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Researcher competences can easily be used outside academia

Maria Quvang chose to apply for a position outside the university when she finished her PhD. Listen to how it has equipped her to work with knowledge acquisition and planning of complex systems.

Facts on Maria Quvang

Since 2014, Maria has worked as a team coordinator in the Traffic & Roads office of the Aalborg Municipality. She has a master’s degree in urban planning and a PhD in mobility studies which she completed in 2016 while working for Aalborg Municipality. In 2010, Maria was employed as maternity cover on an EU project at the Traffic & Roads office of the Aalborg Municipality. In March 2011, she started as a PhD student at Aalborg University. In her PhD thesis, Maria investigated the depopulation of outlying areas and the centralisation of public institutions through a survey of mobility habits and descriptions of the challenges facing mobility in outlying areas in Northern Jutland.

Which professional competences acquired through your PhD do you rely on now?

I can bring a great deal of skills acquired through my PhD to my present job functions. My area of ​​expertise is one such thing. I wrote about mobility in outlying areas and work with mobility today. So, in that way, it's pretty spot on.

However, one thing is the subject you’ve studied; to a large extent the methods and the approaches you’ve used to study the subject are also of great importance. After all, this is where the source of the competences really is found, I think.

What are you working on today?

I’m working with ITS, i.e. intelligent traffic systems in the development of our driverless buses. Here, the analytical skills gained through the PhD are crucial for being able to quickly grasp a new subject and navigate an abundance of knowledge that’s currently being spewed out about driverless cars. So, now, I’m able to pursue a line of enquiry in existing knowledge and ask myself, "Is this something we can use for something?"

What has your PhD otherwise meant to your work life?

This thing of being in a complex world where new knowledge is constantly surfacing – I feel that completing the PhD has prepared me for this.

It’s about the skills not the degree

As a PhD student, it is essential that you study your field and subject in depth. But doing it on your own and learning to build a professional network is nearly as important, as well as attending conferences on your own and cutting a good professional figure. I definitely feel that the ability to speak professionally which is cultivated at the university makes it easier to engage when meeting with other disciplines.

Were you clear from the start that you wanted to apply outside academia?

No, I wasn't. I had a hard time figuring out that this was what I wanted. But I've probably always had a gut feeling that I was going a different route from the university. My experience was that the university community very much prepared the ground for continuing in the academic track, so I found it a bit difficult to stop, pause and head in a different direction. The outside world may appear like a bit of a back-up plan and I think that’s a pity, because you actually acquire a lot of skills as a PhD student which may be brought into play outside the university and can be taken in many different exciting directions.

How did you find work after completing your PhD?

I went on maternity leave before submitting my thesis and, at the end of my maternity leave, I applied for this job which was in line with the experience of the municipality which I’d gained before I enrolled as a PhD student.

At the time, I probably had a hard time selling “that extra” which I could contribute as a PhD graduate. I think it's hard to reflect on while you’re in the midst of it. It’s much easier when you come out the other end and can see what skills you have actually acquired, and it’s about the skills and not the PhD per se.

And when I talk to those who are still PhD students, it seems to me that they’re also concerned about what they can really do with it. I think there are many who think that if the field of study doesn’t fit 100 percent, is it then useful? And my answer is: "Yes it is".