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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Working in the European Commission – an interview with Jindrich Kloub

Barbara Zak

 

Professor Jindrich Kloub, DG Competition, European Commission

Jindrich Kloub, DG Competition, European Commission

As a former student at the Catholic University of Lille, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Jindrich Kloub who was my teacher of “Competition policy in the EU”. However, he firstly works as an EU civil servant at the Directorate-General for Competition (DG for Competition). He kindly accepted my request for doing a short interview about his career which may be helpful for students who aspire to work in the EU.

1- Could you tell us about your studies and the internships you have done? Was it in accordance with your career in the European Commission?

I studied law at the Charles University in Prague. Following graduation I worked as a lawyer for the City of Prague and later as an associate at a Prague office of an international law firm. In both of these jobs I dealt with commercial and corporate law. In parallel, I volunteered as a pro bono attorney at a human rights NGO in Prague, dealing with cases of international child abduction. To make a long story short, my studies and career prior to me joining the European Commission were almost completely unrelated to EU law and institutions.

2- How did you apply for the DG for Competition ? What was the procedure to enter this institution?

In 2003, shortly after my graduation from law school I applied for the EPSO competition that was organized in connection with Czech Republic joining the EU. Having passed the competition, I was placed on a reserve list and eventually found a job at DG Competition.

3- What does your work consist in at the DG for Competition?

I handle investigations into major European and international cartels, focusing mainly on cartels in the financial sector. My daily work is varied and encompasses handling investigative steps such as organizing and conducting dawn-raids or drafting requests for information, as well as prosecutorial and adjudicative tasks such as analysing evidence, drafting Commission prohibition and fining decisions, calculating fines and so on. In addition to my work on cases, I work on several policy projects related to fines, private damage litigation and others. Thanks to this variety of different tasks I keep enjoying my work for more than 8 years now.

4- While working for the EU, you are also teaching competition at the Catholic University of Lille. Do you have any other involvement in other fields or associations?

Between my work at the Commission, teaching commitments at the Catholic University, occasional participation at conferences and publications I find very little time for other professional engagements.

5- What would you advise to students who aim to work in the EU institutions?

As I see on my own story and the stories of my colleagues, there are many paths to a job at the European Institutions. The one element they all have in common is a proficiency in a foreign language. That is an absolute must. Therefore, I would urge students to work on their language skills so as to be able to comfortably work in another language.

Also, a great way to find out whether the work of an EU civil servant is something that one really likes is a traineeship at one of the EU institutions. This is a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of the EU institutions, make new friends and grow professionally.

Finally, I would advise them to pursue their interest and don’t be afraid to try different internships and work engagements. That way they will see what they truly enjoy in practice and not only in the abstract. And if that leads them to the EU institutions, they will be all the more valued for their experience.

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Innovations: a lesson from South Africa

Adrianna Brzozowska and Emil Wojtaluk talk with South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom at the European Innovation Convention 2014.

Emil Wojtaluk: What are the ways of encouraging young people to be more active and what do you think of EU policies for entrepreneurs? 

Derek Hanekom: Let me start from the second part of the question. I can’t really comment on European policy but I do know that one of their priorities is to encourage young entrepreneurs to come forward. I wouldn’t be able to speak with authority on what their instruments are and how they are trying to encourage it. I speak for my own country.

Derek Hanekom, South African Minister of Science and Technology ©EC/CE

Derek Hanekom, South African Minister of Science and Technology ©EC/CE

The short answer is that we are not doing enough in our own country, we need to do more but I’ll tell you some of the things that we’re starting to do. Firstly, doing it often with private sector is to create opportunity for good ideas to be brought to the table. So we have our big electricity supplier for example, we work with them and organize an annual event, and it’s an expanding annual event where schools across the country came with the school projects. They are giving awards in the variety of categories and they are able to show case of their project in Johannesburg but it’s all done regionally first. I must say it’s quite a lengthy process but at the end of the day interested people see their projects. So you may have a group of kids that designed energy efficient home or designed a solution to having affordable clean water in your house, better filtration unit or better waste management. They come up with the most amazing ideas!

What we can do institutionally and should be doing more of, is to create opportunities not to set schools but beyond schools, where you want to start a very developing entrepreneurship that people have the central point to take the ideas too. Those ideas, no matter crazy they might seem are being observed. If they are really nothing special, people will get back to them and say “this is why we think your idea is not gonna make it”- because not all ideas are good ideas. The principle of people generating ideas – that’s a good thing, doesn’t matter what. Amongst them, when you see some potential in an idea, we have state institution which we have recently put in place that will give the support that it needs to develop its next stage. It’s a fairly high risk. You get to the next stage where you might approach a venture capital provider, which could be a state-run institution or private sector venture capital provider. That’s very first stage when you are not likely to get anyone because the risk is very high – so we have an institution in South Africa called Technology Innovation Agency. It gets some annual budget, we’ve accepted that it goes in the early stage of innovation and is prepared to face risk. We are not going to take actions against entrepreneurs because there is a high failure of it. Because we know that out of 20 presented ideas 19 can go nowhere, but one can be the really winning idea.

Adrianna Brzozowska: So how this agency(Technology Innovation Agency) distinguish good project from other bad projects?

DH: At the end of the day a judgment should be made. People knowledgeable in the particular area have to make the judgment. The product may have to be tested so we do have a kind of a bureau of standards if it reaches that stage. The idea must contain some kind of scientific merit, if it’s something that is being tried and tested and there is kind of a doubt – all I’m trying to do is to put my name on it and then I say “you can do it but you have to do it on your own”. Because there is nothing novel and so on. You can’t put state money into anything and everything, you cannot. If there is genuinely different, more energy efficient housing design, for as an example. Or there is genuinely interesting idea on the development of a new application. There have to be some judgment and some research done. In fact there’s a surplus of such applications anyway. But the people looking at it will have to say “it’s very interesting”, we are very satisfied that there is a kind of market niche. It can give commuters an information in Cape Town when the next bus is going to arrive, after research we can find that there is no such application in that city. Then we say “excellent, we think that you have a good opportunity, we can fund you to take it to the next stage”.

EW: The last question is about innovation because this convention is about innovations and innovators. So what is your own definition of innovation, how could you describe it?

DH: I would agree with somebody because I keep reading definitions of innovation but I would say – the starting point is true but it goes beyond. Critical feature for innovation is underlying information and knowledge. But it’s taking existing knowledge and attaching to it creative thinking and creative ideas which will result in new, novel, useful product or service. I would like to go bit beyond that to say – innovation could be simply smarter ways of addressing problems, better ways of doing things, that’s innovation as well.

EW: Thank you very much.

DH: Thank you and good bye.

Incredible Young Scientists

Emil Wojtaluk talks with the winners of European Union Contest for Young Scientists 2013 (EUCYS): Sophie Healy-Thow, Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge. They were awarded for using natural bacteria to speed up the germination and subsequent growth of cereal crops.

wyw

Emil Wojtaluk: How did it start that you won this award?

Emer Hickey: We started when we entered a national competition which is called BT Young Scientists. So there are three of us: Sophie, Ciara and myself. We just wanted to go to the competition which is held in Dublin and what we did we used a natural occurring bacteria called Rhizobium and we applied it to wheat seeds, and we made them germinate faster. Then we won a national competition and we got the opportunity to represent Ireland in the European Union contest. Because of that we did a lot of work in the summer to improve the project for that…and you know, we went there and we won first place.

EW: It’s very specific area of work and takes a lot of effort. So who helped you to reach the goal? Because you need some funding, you need some scholarships, how does it work?

EH: The competition is well known in Ireland so we went to the University that is near of us and we asked them to show us how to grow bacteria, and how to work with bacteria so they showed us that. Then our science teacher helped us, he told us about the competition and then we just did it ourselves.

EW: And no help from non-governmental organizations or something like this?

Ciara Judge: We did get sponsorship of equipment from certain companies within Ireland because the competition(EUCYS) has a very good reputation. So when they found out we are doing a project for this competition, they were very happy to sponsor us. That was more material support so for example we were allowed to use the machines of one pharmaceutical company and we also got some lab equipment from another.

EW: Thank you very much and wish you a good luck.

Girls: Thank you!  

Coming back to the European Parliament #2

Ewa Krakowska and Emil Wojtaluk talk with Professor Zbigniew Zaleski, Polish psychologist and Member of the European Parliament in years 2004- 2009.

Ewa Krakowska: Before the adventure in Brussels, you were successful scholar and lecturer at the Catholic University of Lublin (the job that you currently continue). Which occupation do you find more fulfilling?

Zbigniew Zaleski: Tough question. With the first one I feel stronger connection. I worked hard and I did all I could in this field. But it was pleasure, because I met many people posing questions. The essence of science is asking questions, those that are most basic and valid- they are still deep if we look at my profession, psychology. It interests me, I would not change my job. Throughout five years of working in European Parliament I slightly gave up my academic work, although I managed to write a book called: „Psychology of support for New Europe”.

Answering the question, what I value more I would say that science is deep, rich and also occupies our minds. Many generations add something to its development, especially in psychology. For many years it was my way and identity. I identify myself with work at the University, with students. It keeps me still so alive. I highly value this way of life.

It’s not bad to be politician. You became so called VIP, it’s really comfortable. This occupation is easier than being a scholar. You may fail. In the world of science you must confirm your talent and knowledge. Political world functions other way. But I remember the times when I took advantage of being Professor in European Parliament where there are many other professors. I got along with them. As the scholar I was asked to share my opinion on issues like: abortion, circumcision of girls or adoption by homosexual marriages. As we can see my academic formation was not abandoned at that time. Sometimes I could even gain something because of it.

Emil Wojtaluk: Do you observe the work of Polish representatives in the European Parliament Mr Professor? If yes, how you can assess it?

ZZ: If you are inside you live it. After the loss I have been replaced by Professor Kolarska-Bobińska. I do not know what duty she fulfilled there, I must just see it. When I will enter there, I will quickly learn what is the status quo and I will participate in this Parliament as before. For the moment I observe it from outside like every citizen through the lens of hits: “What will happen?”, “important voting, speech”. I am interested in speeches of people that I know, for example the President Shultz – is he still a tough guy. I noticed that the role of Nigel Farage – critic of the Union, has grown up. His presence is necessary, because he sharpens the feeling in the others. And because I was there, I feel the spirit of time, I know what values are important and who is with who. Recently I was delighted with the news how much money we will get from EU budget for our Polish affairs. It was a satisfaction, thanks to this support we can develop continually. For now, I cannot imagine ourselves not to be in the European Union, even though I know the Union is not easy. It is good that we are there and we have our say.

EK: Are you going to continue the work of Professor Lena Kolarska-Bobińska or to propose your own initiatives?

ZZ: I am going to find out what she has done in our region. Good practices I will eagerly continue. For me, as a scholar, especially appealing is activity connected with youth. It’s not my desire to overwhelm them with EU, but just showing how to exploit all the possibilities they have in offer from the institution. I want to promote communication, direct contacts, languages. Previously I organised the project „Englishman in the family”. Somebody from Great Britain was going to Poland and was living with the family, so the kids could pick up some language skills. Then such a person was like Polish ambassador in homeland. So I guess I will think of the activities I like, in which I have the experience and some successes.

Coming back to the European Parliament #1

Ewa Krakowska and Emil Wojtaluk talk with Professor Zbigniew Zaleski, Polish psychologist and Member of the European Parliament in years 2004- 2009.

Emil Wojtaluk: According to the latest news we know that you will replace Mrs Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, MEP from this region. Is it confirmed fact?

Zbigniew Zaleski: There are some formal procedures connected with this. Either Mrs Kolarska-Bobińska will renounce her mandate or The European Parliament will make such decision. Then it goes to the Electoral Commission that confirms who is next from the last election results. Afterwards it goes through the Marshal of the Sejm. The procedure will last some time, approximately one month. Probably it can start to function from January. It may happen, that the candidate will reject the proposition, I agreed on this stage.

Ewa Krakowska: The situation is rather unexpected. Did you think about such coming back?

ZZ: I didn’t have that attitude. Five years of mandate is not long time. We could expect that Mrs Kolarska-Bobińska will finish normally her tenure.

And in time I became lukewarm towards the institution that once I had very strong connection. The emotions are less intense. Now I know how things work there. For somebody who is there for the first time it must be a significant experience. This time I will find my place in European Parliament quickly, because I know to which party I will join.

EW: There are several months left till the next European Parliament election, have you ever contemplated to be a candidate Mr Professor?

ZZ: No, I did not have such thoughts especially. I was there already, I was happy to function inside this body for a five years, to get to know Europe and the possibilities of the European Union. According to my own assessment I was working intensively. But now it does not depends only on me but on Party chiefs, because they are decision-makers, they are deciding who will be put up to run for election, who deserves it. I do not have expectations to bet on me, not particularly. The future will show.

EW: You have been chosen the MEP during the first election to the European Parliament conducted in Poland – new Member State of the EU at that time. What you remember the best from that experience?

ZZ: It was essential for me that we are in the Union and we are entering as the Members of the European Parliament. There were different MEP’s in the first “toss”. From that time some attitudes has changed, healthy Euro-criticism appears.

The first thing that I remember concerns languages, that people did not speak any foreign language but they claimed that they do. They stayed only in their groups. It was sad for me. Maybe they could create something new if they could communicate with the others. The situation was that nobody knew them, let alone they did not know anyone. If I could decide on appointing such person for the office, I would do a test, to assess if a particular person communicates in any foreign language. It is very important.

The next issue has historical character, for I read Norman Davies’ book White Eagle, Red Star about Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920. In 2005 fell the anniversary of Katyń massacre, being the fresh MEP I tried along with deputy Prof. Wojciech Roszkowski from PIS to commemorate that fact by the minute of silence during the session. We arranged copies of the letter containing death sentence for Polish officers – signed by Stalin by his famous blue pencil. To my surprise, the President Josep Borrell decided that there will be no commemorating. This decision came to me earlier. I regarded this as a fiasco. However people made a fuss of it – in a positive sense that journalists from France and Germany started to question me about this. I explained that to them and many articles were published. It became quite famous case in Europe, in some circles. I cared about it so that the other people, elites in the West could find out about this.

The other experience is connected with South America. I have been frequently asked to fly on a missions, the electoral mission for example. Maybe because I did not need any translator. Once on such visit, “I did cost” almost 10 million. In Bogota, during the break of working as an observer I went for a walk, to talk with the local people. It turned out later on that in existing conditions it was risky, it is very easy to kidnap anyone. It is how the people earns money there. One of our guards terrified after that event, followed me around until I went on a plane back to Europe. As I found out later, in the case of kidnapping I would cost 10 million dollars. Maybe I was ill-advised that I did not tell I am going out. The fact that I could jeopardize the European Parliament really moved me.   

(To be continued…)