Just as there are no stupid questions, there are no boring jobs. It’s just what you make of it. And yet... Regardless of your degree, you will always run the risk of ending up in a role that you will soon get bored of. The satisfaction of routine is not (yet) for you. Now and then you want to feel the rush of adrenaline and sink your teeth in a new challenge. And because you also want to find out in practical situations what (else) you can do. Sound familiar? Be inspired by the story of Dr. Katrien, who didn’t want to choose just one job.
Why did Katrien Vanherck, who has a doctorate in bio-engineering sciences, choose a project-based career? Her answer is surprisingly simple.
“Because I’m not good at choosing. Focusing on one thing or one activity takes a lot of effort. Having plenty of ‘breadth’ and variation has always been my thing. Even during my studies. I chose to do bio-engineering because it’s a very broad subject. Thanks to a small miracle, I managed to get a PhD. But even back then I worked on three sub-projects.”
During her PhD, she discovered that scientific writing and didactics were much more her thing than delving into one specific topic. Or just working in the lab.
“And that’s how I became a grant consultant. Three years ago I switched from my first employer to Modis, also to work as a grant consultant, where I was offered a permanent contract. Now I’m involved in successive but also parallel customer projects as a grant specialist.”
“All kinds of grants, all kinds of customers, all kinds of projects. It’s right up my street.”
“I help companies and organisations to win government grants, especially those for financing research projects. First and foremost, I try to understand exactly what the company does and which research projects are about to start. Then I investigate what kind of financial support is available for that. I then help to develop the grant application. Usually that involves a pitch or competition for which you have to submit a substantial dossier.”
Katrien has since helped companies such as eTheRNA Immunotherapies, Rejuvenate and a large Belgian pharmaceutical company to obtain grants worth more than €1 million for several projects.
“I currently have a permanent assignment at a pharmaceutical company in which I support the Infectious Diseases (Discovery) team with all their grant applications. I also advise them on specific issues relating to ongoing projects.”
Modis employs several grant consultants. They divide the assignments among themselves, initially according to their availability. These are often short-term assignments lasting several months that can also be carried out at the same time.
“On the odd occasion, I have been given too many responsibilities relative to the time I had available. If something like that happens, I can contact my managers and colleagues (ed., at Modis). Customer satisfaction is extremely important to me, so I always try to gauge that throughout the assignment. But it’s easy to keep my customers satisfied, as long as they get their grants (laughs). Occasionally we plan a kind of ‘final meeting’ to see how we can make the cooperation run even smoother the next time round.”
“Customers particularly value grant consultants who clearly know their own profession well and who can quickly get to grips with what they do. You have to be able to learn quickly, you have to want to delve deep into the grant subject (e.g. so that you understand all the rules) and you also have to be able to work very methodically and communicate clearly. If you want to write grant applications, you obviously have to be a good writer and have a good understanding of layout and structure. You also need to be able to distinguish between the main issue and secondary issues, and you have to be skilled at dealing with many types of people, with strict deadlines and peaks in the workload. So you certainly have to be able to cope with stress!”
So plenty of things that Katrien would never have learnt working in a lab. She discovers in practice all the other things she is good at and in which areas she wants to develop further.