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Being a project manager at the National Geographical Institute of Bruxelles

We met Dr Katharine Maussen when she was still doing her PhD at ULB, during a summer school in 2017. Just before being graduated with her PhD, she was recruited by the National Geographical Institute in Bruxelles. Let's have a look at her story!

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Katharine, can you introduce yourself and tell us who you are?

Ever since I was a child, I have loved travelling and nature. My adventurous spirit is the reason I started studying geology in the first place and the highlights of my geology program at my university were the numerous field trips to go look at outcrops in different places in Belgium and western Europe. The day after my master’s defence I left for Mexico to go volunteer for a volcano research program for five months, where we did fieldwork every single week. This experience motivated me to do a PhD in volcanology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, during which I often went to the Philippines to collect data and samples on several volcanoes there.

You have just started a new job: can you tell us more about it? What do you do?

I have just started working at the National Geographical Institute in Brussels as a project manager. I am currently responsible for the update of different types of spatial databases. These databases are used to make topographic, tourism and aeronautical maps, for organisations but also for individuals. I am leading a team of 10 cartographers who are measuring the coordinates of new buildings, roads, antennas and much more via aerial photos and I am designing automatic geospatial workflows for the preparation, processing and export of the data.

Was your PhD mandatory for the job?

I was not required to have a PhD degree to get this job, although it is certainly an asset because a large part of my job consists of developing new workflows. Both internal and external clients often come up with new requirements for our export products, and it is up to me to find a way to integrate these changes into the existing processes. A significant component of my PhD project involved working with spatial and temporal datasets, which I am continuing in my current job. Furthermore, my PhD has taught me to handle deadlines, to manage projects and to adapt to continuously changing conditions.

You have been through different rounds of interviews. Can you describe the recruitment process at the National Geographical Institute?

I am working for a federal government organisation, which implies a standardised recruitment procedure. After applying, all prospective government employees pass a logical reasoning, an email inbox and a situational judgement test according to their education level. The ones who pass can proceed with a job-specific computer test, followed by an interview for the best-ranked candidates. I went on a total of five interviews for different jobs while I was simultaneously writing my PhD manuscript, and the interview for my current job is the only one during which my motivation for the job significantly increased while talking with the selection panel.

Was it crystal clear for you what you would do after your PhD? How did you prepare for your applications?

I ruled out an academic career pretty early on because of the continuous uncertainty during the post-doc years about where the next pay check is coming from or which continent you will be living on in a few months. I was looking for a more stable job which still allowed me to stay in touch with nature and travel occasionally. I followed a summer school “Boost your Career”, by Bérénice Kimpe from ABG at my university in 2017. This summer school enabled me to define two or three career options that matched up with both my personal preferences and the skills acquired during my PhD, while at the same time boosting my confidence when realising there were more of the latter than expected. I then started applying for jobs using the tips and tricks from the summer school on writing my CV and cover letter, and on how to present myself during an interview.

We are looking for additional guest bloggers for our website! If you are interested in sharing your experience, explaining how you designed and implemented your career plan, talking about your career path beyond academia or about your experience in France as a mobile researcher... send us your story at international@abg.asso.fr and be visible for a large audience of PhDs and recruiters. We are looking forward to reading them!
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