#91 Francesca Cappellini story

Welcome to this new episode where Dr. Francesca Capellini shares her experience about her career path as a scientist. Dr. Francesca Cappellini did a PhD on biology and holded a post-doc position on nonoparticle toxicity at the IMM Institute Kaolinska at the IMM department at Karolinska. She is currently working as a researcher for the non-profit organization Fondazione Umberto Veronesi, she is also a scientist writer and a science communicator.

In this episode, she talks about the common mistakes done while applying for a job or position as well as how she prevailed over those. Would you like to know how she overcame her circumstances? 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!

086: Kate Evans Story

Dr Kate Evans, Founder and Director of charity called Elephants for Africa, shares her story and tell us how her passion and interests in elephants shaped her career. Kate is an award winning behavioural ecologist and conservation biologist who conducted her PhD ‘The behavioural ecology and movements of adolescent male African elephant in the Okavango Delta, Botswana’ through the University of Bristol.

With over 20 years of experience as a field biologist throughout Southern Africa on a variety of species, she has a solid understanding of the challenges of large mammal conservation, the complexities of conflict and the importance of stakeholder relationships. 

Kate is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and a member of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre.

My PhD taught me many things and amongst those was how my work could potentially influence policy. The politics of working in different environment: academia and the challenges of working with difficult characters. So diplomacy certainly helped me through my PhD and since in a conservation is not just about biology, it’s not just about elephant. It is about working with stakeholders from the ground up and from the top down, to instill policy preferably, long term policy. 

“Dr Kate Evans”

If you are curios how Kates interest shaped her 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!


Hello, I am Kate Evans, and I am gonna apologize in advance for any background noise you may hear as I’m recording this from my tent at The Elephants for Africa research camp which is on the Boteti River in the Central District of Botswana. So whilst it’s quiet, it’s night time at the moment and we are by river and there are hippos that can make some noise. So I apologize in advance if they interrupt but otherwise it should be fairly quiet but we’ll see.

So, I am here to talk about my PhD, well my PhD led me here. I am talking to you from a tent in the middle of Botswana. So I did not set out to do a PhD, in fact far from it. Post degree that was it for me really and I’d struggled academically in school but I knew I wanted to be a field biologist, more importantly I knew I wanted to be an elephant conservationist. So I figured in spite of no valid career advice, I worked up myself that a zoology degree was the right degree for me.

And at that time in the U. K. you applied and then you also had interviews and I fell for Swansea University, which is in Wales. And I think they let me in because I didn’t get my grades at A level, they let me in on clearing, I think because I had a good interview and I think the professor saw my passion and my possibility. And for that I’m extremely grateful because as soon as I started my zoology degree I had found my path. I was really interested in it, I was passionate about it and that of course made learning a whole lot easier.

So I got my degree and did quite well really and that was it. I was off to save the world and off to save the elephants in particular. But I had some doubts about me. As I was very outdoor kid, I was quite able, I believe in camping and orienteering and all those kind of things. I didn’t know whether I could be a field biologist, you know, you have this romantic view of what a field biologist was but I was very aware that it’s going to be hard work. You’re living in remote locations a lot of time and it’s more than just the theory of being a biologist, it is learning to survive and more can be quite challenging environments.  

And so after having worked in a factory for six months, I had enough money to travel the world, except I didn’t get very far. I ended up in Africa and I pretty much stayed there. I first volunteered in Namibia and then throughout the southern African region and ending up in Botswana in 1997, gosh! That’s long time ago and fell in love with the place really.

I had lived in South Africa as a child and what I found in Botswana was, apart from a fresh air, that I didn’t feel that I was categorized as white European. I felt very welcome and they have a lot of wildlife and are very pro-conservation, so I felt that I could contribute. They also happen to be home to the largest remaining elephant population and so I felt like found my home and it was here that I wanted to do work. So I set about finding a project. And in the meantime I ended up having an opportunity to do my masters on lion parasitology. Lion parasitology, again being a field biologist, lions, everyone thinks, oh that’s great, but in reality you are collecting lion poop for a year and which is less great but very interesting. It’s amazing what you can find from poop.So I was self-funded at again Swansea university and I had the opportunity to expand that into a PhD, but again that wasn’t my passion. I didn’t set out to further my academic career through ticking boxes, what was my passion was elephants. In fact I did my masters because I realized quite early on that having an honors degree wasn’t going to be enough to get me where I wanted to be and also to earn the respect of people within wildlife departments, policy makers, etc. I 

realized that further education would better train me to be an elephant biologist and elephant conservation, but also to play amongst the stakeholders, I guess. 

So I found the place in to do my…So I came up with a project in elephant ecology up in the very north of Botswana. And off I went back to the U. K. to find a supervisor which I managed to secure at Bristol university so I had my place. And then another opportunity came along through a corporate sponsor to fund my PhD, if a component of that would be rewilding capture raised individuals. So I jumped at that chance and these were all young males and started my journey on elephant ecology and more specifically on bull elephant ecology. So I guess, moving back to the PhD, I could go on about elephants all the time but that’s not why you are listening.

For the PhD, it really was part of my journey and it gave me a platform for long term elephant monitoring, which was my focus. It’s really, I believe important when you are studying such charismatic and long lived okay selected species such as elephant. They have long term data. It is only through the long term data that you can really understand the behavioral needs met behavior ecology, which is what I am. It also gave me a platform to post PhD to set up a charity and now NGO. So charity in Wales, England and NGO in Botswana.

So my PhD taught me many things and amongst those was how my work could potentially influence policy. The politics of working in different environment: academia and the challenges of working with difficult characters. So diplomacy certainly helped me through my PhD and since in a conservation is not just about biology, it’s not just about elephant or wildlife numbers or biodiversity or ecosystems. It is about working with stakeholders from the ground up and from the top down, to instill policy preferably, long term policy so we are not just dealing for the next five or ten years but we’re looking beyond that to the next hundred, two hundred, three hundred years.

In retrospect I wish I’d appreciated the importance of relationships and networking more during my PhD. I was very closed off from spending three years in the bush in a very remote camp. It was about eight hours drive from mount. And my supervisor did come out to see me but ultimately was on my own to collect the data, to make sure I had enough data. In fact I had way too much for my PhD. Thankfully I had the right data and was able to finish it off. 

I was very closed off, three years in the bush and the culture shock was really when I came back to university. That was really challenging and no one really prepared me for that and it’s obviously very different being very independent in the bush coming that to an academic lifestyle in a busy city but I managed to cope with it. But it only took me about six months to get back into the flow of things and then it was really just heads down and getting on with it.

I had a great group to work with, lots of great postdocs and other PhDs that really added to my PhD. They really helped me get it through and make it a much better thesis. But I still wish I’d asked more questions and not just within my department but had networked outside my department. As conservation needs such a multidisciplinary approach and obviously if you are in an academic environment, there is always amazing people doing amazing stuff. So I’d really encourage people to look outside their department and look at how potentially cooperating and partnering with other universities but also other departments within the university to really strengthen the work that you’re doing. I think that would apply to most things.

I have been told many times I am a bad scientist as I didn’t think of the questions. I already had my study species and then came up with the questions. But having said that I’m not sure I could have done my PhD without my blind passion for my study species. It really is what got me through some challenging times. But the most challenging time was not getting stuck in the middle of nowhere by myself with no radio reception. We definitely didn’t have any phone reception. It wasn’t finding funding to complete my studies. It wasn’t clashing with my supervisors or fighting bushfires to save the camp where I was staying and the other tourist camp nearby. It was actually during my PhD right up, when I was back in Bristol, working hard and communicating became difficult and difficult with my supervisor.  

There was a great welfare group and there was a great welfare department within the university. And I did an online tests and tick a lot of boxes and then went to see the welfare offices and it was only then I was diagnosed with dyslexia. So it was quite a shock and within my final year of writing my PhD to then deal with being told I have a reading age of twelve-year-old and I had a huge crash of confidence and I guess in retrospect it was an imposter syndrome. I didn’t think I belong there, how was I doing a PhD, it was ridiculous (that’s the hippo). This is, I shouldn’t be doing a PhD basically…I thought I just let them say, I can’t really compete with hippos.

Amongst all the statistics in writing up and analysis, yeah, I had this massive crash of confidence and it did it was a big journey back for me to convince myself that I did deserve to be there, that I have every right to be there and I could get my PhD and that I did. 

My supervisor asked me who I wanted to be as my examiners, my internal and external examiners at the end of this long journey. I thought, well you know what, you gotta shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars. So I asked for Iain Douglas Hamilton, who is very famous and a real hero of mine, to put it no other way really, he’s campaigned for elephant conservation for so many years. He has an amazing research studies all over Africa and conservation work. And I asked if we could get him as my external examiner and amazingly he said yes. 

So the day of my viva came on and not only was I dealing with the nerves of defending my thesis but I was also dealing with the nerves of meeting a great man who I admire hugely. So that was a bit scary and I chose to walk into university, I thought that would calm my nerves on the big day. And it was on that journey that I was passed by a funeral entourage and that’s actually just what I needed because I realized that this was a big day for me but the world isn’t gonna stop spinning. It really didn’t matter. There were people out there who were saying goodbye to a loved one and it was just a real reality check and perspective. You know PhD is a big thing, but there’s always something more challenging that someone else is going through.

Yeah it really calmed me down. I was able to get into my thesis and after about the first ten minutes I was a blubbing idiot. I was able to calm down and I really actually enjoyed the process of talking to two great biologists. It was a real joy to have two amazing biologists in the room analyzing my thesis. So for me I’ve gone from a pure behavioral ecologist to a conservationist after ten years in the Okavango delta. So after my PhD, I set up the charity Elephants for Africa and have taken on students and continued to focus on male elephant ecology. But after 10 years in the delta we moved and relocated down to another place which is an amazing ecosystem, very very different from the delta with interesting challenges. What was very compelling to come here was the huge male population. On the time when we came here in 2012, it was just males. We now see more females coming through, but at that time it was just males. And as a male elephant biologist it was just like wow, what’s going on here.

But it also brought us to the frontline of conservation. So when I was in the delta it really was amongst the wildlife. There wasn’t any communities living by us, so I was quite excluded from the realities of communities that were living alongside wildlife trying to grow their crops, trying to survive, trying to remain safe amongst wildlife. 

And so here in the Boteti river area is a hard border on the western boundary to community lands. And so over time we built up a good working relationship with Comarca and two other villages since where we now have launched a community coexistence project in 2015 and also an education program for the local primary schools.

So I love spending time with elephants. They are my inspiration. And but perhaps the most rewarding part of my work is when I am educating, either in schools here or at least watching all amazing communities outreach or when I give public talks in the US or Europe and indeed going to schools and in the US or Europe and talk about my work. For me it’s passing on my passion in some way and if I can inspire someone, I think I’ve done a good job. And I am happy if I inspire someone. Yeah my PhD journey was a part of the bigger picture. It always was. It was a stepping stone to get me where I am today.

#085: Ben Hartwig Story

In this podcast, Dr. Ben Hartwig shares his story and lessons he learned during his PhD. 

Ben is a German scientist, entrepreneur and actor. He studied genetics at the Max-Planck Institute in Cologne, specialised in Epigenetics and aside he toured with Germany’s biggest improv theater, Springmaus, for the past six years. He has performed, directed and created close to a thousand shows on five continents. Three years ago, he founded his own company Neuroblitz to combine science and applied improvisation in workshops, speeches and seminars.

Two hearts are beating in my chest, the first one is the heart of an actor, someone who goes on stage to tell stories, the second heart is the heart of a scientist, someone who tries to make discoveries to understand the world better and tell stories.

Dr. Ben Hartwig

If you are curios how Ben successfully combined his analytical and creative side together, 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!



Hello and welcome to PhD career stories, my name is Alice Corani, and in today’s podcast you will listen to Ben Hartwig, a German Scientist passionate with Science and Acting. He will explain how he successfully combined his analytical and creative side together.

Two hearts are beating in my chest, the first one is the heart of an actor, someone who goes on stage to tell stories, the second heart is the heart of a scientist, someone who tries to make discoveries to understand the world better and tell stories.

This is my story. My name is Ben Hardwick, I’m a German scientist born and raised close to Hamburg who has done his PhD at the Max Planck institute for plant breeding research in Cologne. This is also a story of those two hearts because I’m fascinated by the creative world and by the analytical world and how to combine the two.

At first glance, there’s not much that combines acting and science, not much that the two have in common. But there are a few things, as an actor you need to stay curious, as a scientist you need to do so too. And ultimately, we all want to understand ourselves and the world better, so curiosity and understanding are the glue between creativity and the analytical world to me.

Curiosity is also what got me into science. I’ve always been fascinated by it, by the world and by people. I chose plant biotechnology as my studies during the bachelor and masters. I signed up at the Leibniz university in Hannover. For part of the master’s I studied at the Purdue University in the US in West Lafayette, Indiana. During the masters I had a professor called professor Daimler, and he was the first reason why I got into my PhD. He thought it would be the next right career step for me and suggested the Max plank in Cologne, because he had gone there earlier.

I decided to follow his advice in the plight and actually found my supervisor because we had a beer together during the selection days. My supervisor during the PhD was Francisco Torque who is an expert in epigenetics. I had no idea about epigenetics when I signed up, but today I can roughly explain it as how the environment influences our genes. Epigenetics makes that influence visible, that was great. I got to study plants and I got to understand epigenetics better. I got to immerse myself into a subject for a long time and I wanted to know if I could do it, so I love the challenge of being a PhD student. But I didn’t know what I would do afterwards. So when the time to defend this thesis came, I had already booked a ticket to fly around the world and interview actors and scientists because I still had two hearts beating in my chest throughout my PhD. 

And also early I had done acting and actually learned something called improvised theater or improvisation, it’s a type of theater where you walk on stage without a script or fixed role so you walk out there every night and you don’t know what the play is going to be. Both science and acting were passions of mine and on that journey around the world I wanted to discover which way to follow, what should I do with my life.

I had learned a few things during my PhD that helped me on that journey. The first thing was organization, Francisco Torque decided that I could do an enhancer suppresses screen, well I was in-charge of thousands and thousands of plants. I had to be very organized to not lose track of all of the individual plants and their individual mutations. 

The second thing I learned was resilience, one day I came into the lab and most of my plants that I was studying had died because of a technical error in the green house. I was devastated and thought oh my god so much work and it all went down the drain because of one thing. But I had a friend in the laboratory from China and he used to say a Chinese saying which roughly translates to “When winter comes is spring faraway?”. When I heard him say that I thought of course he’s right. The plants were dead, but I still had the seeds and I still had the knowledge, so I could continue the project and I didn’t have to be that devastated about it. That was the second thing, resilience. 

The third thing I learned, that was big for me during the PhD was network. During lunch breaks and sometimes in the afternoon, I had a coffee with my friend Jared Rolands, who also did his PhD at the same time at the Max plank. We became friends and we used to go for long walks and talks science. He was in a protein lab and I was in the molecular biology lab. And sure enough during our PhD journey I sometimes needed advice about proteins and he needed advice about molecular biology. We helped each other and I believe that made our PhDs much stronger and better than they would have been.

So I was on that journey in 2012 and I had scheduled interviews with scientists and with actors to find out, what to do afterwards. The journey didn’t really give me an answer but it opened up new opportunities. So I was allowed to travel with a company, selling sequencers in Southeast Asia as well. And all that combined knowledge, let me to understand that I don’t have to choose one or the other but I could try to combine the analytics with the creativity. And after my post doc, I decided to found my own company in science communication, where I combined my knowledge from improvisational theater and from science to help creative people think in the more analytical way and analytical people to think in a more creative way. 

This work fulfils me and it really feels like the two hearts in my chest are starting to combine in a becoming one. What drives me and what has driven me is that moment of discovery, there’s always more to discover but that moment of discovery is unique, that moment of really understanding something. I love to really understand something for the first time to have that realization myself but I also love seeing it in others. Nowadays when I teach and give workshops and see that realization on a person’s face that is something unique and beautiful.

Thank you for listening and have a great day this was Ben Hardwick.


Thank you for listening to another episode of PhD Career Stories.

If you like our podcast you can follow us on our website PhDcareerstories.com or subscribe to our page on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter. 

That’s it for today, thank you and see you in two weeks

#084: Sonia Jaeger Story

Sonia Jaeger is German-French psychologist, psychotherapist, and PhD.

She has been living a location independent life as a digital nomad for the past four years while working as an online therapist, providing online counselling to expats and other globally mobile clients in German, French, and English.

After finishing her PhD she decided to take a break and travel the world. However, instead of returning home afterwards she decided to start an online private counseling practice and has been traveling the world ever since.

In 2018 alone she went to (and worked from) 12 different countries, from Australia to Europe all the way to Latin America. Currently, she has not only started to mentor other psychotherapists who want to work online but also facilitates workshops that broach the issues of mental health while living globally.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drsoniajaeger/
Website: https://www.sonia-jaeger.com

Continue reading “#084: Sonia Jaeger Story”

#083: Matt Hotze Story

Matt Hotze graduated with a doctorate in Environmental Engineering from Duke University in 2008 and he is currently Administrative Director at Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Engineering Research Center.

From his story, you will learn how almost failing the GRE exam brought him to the managing position he has now and how to apply business principles in academia and life. 

Matt also shares his experience with the dual-career challenge that many PhD couples face after their graduation and offers good advice on how to find a job and keep a relationship at the same time. 

By understanding people and how you interact with them you can improve your results, your research results.

Matt Hotze, PhD in Environmental Engineering

Continue reading “#083: Matt Hotze Story”

#082: Pearl Osirike Story

In this episode Pearl Osirike shares her story and some of the most important lessons she has learned during her PhD so far.  Pearl is a biochemist with an interest in drug discovery and infectious diseases. She holds a first-class degree and a masters degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria, where she also serves as an Assistant Lecturer. Currently, she is a second year PhD student of Molecular and Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases at the West African Centre for Cell Biology and Infectious Pathogens at the University of Ghana. 

Pearl is passionate about teaching and research and she is excited to share her story to motivate and inspire others. 

As a PhD student, the workload is vast, so I have learnt to break down enormous tasks into smaller, chewable sizes for effectiveness and to celebrate each small victory along the way. I find that each little victory gives me the strength to push on when the going gets tough.

To learn more about Pearl’s story, 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!

Continue reading “#082: Pearl Osirike Story”

#080: We celebrate the three years anniversary and talk about resilience

Podcast: Play in new window

PhD Career Stories podcast marks its third anniversary!

We can hardly believe it ourselves, but we are extremely proud that for three years we managed to bring you every two weeks a new inspiring story from our speakers and share with you our thoughts about PhD life and – importantly – the life after it. 

We are also happy to say that we are not going to stop – our team is continuously growing and new exciting projects and ideas are waiting to be realized. So stay tuned and keep us in your podcast subscriptions!

To celebrate, one lovely summer evening a part of our team sat at the virtual round table to discuss one of the hardest topics in career development – how to stay resilient during the career transition? 

Tina Persson offered for this discussion the questions that helped to unfold the concept of “resilience” and brought interesting notions and personal tips from the team members Michele Manzo, Jo Havemann, Subu Surendran, and Natalia Stolyarchuk:

1. Why do so many PhDs stress out at the end of their PhD?

2. What is an academic “bubble” and how does it prevent PhDs from looking beyond their thesis?

3. What could help PhDs to be more confident and resilient in the process?

4. How – and why – shall we talk about failures? 

5. Why digital platforms such as FB and LinkedIn are still so unpopular among PhDs? 

6. Why is it so hard for many PhDs to just stay between jobs?

Listen to the episode to know what came out of it!