Chris Frauenberger on post-docs, parental leave & multiple dreams

Chris Frauenberger is a post-doctoral researcher and principle investigator at Technical University Vienna. Chris shares his experiences navigating various post-doc positions, taking parental leave, negotiating with his partner about family-career choices, dealing with an uncertain future, and being strategic about trying to build up a CV and visibility to maximize the chance of getting a permanent position.   He also reflects on what happens if this doesn’t happen and being able to pursue other dreams.

 “It’s hard to say no to something because then you are effectively jeopardizing your CV and that’s a bit of a silly game”

“Sometimes it’s really healthy to take a step back and think about what are the kinds of dreams that you have and if you’ve got enough dreams to do you feel less anxious about that one working out”

“I’ve done all the things that I think I can do… but there’s a limit to how much control I have over the rest”

He talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Moving to the UK as a PhD student and experiences; Shifting to a Post Doc position in Sussex and shifting topics

13:40 Finding participatory design aligning with his values and it becoming one of his central fields

15:50 Not being strategic about the decision of where to next, but relying on things ‘feeling right’, just doing things; no point not being happy with decisions

19:35 Family situation, negotiating agreements to handle both partner’s career needs, but at a cost of lots of travel between London, Graz and Brussels for three years

22:30 Tensions and tradeoffs in making decisions about moving to Brussels for partner’s opportunity, leaving professional networks and career imaginations, versus financial security, time with son but (always feeling a but); in the end still a quick clear decision

25:20 Being emotionally hard to leave the UK, the difficult of thinking about doing participatory work with language issues in Brussels; making a deal with partner about next move being his if something came up

27: 30 Enjoying the good life in Brussels, looking after children, but still trying to publish, write grant applications

28:50 A lot of uncertainty around career but also a lot of security financially; but “what do I do with my career” and after two proposals fail “What if I don’t get back into that loop?”, checking out options in design companies

29:55 Third grant proposal finally getting funded – straight after the call, being hit by the reality of having to “move all this to Austria now”, almost a frightening thought that it had come true; but no regrets

32:00 The three years in Brussels show on his Google Scholar page – not just about writing journal publications but whole social networking you miss out on, not being asked to do service roles, not having visibility; also tiring without support structure around you

34:00 Motivation to work on papers while on parental leave; driven by sense of unfinished business and carving out time to work on writing around running a household

38:10 Anything different to support networking and visibility? Strategic twitter use but it still can’t replace the many small conversations you have when you meet people face to face

40:30 Problems not having parental leave officially sanctioned and impact on applying for grants where this leave isn’t formally recognized since he was technically ‘unemployed’ not on parental leave

43:15 Experiences taking on principle investigator role, being able to do what he wanted to do, employing good PhDs, steering/shaping and being able to step out and let it run

45:35: Learning curves? Leading from behind, giving as much freedom as possible, leading by asking questions but depends on having the good people to do this with – felt natural

47:20 Do differently next project? Shaping the environment, more of a research studio, getting to a more integrated way of working around a table

50:15 Reflecting on being nervous at the beginning of the project about publishing and dealing with paper rejections in the first year – concern about “what if this project doesn’t yield the currency that I need” after three years not publishing

52:15 Focussing on raising profile, saying yes to everything, lots of reviewing, service roles internationally and within the faculty – becoming more visible, setting up a good CV profile to be considered for jobs

54:30 Huge relief of next project funding after other proposals falling through, other applications not coming off, but wanting to stay where he is, which makes for vulnerability and having little leverage; making it hard to say no because of CV; but liking many of the service roles for conferences and communities, and having influence

59:25 The future after this next project? Not wanting to be in the same emotionally draining situation as at the end of the current project, diversifying in also thinking about career choices including outside of academia - “If that’s the case [of something not working out] I’m going to pursue one of my many other dreams”… wanting to stay in the academic system but recognizing that it “might spit him out

01:02:50 Academia quite hard in having to live with rejections and needing to find a way to distance self, but if things “don’t work out then you have to embrace that as a positive thing” and you go to a different dream

01:05:00 Having an absolute last parachute of going back to Brussels if really needed but not wanting to; taking best of three years to be in a place and tiring to re-build it

01:07:38 “That’s how I calm myself down, saying I’ve done all the things that I think I can do and like to think they’re working out well, but there’s a limit to how much control I have over the rest

01:08:00 One of the downsides of this constant worry is impact on doing actual research, instead time is spent on writing proposals, doing things for profile; having more future certainty will provide more freedom to do that

01:09:40 Looking at what kind of position he wants to have, by looking at others and how busy they are and how little they do get their hands dirty, “it’s not entirely positive”; ambition to have a small research group

1:11:40 Concerned with increased push to performance measurement, how to find time to write, do research and chase next job;

1:14:00 PhD time the best of your life but not believing it when you are a student!

01:15:45 End

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