From graduate school to a national data center supporting open science across Europe: talking about shiny post-PhD trajectories with Dr Ricarda Braukmann


Dr. Ricarda Braukmann is a fresh PhD awardee. She graduated from the Donders Graduate School for Cognitive Neuroscience in Nijmegen, the Netherlands in February 2018, defending her thesis entitled ‘Social-cognitive processing and familial risk for autism spectrum disorder’. Today, she works as a Program Leader for Social Sciences at Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), the Netherlands institute for permanent access to digital research resources. DANS is an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). DANS hosts a data archive, a national portal for science information, and provides training and consultancy for other institutes. In this interview, we are going to find out how Dr Braukmann found her current job, how a day of her life looks like right now, and how she thinks about her past, present, and her future.

Ricarda, how did you proceed from academia to working for DANS?

Actually, I was quite happy with my PhD, both in terms of the topic and the supervision. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for me to continue my research line at my institute in the Netherlands, and I wasn't willing to move abroad for a postdoc position. I actually started searching for other options halfway through my PhD already. In particular, I was intrigued by the  Professional PhD Program (PPP) organized by the PhD Candidates Network of the Netherlands (PNN), which is meant to help young researchers in the Netherlands find jobs outside academia. Within this program, PhD candidates can apply for internships in companies and government agencies. I thought this was a great idea, but the available PPP positions at that time were not fitting for me. As I was already passionate about open science and knew of the work DANS was doing, I was proactive and contacted them explaining my wish to gain experience outside academia. I was very lucky, as I indeed got the chance to work for DANS during a four months part-time internship in my final, fourth year of the PhD. The internship was the starting point of the job I have now, which DANS offered me after I finished my PhD.

What are your responsibilities at DANS? How does your typical day at the office look like?

As program leader for the social sciences, I am responsible for coordinating the work that DANS is doing within this domain. I am part of the Policy and Communication Department, which focuses on developing policies related to data management, curation and open science. We also work on training programmes for researchers and research support staff, and we are involved in consultancy, outreach and engagement activities.

I commute to work on a train, and my activities start there: on the morning train to the office, I usually read papers, articles or policy documents related to data management and open science. There are lots of new initiatives in this field, and our job is to stay up to date with the developments. On Monday mornings, we have update meetings with our division, usually attended by 10-12 people. As I work on quite a few different projects, my day then usually includes a couple of different meetings, either with my colleagues at DANS or with international partners via skype. I also travel quite a lot, attending (inter)national project or community meetings, training events or visiting conferences presenting our work. Despite the busy schedule, I always had a habit to work 8 hours per day, even during my PhD. Therefore, I attempt to finish all my job-related activities before I leave the office.

Can you give examples of projects you are working on?

A great project that we have been involved in last year was the development of an online training module on research data management for social scientists. We developed it within the European Consortium of Social Sciences Data Archives (CESSDA) and it’s freely available online.

Another project we are currently working on, called FREYA, deals with Persistent Identifiers (or PIDs). PIDs are useful to ensure that digital resources remain accessible and can be linked to create integrated knowledge graphs. Within FREYA, I am involved in community engagement and project communication.

How did completing a PhD help you in developing this career path?

Actually, the answer is quite straightforward: For my position, DANS was looking for someone with research experience, preferably with a PhD. It totally makes sense, as we are working on establishing the policies and infrastructure for future science projects. Also the PhD project itself allowed me to develop some skills useful in my current job. My research was part of a large European project where I learned how to set up collaborations and work with international team members.

What are the differences between your current job and a PhD?

I am involved in a number of national and international projects right now, but some of my work still resembles the times of my PhD. For instance, we also go to conferences with posters and presentations. I also still read a lot of (scientific) articles and we write grant proposals to get funding for our (inter)national projects. What is different in my current job, is that the goals and deliverables for each project are predefined and more strict compared to typical research projects which - in my experience - allow for more freedom. However, at the same time, the structure at DANS is very open and less hierarchical than in a typical academic environment and I have a lot of freedom to propose new projects and take a lead in their execution. What I really like about my work in open science is that we all share the same goals, and we play in the same team. It’s not as competitive as science can be.

Can you tell us more about your working conditions?

I am really happy with the working conditions. I am currently receiving a good Postdoc salary, and I decided to work 4 days a week. DANS is flexible about working hours and working style which is very nice. Of course I need to meet the deadlines, but if I spend more time working around the deadline, I can take some time off afterwards.

Lastly, why did you take a decision to go for this type of job?

Honestly, I did not have a big vision for the next twenty years of my life at the start. But, it was not a coincidence either. I wanted more stability in my job, but I also wanted to do something that has a societal relevance - something I am passionate about. And, I am passionate about open science, about making data available and well documented so that they can be reused. Now I am working on the future of science together with my colleagues at DANS and other professionals across the globe, which is really exciting.

I also have a lot of opportunity for personal growth. For instance, I am currently following a leadership course from the Royal Academy, where I am trained on how to lead large projects. I have the feeling that I am growing faster than I would have in academia at the same time.

Thank you for the conversation and good luck with your path Ricarda!


Natalia BielczykComment