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From classic archaeologist to teacher of project management in consultancy firm

While on a dig in Jordan, Annette Højen got a taste for project management. A PhD and a postdoc provided additional experience and, together with a more formal upgrading of skills, she paved a new career path outside the walls.

Facts on Annette Højen

Annette Højen trained as a classical archaeologist. In 2010, she submitted her PhD thesis on Cretan trade relations and diplomatic relations around the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age. Since then, she has further developed the experience of project management and teaching that the project gave her. After working as a VI-form college teacher of classical studies, amongst others, she now works at the consultancy house Metier where she teaches project management.

What skills do you use most in your current job?

In my current job, I teach a whole lot. Primarily various forms of project management – i.e. both certification courses and also more general courses. They may be hosted by companies or other actors. Moreover, I continuously develop learning material for all these courses.

So my teaching experience and my communication skills are central to my profile. They date back to my studies. I've always had to defend my profession - and answer questions about what it can actually be used for and how it’s a social asset. During my university career, I then sharpened the communication skills I already had.

How did you leave academia?

After completing my PhD, I was hired to work with Roman sculptures as a postdoc and assistant professor. It was something completely different to what I’d written about. The job was to coordinate the processing of finds in a major excavation in Jordan. This was when I became seriously bitten with this thing of what it takes to get a big project up and running. At the same time, there weren't really that many jobs, so it was also a bit of a reality check.

Then, I had to work out what do to next. So, I worked as a teacher at VI-form colleges - first at Haderslev Cathedral School - and then at the Aarhus Private VI-Form College, where I taught classical studies. I applied for a job that had become vacant after a period of sick leave. And, although the principal could’ve had someone with the exact profile he wanted, he chose me - because of my teaching experience and the wide range of my education, I think.

How did you build on to your research background after leaving academia?

While I held these positions, I began to enhance my skills in project management so that I could move in that direction.

During my postdoc, I had to manage a lot of complex collaborative relationships as part of the excavation. So, I began to think that it would be really nice to know more about formal project management. I thought that I hadn’t had much to do with it before and I thought it could well be useful when carrying out research - knowing how to manage a project, get it in the bag and not set it up too big.

Actually, I’d gained quite a lot of experience with it just by working as a PhD student and a postdoc.

How did the PhD equip you for it?

When you get that kind of scholarship, you are given three years - and then you can’t get your hands down and think you’ve a tremendous amount of time available. You quickly find out that you don’t actually - and you need to keep a handle on the time and extent of it. Otherwise, it’ll slide. You also need to stay in touch with your supervisors and make sure they help to keep you on track.

Besides, many things can happen during a project - and they did for me, too. By way of example, I worked with material in the Middle East and things are evolving there all the time and you are subject to political factors. And if you don’t factor this into your planning and haven’t thought about what to do when e.g. you can’t go to Syria, then you’re in a pickle. You have to generate an overall view of the situation and not give up. I became good at that when doing research and I’ve subsequently made much of that in my job search.

All this is difficult - of course - because you’ve never tried it before. That's why there's a huge lesson in it and, when you succeed, I think you’ve some amazing skills to bring to companies and say, "I can actually manage a complex project". I think that’s very important - not only in project management, but in many jobs outside the walls.