If you think about things like phishing and cyber-attacks, you know a lot of things can go wrong when using the internet. Despite the risks, we are quite happy to use it. Esther Keymolen was intrigued by this paradox and made it her main research question during her PhD in philosophy. Nowadays, she works at Leiden University as an assistant professor at eLaw, the interdisciplinary Center for Law and Digital Technologies.
‘For a philosopher there are not that many positions in the academic world’, says Keymolen. ‘It’s not necessarily a logical step to stay here after your graduation. That’s also why I am not working at a philosophy faculty but at a law faculty. So I am actually undercover, adding a different perspective from my philosophy background.’
Keymolen’s job exists out of three main components. She teaches, researches, and she is also a manager. ‘I am the academic coordinator and director of education. That combination makes it very interesting. Because of that third component I am in touch with students, colleagues and in the here and now. However, because of all these tasks, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to actually do my research and write academic articles.’
Nevertheless, Keymolen does not consider herself a typical academic. ‘There is this stereotype of academics, only focusing on their research. My world is bigger. I am very interested in analysing and thinking about technology and how it affects and impacts our everyday life. The university is one of the places where you can do that best, but not necessarily the only place. My heart is in academia but my view is broader.”
'I don’t want to be defined by only one thing. I think I am more than just an academic scholar. I am also interested in policy. Before doing my PhD I worked for the Scientific Council for Government Policy in The Hague. But of course I really do like the academic world. You have to, in order to keep up with it. It’s a very tough job with long working hours. It’s important that you really like the job, your topic and your colleagues. Because you spend a lot of time with them.’
Structure your research
During her PhD, Keymolen attended courses at the Graduate School. One of the most important things she learned here is setting goals and structuring her research. ‘Writing a dissertation is a very big task that takes four years at least. You have to force yourself to cut it into little pieces and trust yourself that you are able to complete the whole thing. What I learned at the Graduate School, I still use nowadays as a strategy to keep my agenda manageable.’
Another important lesson Keymolen learned at the Graduate School is to stay open minded towards other disciplines, which still helps her today working at an interdisciplinary department. ‘I also took some interesting courses, like English academic writing. That’s still very useful nowadays. I also attended a course on using social media. Also very helpful. It made me start tweeting, which I consider as my professional outlet and an important way to get information from the outside world.
Build a network
But mostly the Graduate School helped me to build a network. It’s a kind of platform to interact with other PhDs who do not necessarily work in my field. Having someone to share your experiences with and knowing you’re not the only one struggling, is a nice thought. That’s also one of my main pieces of advice for current PhD candidates; just to make sure that you don’t get lonely.’
Another tip is go to conferences and present your work. Looking back, Keymolen regrets that she didn’t do this more often. ‘For four years you live in a cocoon and then suddenly you are in the outside world and people are going to ask you all kinds of questions on your work. A little practice is very helpful.’