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 teaching 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

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,


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

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview and for your time.





Discovering the Universe

Kamil Augustyniak

From the space our planet appears to be a tiny blue point surrounded by endless black of the Universe. This is quite funny since from the perspective of ourselves the situation is completely opposite. We see the magnitude, diversification of species and mystery still not leaving our home. However, the essential role with challenging the difficulties, here on our planet, plays the cosmic space.



Today, the Earth is undergoing global changes. In order to react accurately we need to look for the solutions collectively and to be frank, we know how to do it in Europe. Since Europeans cooperate efficiently from the end of the II WW, they know how to change the idea into reality. The collaboration in the area of politics, economy or even environment does not surprise at all, but the investigation of cosmic space – not necessarily. One can ask why the cooperation in this field among European countries is the primary condition while the United States, Russia or China do it on their own initiative. Well… it’s all about the money. Since Europe is full of small states, separate financial capabilities are relatively limited.

ESA’s mission and structure

“ESA’s purpose shall be to provide for, and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems.”[1]

This is why, in 1975 the European Space Agency (ESA) was created bringing together at first ten European countries. Considered as an intergovernmental organization established for the implementation of a common European program of research and exploration of space in its tasks also include supporting development of a modern and competitive industry in all member states. The number of participant states increased significantly throughout years to reach 23 members this year (based on a separate agreement Canada is its participant as well). Since not every EU member state is affiliated, the ESA is not recognized as the European Union’s agency and still stands as an independent organization. However, since 2004, pursuant to the Framework Agreement[2] legal cooperation between these two organizations is tangible because for now, the EU is the largest donor to ESA’s budget.



ESA’s programs

  1. Mandatory programs: funded by contributions from the member states (their amount is proportional to the national income of individual countries). These programs include space exploration (the construction and use of the equipment for such research), scientific programs (physics of the solar system), astronomy and fundamental physics, technology research, educational programs, etc.
  2. Optional programs: financed only by countries committed to them. Participation of respective countries is determined by negotiations conducted separately for each program. The scope of such operations is not precisely specified. They include inter alia the construction of a European rocket, robotics and software techniques (telecommunication, earth observation, navigation) and more recently the Space Situational Awareness (SSA)[3].

Recent operations



There is about 500 million inhabitants in Europe nowadays. Therefore we are facing fundamental challenges having a real influence to our future. Not talking only about social, cultural or religious transformations caused for instance by current inflow of immigrants, but also technological, industrial and ecological changes. What is more, sometimes the only appropriate solutions for the Earth are hidden far away above our heads. This is why Europeans work on a milestone projects and they do it right. In 2004 the Rosetta mission was launched and is described as a key mission of ESA’s space research program Horizon 2000. In its implementation the agency cooperates with national space agencies and NASA. The purpose of the mission is to carry out necessary research to know the origins of comets, as well as to explain the relationship between cometary and interstellar matter and their significance for the formation of the solar system. In August 2014 the space probe has arrived to its target and entered its orbit being simultaneously the first probe in history landed on the surface of the comet. Polish contribution to such crucial project is essential for the success of the mission. Constructed by the methods developed at the Warsaw University of Technology, a penetrator MUPUS carries out geological research on the comet.



Another program, this time only for Europe, is Galileo – Europe’s own satellite navigation system and finally will consist of 30 satellites spread on the Earth’s orbit. The system is about to be the alternative to American GPS and Russian GLONASS but, in contrary to them, will be controlled by civil institutions. However, the navigation system is still under construction and is not going to be efficient till 2020. Satellite navigation systems are used in many areas of the economy, including the energy network monitoring, logistics, air traffic management or even live saving. It is estimated that 6-7% of the European GDP depends on satellite navigation applications. The satellite technology market itself is worth 124 billion euro. Thanks to Galileo, till 2020 this amount is expected to increase to 250 billion euro.[4]


[1] Convention of establishment of a European Space Agency, Article II Purpose, SP-1317, 2010.

[2] Framework Agreement between the European Community and the European Space Agency, OJ L261, 2004.