Towards a research career? An interview with Dr Tatiana Coutto

Barbara Zak

Dr Tatiana Coutto is an active researcher who has regularly published articles and participated in the writing of books. Her current research activities deal with the EU institutions and policy-making processes as well as public diplomacy of middle powers. She is also a teaching fellow at the University of Warwick  (Department of Economics) and at the Catholic University of Lille (Faculté Libre de Droit). For more information about Dr Tatiana Coutto,  click on the link here.

dr-tatiana-coutto

Dr Tatiana Coutto

1 – Could you tell us about the studies, interesting internships, volunteer work you have done? At that time, did you already know about the career you wanted to pursue?

I had quite an interdisciplinary background, maybe because I was interested by many different things. I began my studies in Brazil (where I am originally from): I did Biology/Genetics during my undergraduate studies, and then I took a Business Management major. I was clearly interested by research work, but was not very sure about what exactly I wanted to do. I also thought of passing an exam to become a diplomat, but I was admitted to a Masters in International Relations in Rio de Janeiro. Then I realized I wanted to keep studying and learning for my whole life. I remember when the Berlin wall came down, when Maastricht was signed and when the Eurotunnel was opened. These events had a strong influence on me – I was really fascinated by the idea of bringing European states together and building solid peace.

My first internship was as a research assistant in a Biochemistry Laboratory, but I did not enjoy it very much. I also worked with Publicity Marketing when I was studying Business Management. During my PhD I worked as a stagiaire to the Brazilian Mission to the EU, in Brussels, and worked as a voluntary translator for a website about undocumented workers, PICUM.org.

 

2 – The profession of researcher may not be very clear to everyone. Could you explain what it consists in? How do you prepare to a research career after completing your PhD?

I think a research career starts well before you finish your PhD. It starts with curiosity to know more about things, and a pleasure to learn new things, too. A research career involves research work (field work, interviews, cleaning databases, writing articles, presenting them at conferences, submitting it to journals, applying for fund), teaching (+ preparing courses, office hours, marking and invigilating exams – the last two are not very exciting, I must say). Research funds are becoming more scarce, and the career is now very competitive. My advice is to try to work as an assistant since your undergraduate studies, and to get experience from internships as well. During your PhD do engage in teaching activities, and try to publish at least one good article. Again, working as an RA (research assistant) is an excellent option – you get research experience, and it will help you with contacts and reference letters in the future. If possible, spend one semester in another country to gain international experience. Do not wait to finish your PhD to start academic career – it does not work this way. Oh yes, make sure you finish your PhD with at least a basic knowledge of statistics (even Law scholars need that!).

 

3 – You regularly publish articles and participate in the writing of books. Do you have any favourite piece of work and/or a subject of preference?

I am now working on a project about British media and public attitudes towards the EU. The project is financed by the European Social Research Council (ESRC). I do not have articles on the topic yet, but we have a final conference coming up on 19 January in London. If you can make it to London feel free to register at ukandeu.ac.uk („events” page). Please spread the word!

So far most of my published articles are about Brazilian foreign and nuclear policy (published in the International History Review), biological weapons (in the Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals) and about the EU as an environmental actor. I published varied articles because I was involved in different projects – most scholars focus on one or two research domains only.

4 – How is the profession of researcher related to the profession of teacher?

They could not be more interrelated. It is important that teachers engage in research so they can remain updated about recent developments in their field (this is valid for any area of knowledge). I have the chance (whenever possible) to talk about my projects to my students, so the lecture becomes more engaging. Sometimes I also discuss articles I am working on with the students, so I can get a fresh view on my work. There is a tendency to undervalue teaching activities, but I think this is a mistake. Teaching is extremely important, even though it is a very tiring activity (of course you don’t realize that when you are a student – I didn’t use to!). You also have the opportunity to advise dissertations and thesis, which lies between teaching and research. I personally enjoy teaching a lot, but this is not a general rule in academia.

 

5 – What would you advise to students who aspire to pursue an academic career?

Do more than what the teachers and the programme require. Focus (easier said than done), get publications out before you finish the PhD. Everybody will face some difficult moment at a certain point of the career – you are not the only one. Limit the time you spend on facebook, snapchat, WhatsApp (they can be very disruptive). Stay informed (don’t rely only on newsfeed), and do not be afraid of feedback – feedback may not always be nice to hear, but your work improves a great deal.

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