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An inspiring journey from the Netherlands to Germany

Suzanne van Beeck Calkoen was a PhD in the lab until few months ago, studying predator influence on deer diet selection in anthropogenic landscapes. Suzanne, who is originally from the Netherlands, is currently working on her post-doc position while living in Göttingen (Germany). However, finding her way from the Netherlands to Germany, two neighbouring countries, wasn’t just a case of crossing a border. Suzanne relocated multiple times across borders, which was not always easy. Especially, when moving to Germany the support of DAAD (standing for German Academic Exchange Service) was very welcome. Eventually, Suzanne’s goal was not the destination, but all the experiences gained during the journey itself.

Between her BSc and MSc, both carried out at Wageningen University (the Netherlands) in the field of Nature Conservation, she decided to take some months off to travel. These included a four-months period in South Africa. There she was helping a PhD student working on the role of apex predators in ecosystem functioning.

After having had a first glimpse of what a PhD life can be, she remained in touch with the supervisor of the PhD she was helping and eventually he offered her a master thesis topic in Sweden. During a conference, her master thesis supervisor got in contact with her future PhD supervisor at the University of Freiburg, Germany., who asked her whether she was interested in an internship in the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany. It was not difficult to say yes. Suzanne was very keen on the variation of topics and curious about the projects (foraging behaviour in large herbivores, environmental variables, and wildlife management). The projects went so well, that Suzanne and her supervisor decided to apply for a PhD position to continue her research in the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany.

But the first step of doing a PhD was difficult. As many other PhDs, Suzanne was facing the challenge of finding the funding for her project. And that was the moment when DAAD came in the picture. The DAAD is the largest German support organisation in the field of international academic co-operation. Among other activities, it offers scholarships for international PhD students who pursue a PhD career in Germany. Suzanne successfully submitted her research proposal and received a PhD grant from the DAAD. It was a smooth process and Suzanne was happy to start her doctoral journey.

The DAAD was not only a funding party, but also an active network opportunity. During her funding period of 10 months, Suzanne could join a three-day retreat in Bonn, DAAD headquarters. This event, organized bi-annually, gave all the PhDs who had received a DAAD grant the chance to meet. Since DAAD funds research in all fields, these moments really give PhD candidates the possibility to get to know each other, learn soft skills through the offered workshops and present their research. This also creates an alumni network for their future. Additionally the organisation offers German courses and supports by providing information and giving administrative help when moving to another country (e.g., health insurance).

Suzanne recently defended her PhD thesis and is currently back in the process of getting her post-doc established. For her social and career perspectives, she considered her experiences abroad crucial due to the wealth of cultural exchanges.

When applying for a PhD in Germany, Suzanne would recommend:
» Do not underestimate the time a PhD research proposal might take to be granted. Involve an organisation such as the DAAD to help you out with the funding process, participate in social activities, support with administrative procedures and more.
» Consider learning the language of the hosting country. This is not compulsory but would help feeling part of the country and more welcome.
» Find an activity which allows you to meet new people. A team sport activity is a perfect way to join a group and indirectly learn a language and a culture.
» Be aware of cultural differences. They are a chance to open your mind and broaden your horizon. Sometimes they might seem weird or irrational, but they really help embracing the new culture.

Are you also considering Germany as a possible option for your PhD? Find more information about the DAAD scholarship on their website and navigate through the German research environment on the ”Research in Germany” website.

As for Suzanne’s research, these can be found on her ResearchGate page, or if you want to already start practising your German, you can listen to her podcast on Spotify.


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