Melanie Sauter is a PhD researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. She got accepted to the PhD programme before she had finished her Master's thesis.
Photo: The European University Institute
How did you get your current job?
I applied formally for the annual intake of PhD Researchers at the European University Institute (EUI). I had to submit a research proposal for my planned PhD thesis and attend an interview in Florence.
What do you think were the most important factors for you getting the job?
I would say three main factors contributed. Firstly, the PECOS program allowed me to do an internship at the UN Secretariat in New York. Thanks to the flexibility of the program, I was able to finish my Master’s degree within the expected two years even though I stayed six months abroad for my internship. Secondly, I received excellent supervision for my Master’s thesis from two supervisors at PRIO. PRIO is internationally well known for its quality research in the field of conflict studies and having references from there definitely helped me getting this PhD position. Thirdly, I was able to gain first teaching experience as “seminarleder” for the Bachelor’s Course in “Politics and Development”.
What are your main responsibilities?
Writing my PhD thesis. The EUI is an exceptional research institution insofar as doctoral candidates are not required to fulfill any teaching or assistantship activities connected to their grant. We can thus fully focus on our research during the four years.
What are you working on right now?
I just started a couple of days ago. The first year consists of course work and the writing of our final research proposal. Year 2-4 are mainly independent research activities, depending on each individual project.
How do you use you education from PECOS in your job?
PECOS definitely prepared me well in terms of methodological training. I took an additional elective in quantitative methods training. The Master thesis in PECOS is quite big compared to other programs as it basically runs through the whole second year. I was able to apply a wide range of advanced statistical techniques and learned how to plan a big research project. This prepared me well for writing the research proposal for the application and helps me plan my research project now. My PhD thesis is on a similar topic as my Master thesis was, thus I already know the literature and datasets in that field.
What are your best tips for students who want to become more attractive in the job market?
If you are interested in a PhD, you should definitely focus on your methods training. Also, try to publish small articles or blogposts as early as possible. As a researcher, it is important to have good writing skills.
Further, try to get a teaching or research assistant position at the university or at one of the many research institutions in Oslo. Be proactive and push for opportunities – don’t wait for them to come to you.
Of course, grades matter too if you want to pursue a career in academia but try not to get stressed out about it too much. I got accepted to the PhD program before I had finished my Master thesis, thus they evaluated me based on my average grades of the coursework and the quality of my proposal.
Most importantly, don’t take it personal or doubt your abilities if you get turned down. At the EUI, successful applications depend strongly on whether you can find a professor that is willing to supervise your thesis – so maybe your topic just doesn’t fit with their interests.