundred years is not really the best tool in selecting and finding people. You need to look at other things like soft skills and so forth. And I think these platforms are getting better and better at capturing that and matching.

Tina:

Do you see any risks with the new economy, gig economy?

Sven:

Absolutely, there’s a lot of possibilities there which we can talk more about but straight into the point I would say the risks are that the platforms that really started this, the job deals that were made there of course exclude things like security and safety and maybe in the beginning also insurance. When people were biking around or driving around doing their gigs there was an accident for instance, they weren’t insured. But also now if you look more at the knowledge worker part of the gig economy, if you’re not in a job you don’t have an income and it’s more up to you as a freelancer maybe to organize your own pension, your own social security, your own health insurance and so and that I think in a lot of cases you know it’s still a little bit shaky but more and more you see that when there’s more and more people in the gig economy, and there is legislation is coming, is adapting more and more to these risks, it is getting better. I’m not saying it is perfect but there’s clearly risks for that, you know job security and safety and insurance is less.

Tina:

And that’s again, we are sitting in Sweden and we know we have working laws, unions, etc,… So this seems to be very far away from the traditional swedish working way so to say but if we go to other countries like, United States, UK, do you see global differences tp the attitude?

Sven:

Absolutely, you know, the tradition in this part of the world is that there’s a different kind of balance of powers between the employee and the employer and of course collective bargaining in unions is something which is just standard and the laws are also very much in favor of the employee. In other countries that balance is a little bit different but you see for instance that in the US where the balance is more to the employer, that the freelancing or the gigging trend is getting that big that they actually are freelancing unions. There’s a collective bargaining there and if companies do not behave, you see that the freelancers or the giggers are out on the street and protesting.

But also what happens is that if you think about sustainability and society, it is very quick that the customers and consumers of the companies that maybe misuse the freelancers are getting slapped on the finger very quickly so I’m an optimist, I’m positive. I think at the end there will be good regulation and fair regulation for both the people that take the work and the people that offer the work. There is certainly in certain parts of the world still unbalance there. I think the challenge is of course one of the reasons is that it is enormous hard work for politicians to update the regulations towards what, you know, the situation you suddenly have with the gig economy. You know just to realize that between 2017 and 2020 there will be an increase of the number of people working as a freelancer via gig platforms of one hundred million people in the U.S. and Europe combined. One hundred million people, that’s both people that do these as a full time employment or part time employment, is that a lot? Well if you know that when it started in 2017 there was about one hundred and thirty three million people, it is an enormous increase. So you understand that politicians were like “well hold on, how do we manage this”. Suddenly, it’s an important group to take into account, what they wish and what they want.

Tina:

Yes, and the companies, we are coming back to that, I think what we are talking about is talent management and recruiting future talents and again me having a PhD perspective because I consider that we have a huge PhD pool globally and also here in Sweden that is not used in the right way so when it comes to talent matching and companies, I mean we can talk about strategies in the gig economy and the new strategies companies is going to need to develop, any reflections about that.

Sven:

Yes so I think companies need to understand and some companies really do understand that this was a traditional set up, where employment is the, let’s say, baseline of how you make sure that you have the right people and you keep the right people, is being questioned seriously. Especially newer generation is not really accepting this compromise of having of course the security of a fixed salary and employment link to maybe the fact that they’re not working with stuff that they really really believe in or that they might want to do different things in their lives and also the fact that I think people will probably and that’s all generations will not work with the same kind of tasks or missions or responsibilities or activities during their life. With that I mean that there is I would say an enormous need for talent and competences in companies that is shifting the amount of people that are needed, that are working with simpler tasks lower cognitive tasks is reduced slowly surely. While the need for people that work with more advanced and more complex tasks, high cognitive, more human tasks like communication, like creativity, like problem solving but also people that really are good at STEM, so science technology engineering mathematics, that part is increasing enormously. 

To manage the availability of shifting I don’t think you can satisfy the needs in companies by just working with employment, fixed employment.

What those companies need to do?

Actually for me the philosophy is more that you need to make sure that you can find the right talent and you motivate that talent to come and work with you. You understand really why that talent chooses you as a company, for your values, for the work you can do, or the things it gives back to the persons. How it fits in their life and I think that that is a more important factor, once you’ve established that balance, that equation, that match, then you maybe ask the question how we would pay you. Do you want to be employed or do we pay you by the hour or whatever to set up is. But also the fact that probably people do not want to work full time their whole life, they probably want to do some extra other things because they’re able to do that, maybe it’s things they’re more interested in, or more motivated by. So also this thing about full time employment the whole time it’s something that probably companies need to be much more flexible about.

So it could be that the same person, to just round up that comment, that the same person starts with an employment, works half-time after a period of time, goes and works as a digital nomad, you know working in another place in the world for a period of time, getting maybe children, building a family and maybe at the end come back in an employment. So it’s more the fact that you attract and keep people close to you as a company because they want to, because you think they add value not because they happen to be employed by you. So it’s a little bit of shift of mindset.

Tina:

It’s a shift of mindset and it’s also shifting the mindset from, coming from where I am when I talk with a lot of people from PhDs, thinking: “Oh, I am unemployed!”, and I say: “No, you are not, you are just between gigs”.

So shifting the mindsets that I’m just looking for the next gig then I just need to find that company that can see me so I see these also as a huge possibility but this is mindshift so unfortunately I hear also from many young people that you know I’m looking for a permanent job.

I say what is permanent and in the end permanent is to secure that you have skills that other companies are interested in and like to have and if you develop them you know you will not be unemployed and without gigs.

Sven:

You’re really right and here I just want to point out what I think is really important, if there is something I want people to remember from what we talk about is that making sure that you are employable, that you are interesting for people that can offer you work is about lifetime learning.

Tina:

Lifelong learning yes.

Sven:

Lifelong learning, with that I mean that not so long ago it was kind of normal that you went to school and you learned yourself couple of skills and basically those skills or competences you gained there helped you, was enough for you for 30 years career. Yes, you needed to update some skills but basically that was enough and today that is not the case anymore. 

So the time you can use the same skills is being reduced drastically, different levels in different kinds of occupations but still. So it is really important that you as a human being or as a person take responsibility for making sure that you update and learn new things during your lifetime and but that way also learn other things which can give you other occupations or other jobs.

Tina: 

Yes, yes yes!

Sven:

You, you work a lot with PhDs, they’re probably good at, they have a lot of competences and they know how to learn new things and how to solve more complex problems. It’s just that you maybe can apply them in different areas than the areas they used to do their PhD in.

Tina:

Exactly!

Sven:

I can tell you that the companies I work with, they are in an enormous need of attracting these kind of people. There’s a lot of open opportunities and jobs, that could be you know short gigs or longer gigs or whatever. So it’s interesting to see that there is you know there’s open positions there but there’s also unemployed people that can find or can be matched.

Tina:

I go back to that I consider it to be a mindset shift and that is exactly what I’m working with when I do career coaching and workshops and all that so I find it as a huge possibility for the PhDs globally, this is a global phenomenon.

Sven:

It is.

Tina:

If I leave it to you now to ask yourself a question here, what question would you then ask that adds on to the interview here for the podcast.

Sven:

Not so many questions but I think what it’s, leaving a couple of thoughts here, if anybody is in doubt that gig economy or the things we talked about, are a kind of a small trend and that will disappear, no it will not, it is growing exponentially and I don’t think we have even seen the reel effects of it and I think also that the trouble we have is that the general statistics, the employment statistics, the national statistic, this phenomenon is not really captured.

Tina:

No it’s not!

Sven:

It’s only the last two years, I think that for instance Oxford university is measuring, or trying to estimate the growth and the mix in different countries, in different industries with something which is called, the online labor index. If you start matching or putting together this data, It is much bigger than what is really shown.

Also because the concept of borders or nations is a little bit challenged by these phenomena, because basically you can live in one place of the world and deliver work in another place of the world, the question is where do you earn your money, where is the invoice going to and where is the income coming and where is it taxed. It is just not measured in the right way if you look at the normal national statistics. So what I do really hope is that the politicians and the people that set the regulations really start grasping this and make sure, at the same time protecting people that are working more in the gig economy but also at the same time making sure that there is a stable and predictable environment for companies to attract people and offer jobs, gigs, whatever, to people. I would say I am challenging the politicians here.

Tina:

Yes they do. They challenge the politicians.

Sven:

We need to update the regulations more than fighting against gig work and having a lot of negativeness about, you now negative effects, but I’m very confident and I have seen companies really being able to grow and also people being able to grow because of these phenomena.

Tina:

I agree with you completely about the politicians. I listen to podcast actually to politicians and I felt that they were a little bit out thinking, they are still thinking regulations and I think this is not about regulations here because it’s global, so it’s going to be very interesting to follow. What I also believe and that it’s going to change the market, it’s going to change the company and it’s going to change the countries where the politicians work against the gig economy. There, I think the companies will actually leave these countries and go where they can develop the business because it’s competences based. They have no choice, they have to go where they find the competences to develop the business.

Sven: 

Yes, and because of technology it is very easy to deliver work, especially knowledge work, taking no account at all in nations and nationality. It is purely on what you are able to do, which competence you have, which skills you have, and if you are available and willing to do that work for that price.

For me, I think we have to embrace this phenomenon and I think we have to make sure that the regulations help to build a stable and safe and predictable environment for both companies and people that work in the gig economy.

Tina:

Thank you very much Sven Totte, it has been a pleasure talking to you about this new phenomenon and I’m quite sure I’ll come back to you later maybe in a year to listen what happens and what’s going on.

Sven:

I’m looking forward to that. Thank you very much.

Tina:

Thank you listeners for following us on PhD career stories. If you have any ideas or questions about this topic “gig economy”, don’t hesitate to contact us.

So all the best from Tina, in Malmö Sweden

#086: Interview with Martin Blaser

In this podcast, Tina Persson,  the founder of PhD Career Stories has an interesting interview with  Dr. Martin Blaser, who is a postdoc coordinator and co-founder of the Max Planck PostdocNet.  Martin studied food and nutritional science in Giessen and continued his doctoral study in microbial biochemistry at the University of Marburg (2007). He continued his academic career as a postdoc and project group leader at the MPI for terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg until 2017. During this time, he also was a postdoc representative. After spending over 10 years in academia, he took his first step out of academic system and became a career coach, a postdoc coordinator at the Justus Liebig University Giessen and  a co-founder of the Max Planck PostdocNet. 

Really the problem is that you focus on the academic track and a lot of people are really having biased idea that they can stay. Which isn’t supported by the evidence in reality so much.” 

Martin Blaser

If you are curios how Martin step out of academic career and started a new career, please listen to this episode. If you also have a story to be told or if you know someone, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Enjoy Listening!


Transcript


Tina
: Hello everybody this is Tina Persson, I’m the founder of PhD Career Stories. I am at the moment attending Max Planck Alumni meeting – it’s an annual meeting and it’s the fourth year – and I’m sitting here in a small rainy Berlin. It’s been a fantastic meeting though and this is the last day and it’s my pleasure to have Martin Blaser with me.

Martin Blaser, which I met at the first alumni meeting at the hotel seminars at breakfast and we have had many great discussions here. That’s just a short introduction, I think you can introduce yourself much better than I do Martin, so why don’t you tell our followers a bit more about you.

Martin: Okay thanks for the opportunity to speak up here. My name is Martin Blaser and I studied food and nutritional science in Giessen and when I was about to finish my studies I had the idea that I would like to continue as a PhD student and there I changed a little bit my scientific focus. So I did my PhD in microbial biochemistry, and purified the anaerobe enzyme system in Marburg [University of Marburg].

My idea to do a PhD was to become a professor and teach people because as I was during my studies a mentor for first year students and I really liked the atmosphere there and the things I could give to them. That’s why I was inspired to go on with an academic career.

Then when I was finishing my PhD and had my defense; the next door institute at the University of Marburg is the Max Planck Institute and they had an open call for a postdoc position and I applied there. And in my defense, there was my next boss attending, and in the end where nobody is supposed to have any questions anymore he stood up and asked me some questions about my PhD work and then he invited me for an interview and that’s how I started at the Max Planck.

There again I shifted the topics so I went from microbial biochemistry to microbial biogeochemistry and was more an environmental microbiology then. I stayed at the Max Planck for over ten years – first doing a postdoc and then I became a project group leader, I was in charge of two labs and more than six coworkers over the years and some PhD students. And then in the end of this, after ten years my supervisor retired and the whole department was closed down. I knew that way ahead and I was like okay, I’m not sure if I can continue in the scientific system. Essentially at that time I met Tina and I was looking for a coach in this regard to see what are my options. My first step out of the academic system was then to continue as a scientific manager in a way. I’m now at the University of Giessen and coordinating a postdoc program there.

Tina: Your story Martin, you share with many many scientists that you actually after finishing your PhD you stay in the academic systems. But just to go back a little bit in time, why did you start the PhD at all, do you remember that?

Martin: Yes – because I wanted to become a professor. I was not so much interested in the science part I was really much more interested in the people part – in connecting to the people and teaching them. As long as I stayed in the academic system I realized/the first thing I heard was: as a professor you have three jobs to do 1) you have the teaching 2) you have the funding and 3) you have your own science. Then I realized this is not a one third, one third, one third story but the teaching is like 5-10%, the grants is like 80% and the own science is like becoming less and less important.

Tina: Yes, that’s right.

Martin: That’s where I realized, okay, I’m not really in for all this administration. So that’s when my idea to do something else become more present. But on the other hand I stayed for over ten years in the academic system and what I liked there is that I really got a bigger and bigger picture. As a PhD student I worked on a tiny piece of science and as a postdoc I was in environmental science and it was much more complex and I needed to read much more broadly and I really enjoyed this broad picture I got there.

Tina: Yes, it’s interesting again here that you wanted to go to professorship and I think it’s very very common because some statistics shows here that the expectations that people have when they start in academia is to stay and go to professor. I think Nature when they look at the statistic 50%, maybe up to 60%/70% have an ambition to stay in academic system to become a professor. That’s not the reality, because we know that 90% need to leave academia for a career outside. I I don’t like to say an alternative career because it’s not an alternative. It’s another career path! But again just a little bit pushing you back why you did a PhD – when did you start to actually think this is not for me? You said you noticed things – but if could you look back now with the knowledge you have now – couldn’t you have figured that information out because you were thinking you wanted to be a professor and you didn’t really figure out what it takes from you to become a professor.

Martin: Actually around the transition from the university to Max Planck, so from my PhD to the postdoc, I was not only applying for the postdoc position at Max Planck but I was also at that point in time really considering to start my own business for the first time and do some kind of training, my own seminars things like this. It was more oriented to nutrition because I had the background there. When I then started at the Max Planck I think it was just because it was an easy option to stay in science.

That’s what I now face for a lot of people I talked to as a postdoc is that many of them chose academic career because it’s really easy to get positions there because it’s huge market and you’re well prepared and you don’t need to change a lot on your CV or on your own habits because you already know a little bit about the academic system. So that’s why it’s convenient to continue in science.

I took the convenient way and actually I had a rather rough start at the Max Planck, I was really unsure for the first three or four years if I wanted to continue with science. I didn’t publish anything in this time because I really changed my scientific topic and was starting all over again and then I got my first result and I didn’t trust them. So it really took me five years to convince myself to trust my own result because there were conflicting with previous published data. I need it enough evidence to be sure that this is real and then I started to publish. In the end, I finished with 13 papers in ten years so it’s quite okay. But It really took me awhile to get in the system deep enough to really hold me there.

Then the more I became acquainted or habitualized to the academic system I lost kind of the idea that I wanted to do my own training. I became fascinated with the science more and more. Then when I was at the point where I knew okay this science here is not going to continue because my supervisor is retiring, I was more or less remembering my old story and now I did a training as a coach and I try to implement coaching ideas in my postdoc coordination thing. I have the idea that in a few years time I may have a second start again and doing something else out of academia.

Tina: That pushes us to the coaching thing here because coaching is pretty new within academia. It‘s been used for a longtime in industry and leadership training and self-development training, team training, communication training – it’s been going on for long in the industry if you look there! That’s because they need to be very efficient at teams. The coaching concept for you, I remember when I met you and we did some coaching together, I was very surprised because I learned to know a new Martin – so could you share a little bit about coaching? What that is for you because you coach yourself now but what coaching actually meant for you?

Martin: Yes my feeling was I was quite resistant to accept help so I had the picture of the lone rider, the cowboy in the sunset doing everything on his own. I think this is quite common in science that you’re having your project and you are the expert there and you don’t need any other expert there. And then you think and you’re also the expert for your own career and you don’t need any help. 

For me, I was really looking for several years what to do next and I could not really get a handle on why it was so difficult for me. I was sure I didn’t want to continue with science and then I was looking at industry and I was like industry is just not my route –  for me as a microbiologist pharma would have been a choice – but all these pharma ideas were like really strange for me. So I was like this is an obvious option but it doesn’t feel right. I could not connect why this doesn’t feel right from me. 

Then I was like okay I’m somehow stuck and I need somebody helping me to overcome my own resistance and this is something where I experienced that coaching is really helpful – to help you reflect and reframe your own ideas and help you to see your blind spots. And sometimes it’s also only holding the space for you that you can explore yourself in a different way, which you cannot if you don’t have the boundaries of a partner. It’s really hard for me to describe but it’s an experience I have that if I have somebody sitting next to me who’s listening to me and helping me to reflect on my situation this is really helping me to understand myself better and really helping me also to connect to this why does it feel strange.

It was like the logic: My head was always really clear that it would be an option, and my stomach was – no it’s not an option!  – and to get this connected was really hard.

Tina: I agree with that because I was in the exact same situation that I knew everything best myself. But when I met my coach she said to me “Tina you have to connect your brain with your stomach and heart because it’s disconnected”. You think you can think, you know, it’s like you’re solving problems with yourself but your problems they are connected with the holistic thinking and it helps a lot to talk about feelings but we, scientists we are not trained to talk about feelings.

Martin: Yeah we are expert in the head.

Laughter

That’s sometimes becomes a problem because we’re then so focused on trying to find the solution by using our brains and I think a lot of problems don’t have a brain solution that’s my experience now and that was interesting to discover.

Tina: I remember we did an exercise where we were running. I was running in Sweden.

Martin: That’s the best thing I ever did!

Tina: You were running in Germany and you said something happened I don’t know what it was but something happen to the next session.

Martin: The exercise was, I was kind of stuck and we were at a dead end and then you said okay maybe you just stand up and jog a little. I was like: “What the !!!? I said I should now stand up and jog? What should that change yeah!?” and then I did it and then I realized how moving the body and how funny it feels to stay in the lab because I was in the lab at that time.

It was like really awkward but it did something with my body and I really started to laugh. That changed something in me and then I could be present in a different way.

Tina: You were present in a different way. We started to laugh, you remembered in the lab.

Now I know that you are a coach yourself, What you gonna do with it?

Martin: I think my hope is that I can help people to overcome their own blind spots a little bit better and to reflect themselves in a new way. Essentially, I think the core is to turn to the big question who am I a little bit differently and I think a coach is a person who can really help you reflecting on this. My coaching has to do a lot with the inner processes and I know there are other coaching which are doing more outside processes. But I realized from myself that this is a bigger help to start with the inner and that’s what I try to bring to the world with my coaching.

Tina: Considering that you are a PhD, been in academia for very long, it’s logical that you’re going to work with academic professionals.

Martin: This is my first target group – I see the advantage that I really could connect to that situation. The disadvantage for me is that I could connect to the situation and it’s really difficult not to come up with my own solution.

Tina: Yes, that’s right!

Martin: But to give the client or the coachees the room to find their own solutions. This is what coaching is for me to meet somebody at the eye level. I’m the expert for the process and the other person is the expert for the problem and is also the expert for the solution and my job is to help them explore the problem so much that they can find their own solutions and not my ones.

This is sometimes really difficult when you’re really inside and know – yes, i lived exactly the same! – and here is my solution. It’s tricky to not go and give advice to somebody.

Tina: I think that’s very general to the coaching in general. It’s so easy to fall into the trap to actually advice. We have that dialogue here at the Max Planck you know what’s the difference between mentorship, coaching and advisor and career coaching is maybe something in between advising and coaching.

Martin: For me there’s a clear difference so advising is really: I’m an expert and I have information and can give it to you. There’s a hierarchy – I give something to you and you are only on the receiving end.

Coaching is for me on an eye level and mentoring is somebody who already went the path you want to go and you are following and trying to take their advice for that specific path. So they are experts for just their career and can help you avoid certain pitfall states/traps.This is the advantage of a mentorship program – usually they are not experts in communication or process, mediation or something. So they can only be an expert on their own career and this is the difference.

Tina: And this is good to strengthen because I meet many PhDs and postdoc [saying] I want a mentor that can help me to get the job. That’s not mentorship that’s something completely different and that’s not coaching either. Even though as a career coach you can indicate certain areas but it’s still so that you have to do the investigation and the reflection yourself. You can realize okay I have my drive and motivation into sells and marketing then you can investigate that job area by using tools and so on.

Martin: Right and a mentor is a perfect tool to investigative certain job market because he knows the language, the environment, the framing and everything which you from the outside don’t. If I want to go to sales or management there’s a completely different language, dress code, whatsoever, habits and to have somebody really helping you to understand this environment because he lives there this is a big help and big advantage. So that’s where mentoring is coming in.

Tina: Mentoring is coming in there. So if a mentor has a person that need coaching – it’s clear they need to go for the career coaching or coaching first. Then I usually say that when you know where to go, then you contact people in the field you want to be and get advice from them.

Martin: So the coaching is more for finding your decision and the mentoring is then helping you go the way.

Tina: That’s very interesting but now again I want to go back to you here – if you look at yourself as future coach what skills have you learned? Because we are going to need more coaches – PhD coaches – in Europe here. There are plenty of them in the States but not here in Europe.

What skills do you think you have learned during your time as a PhD and staff member that you can apply now to become a future successful coach. Because you’re going to be a successful coach!

Martin: I think the one thing I really appreciated from being a staff member so long was to have the opportunity to think in big pictures and really to hold complex situation. Which I think is something I really learned through my academic training. And this is the thing which is really interesting when I go with my wife to some meetings or workshops – she’s always tired after an hour or so hearing people. And me as a scientist I’m used to having like eight hours of presentations and I realize I can completely absorb information in a different speed and different depth and this is also something which helps in the coaching process to be able to hold all the information which is coming. So these are two things I learned in academia.

I also learned the world view of the science people. How you try to solve problems with your mind and I was long enough in there to know what it is good for and to publish these ideas. Now I’m at a point where I think okay what else is there?-Is science the end of the route? I think there’s even a bigger picture – this is life itself. They’re different facets which science people tend to ignore, try to neglect and help them to find these spots again in themselves. Because a lot of science people really have a need for being more emotional, integrating human parts of themselves, which they think are not allowed in the academic system. To bring them together and really show them you’re not alone in your situation and you feel stuck: you are in a very press situation, you are in a very stressful environment, you’re trying to get grants, you’re trying to publish a lot; you’re stressing yourself, you’re putting a lot of work on yourself in order to fulfill the requirements of the systems and to reflect this.

Tina: Scientist forget themselves sometimes!

Martin: Yeah, they are living in a bubble. So I have the picture of [what] I call the science bubble or the science loop, this is:  You produce data then you write up your data in a manuscript, then you publish the manuscript in order to acquire money, then you have the money to produce more data and then your start the loop again. The problem is that many people in the academic system only focus on this loop and don’t see anything outside – like your work holds your purpose in life – what you’re here for. And there’s so much focus and you receive from the system so much stress to stay in this loop. That is really hard for many people in the academic system to find there way out. I think this is a systematic problem so this should be addressed on a different level but it folds down to an individual problem for many many people in the system which are having health issues, which are having breakdowns, which are having depressions, which are having all kinds of problems in order to stay in the system which is not healthy for them.

Tina: No, it is not a healthy way to live just to focus on the professional part and then you think and believe that the rest will just solve itself. And we know, both you and I, that it doesn’t!  You have to work with your personal development the rest of your life – you know like family, where you gonna live, and have some longer future perspective on things and also you investigate what’s actually out there, outside of academia.

Martin: I think the other thing is that many people which are in the scientific system at a PhD, staff or postdoc level have the feeling okay now this is a stress phase and if I survive this I am becoming a big professor and then I can relax and other people will do the work for me and I just have to write a little bit. This is the big hope that it’s becoming easier the longer you stay in the system. And I’m not sure if this is working for many people. I’m not sure if you are successful and want to stay successful in the academic system, if the loop is going to stop for you.

Tina: No, I don’t think so because it becomes a habit to work like that. So actually when you are a professor then you expect other people to live the same style as you did. I remember from a professor I had, he said: ”Life is hard, it should be tough” and I thought why? I only have one life and it is very short – of course it’s tough – but in what way? I thought it was a negative way of why should my life be that path. When I came to industry they had a completely different mindset. They said we want to have a great life. I remember when my manager in industry said: “Tina you have done a good job here, so why don’t you go home on Friday”. I said: “What?! Can I go home on Friday?” It’s completely different but you know we have been here discussing and I think it’s now time to round up a little bit.

So if you now think about the followers and the listeners we have, if you just give them some tips on what to think about it?

Martin: I think an important tip is for me to early on look for alternatives. Really the problem is that you focus on the academic track and a lot of people are really having biased idea that they can stay. Which isn’t supported by the evidence in reality so much. I think this is something which needs to be changed. I think it’s really important for the individual to start to stop a little bit, pause a little bit, try to get out of the stressful loop a little bit and try to reflect a bigger thing and then orient yourself.

I think there are ways to be really successful in the system without burning out. This is something which you can find. My supervisor was somebody like this. He was really relaxed, he was publishing the most of the directors in our institute but he was never pushing anybody. The other directors were trying to push their people and this was backfiring.

My supervisor was like in the first half year of your PhD you’re just reading and preparing and find out what you want with your PhD and then we talk. This half a year you just get your own ideas and then you are completely differently motivated than when the supervisor in the first week gives you the protocols and says “Okay, now you have three years, do this!”

That’s something I learned from him to open this creative space, which I think is important for science not only to follow somebody in a track but really to generate your own ideas. This is something I would also like to encourage people to. To find really your own ideas and this could be something, which is not in the line of your supervisor but this is something which can bring the system to a different level than when you just follow footsteps from people who already went there.

Tina: What you’re touching actually is that we need maybe a new kind of leadership in academia and you can see that the leadership has changed a lot in many industries. You know we talk about team management, communication and that you find a coaching leadership. I’m not going to talk about that but that people find their own motivation. Because in that way you work actually better even though it’s less hours – because it’s not about the hours you do it, it’s what you do with the hours.

Martin thank you very much it’s been extremely nice and talking to you and meeting you again here. I’m looking forward to get the response from the podcast and I’m sure that you have helped a lot of people by sharing.

So thank you very much and this is Tina Persson reporting here. I say thank you to all followers. Don’t hesitate to contact PhD Career Stories if you have any ideas of topics, or if you know anyone that would like to share a story or if you for that sake like to share your own story.

Tina Persson from Berlin, all the best.

#079: Presenting the team: Nika and Alice Stories

In this episode two member of PhD Career Stories team, Alice and Nika, talk about their experience during PhD, earned skills and their career after PhD. They also talk about how they joined PhD Career Stories podcast. 

Alice is currently working in the healthcare organization in Sweden and She believes her PhD skills like “science communication” helped her to get to her job. 

Alice also shares what she has learned during coaching seasons by Tina Persson:

“It helped me not to be stuck at some point and think a bit forward to see that one experience doesn’t build all your personality…”. 

Nika is going to start her new career path as postdoc at Columbia University in New York City. She believes one of the major skills that she learned during her PhD is scheduling meetings from all over the world with a time difference.

In this episode you can also listen to Alice and Nika ‘s tips regarding job interview as both have gone through many job interviews before getting their dream jobs.

Continue reading “#079: Presenting the team: Nika and Alice Stories”

#073: Interview with Anastasia Moiseeva on life coaching during and after a PhD


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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  Continue reading “#073: Interview with Anastasia Moiseeva on life coaching during and after a PhD”

#066: Interview with Magda Schiegl


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In September 2018 Tina Persson attended the annual Max Planck alumni meeting in Berlin and had a chance to speak with the professor for Applied Mathematics and Physics Dr. Magda Schiegl.

Magda Schiegl made her PhD in Theoretical Plasma Physics at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in 1996 and then had a long career in the financial and energy industry. In 2009 she decided to come back to science and teaching, but this time, instead of theoretical plasma physics research, she chose the practical field of Risk Management and Applied Mathematics. She got a professorship position at the University of Applied Science in Cologne and later moved to Landschut, Germany.

In this interview, Magda reflects upon how her experience as a PhD influenced her career and shares a tip on how to combine interests for the industry and practical problems with the passion for scientific research and education.

Continue reading “#066: Interview with Magda Schiegl”

#061: Per Olof Arnäs Story


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Per Olof Arnäs. Photo: Oscar Mattsson.
Photo: Oscar Mattsson

We are joined by Dr Per Olof Arnäs who is a logistics researcher, podcaster, public speaker, blogger and entrepreneur with an – as he puts it – unhealthy interest in the digitalization of transportation.

Per Olof has been working in, around, and with the logistics industry since the late 1980s, both as a professional and as a researcher. He has a MSc in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Logistics from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. He has also worked as a developer building sustainability tracking systems for the freight industry. Today, he is back as a senior lecturer at Chalmers after a long time in industry.

Apart from his research, Per Olof is also a podcaster and a keen social media enthusiast. His first podcast (Logistikpodden, in Swedish) is one of the the largest logistics podcasts in Sweden. Together with Lena Göthberg, he also runs the show Podgeek, a podcast about podcasting (in Swedish). During 2018, he will also launch his first international podcast, Logistics Rocks.

What is the feeling when you put your hand on the doorknob and enter your workplace? Do you feel happy or not? If not, you should look for something else.

– Dr Per Olof Arnäs, Senior Lecturer, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

Continue reading “#061: Per Olof Arnäs Story”

#060: Joakim Muschött on making career choices with courage

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meramod1Welcome back Joakim Muschött, ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and founder and CEO of Skifta Utveckling AB. In episode episode #58, Joakim explained  how career coaching can assists you in making the choices that best fit to your personality, to identify your expertise and skills and how to match these to your next career step. In his book on the topic “Courage” (Swedish: Mera mod!) he goes into details on how to face your fears and dare to step outside your comfort zone.

Johan Bertil Muschött today interviews his father on what it takes to be brave and why its necessary for a successful career change.

When you’re getting close to the comfort zone you get nervous and anxious and want to leave but stay there breathe and say to yourself out loud – this is how it should feel. This is okay, I am okay!

– Joakim Muschött, ICF Professional Certified Coach, Sweden

Continue reading “#060: Joakim Muschött on making career choices with courage”