Interview Zsofia Buttel

Final year PhD, Zsofia Buttel is a real believer in diversity of knowledge and skills, cross-disciplinary moves and an ever-evolving career. With a passion for networking and making connections between academia and industry, last year she decided to chair the Organizing Committee for the 2017 PhD Day. The event was a great success and offered – through various formats – a range of insights into PhD career perspectives. This experience has been a great addition to Zsofia’s previous extracurricular activities such as being the Chair of the GSSE PhD council for almost two years, focusing on educational policy and representation of PhDs or being an active member of the Marie Curie Alumni Association. “I love networking and being part of the scientific community” – she said when I met her.

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Q: What did you gain from participating in these activities?

Zsofia: I’ve met a lot of inspiring people and learned a lot through these new collaborations. Organizing the PhD Day has contributed significantly to my professional and personal development thanks to the diverse, talented and dedicated team I worked with. Being involved outside my immediate research area also offers development in areas such as project management, organisational skills, communication, just to name a few. And very importantly, I learned a lot about myself, what I’d like to do in life – it allows me to get out of my PhD bubble. Believe me, at the end of the day, all I learned from these activities are also beneficial for my research!

Q: What are your main challenges while participating in these activities and how do you overcome them?

Zsofia: First of all, it all takes you straight into ’real life’, where you need to make business decisions, budgets must be raised and managed, stakeholders need to be kept happy, processes must work and your team needs to be motivated to push a tough agenda. I also learnt (the hard way) that a day consists of 24hrs, you need to manage your time well. And you need to be resilient – challenges will come at all points of the organisation, things will go wrong, speakers will cancel last minute, your plan Bs need to be pretty solid – and you need good nerves. 😊

Q: How do you view your future after your PhD study?

Zsofia: It's a tricky question because right now I'm very consciously keeping my focus only on finishing my PhD next year. What I've discovered during my 'non PhD' volunteer experiences is that I very much enjoy working with people, negotiating and bringing attention to issues like researchers' careers or building the scientific community. I could see myself involved in educational and science policy or consultancy, but I also don’t want to draw lines just yet - I do love research after all. I am inspired by the concept of a diverse career with different stages bringing me different experiences. Oh, and on a 5- to 10-year scale I will definitely have a dog.

While many of us think volunteering to do other activities means losing time for our research project, Zsofia thinks differently. While hard skills are specific to our research field, soft skills can always be applied anywhere. Zsofia convinced me that what she learned from her volunteering experiences also pay off to her research later on. No doubt that they will also benefit her career path in the future.

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