Alumni Stories: Agnieszka Tajchert
"Thanks to chemistry, I was able to go to the USA for an internship, where I not only developed my worldview, but also improved my language skills, learned to work in international groups. This, in turn, helped me decide to start doctoral studies in Switzerland. I know that all my choices are related and go well together. Each of my decisions has contributed to the fact that I work in my profession and I am satisfied. (...) "
Name: Agnieszka Tajchert
Place of residence: Tirol, Austria
Job position: Analytical Science & Technology Manager
Field of study: Chemistry
- What is your best memory of studying at the Jagiellonian University?
It may sound strange, but seeing my MA thesis printed :). When I was collecting my printed and bound thesis, I had a moment of reflection that it was a beautiful culmination of five years of study and work. I was proud of myself that I dared to follow my dreams - studying in Cracow at the renowned Jagiellonian University. Many people were surprised that instead of choosing universities in the area, i.e. in Silesia, where I could live at home and only commute to classes, I chose Cracow and life away from my family, relatives, and on my own.
- How did your career begin? What were the turning points?
My professional career started around five months after graduating in chemistry. The beginnings were not easy. To be honest, I was a bit broken when, after sending many (I don't even remember how many) applications in Poland, there was no response. Apart from my studies, I had no experience, no summer internships, no job, nothing. The lack of any response was terrifying also because I paid for my studies in Cracow with a student loan, which had to be paid back. I defended my Master's thesis at the end of May. In early July, I realized there was nothing to keep me in Poland and I could try abroad. On the faculty notice board in the Jagiellonian University Careers Office (which I usually did not even look at), I accidentally found an advertisement about an internship in a laboratory in the United States. I decided that I would apply and in this way at least motivate myself to write a cover letter and CV in English. I wrote and sent it. In the meantime, I went on a summer internship as an administrative employee in a temporary work agency. The day after coming back from the office, I found the following message in my e-mail box: Hello Agnieszka, my name is…. I'm the director of the lab in the US you applied to. I would like to interview you. …… At first I thought it must be spam and it can't be true, how could I - a person with no experience - get any interest? I started searching for information about this laboratory, about this director, about a company from Poland organizing these internships…. And of course, I tried to prepare for the interview in English. I had 10 years of study of English behind my belt at that point, but it was only studying at school, in college, without any exposure to the language outside class. The interview was by phone. The director of the laboratory told me about their company, about the whole annual internship project, about the fact that they have been headhunting Poles for several years, that they had several people in internships at the moment, that they could lend money for the plane ticket to those in financial dire straits. I was accepted and I was supposed to start sorting out the paperwork needed to go to the US for an internship: health insurance, visa, etc. After everything was sorted out, I flew to the States at the end of October. It was my first flight then! All of this was such an experience. I arrived on Sunday, and on Monday I had to go to work. For the initial two weeks, I lived with my compatriots who also worked in this laboratory. In the meantime, I arranged an apartment, furniture, etc. After two weeks, a girl arrived, with whom I was to share the apartment for the next year. We didn't know each other before, but it turned out so well that we still keep in touch. I've never had a sister but I have a real sisterly relationship with her. The year passed quickly in the States. At times it was not easy, but I tried to get as much of that year as possible, visit as many places as possible, learn the culture, customs …… After a year, I became such good friends with people at work that it was hard to go back home. The company was very pleased with my work and they wanted to hire me after completing the internship, but the internship ended at the time of the financial crisis in 2008 and the company could not afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a work visa for me. I returned to Poland. After three months, I started working in a laboratory with a similar specialization to the one in which I worked in the USA. At the same time, I started postgraduate (on-line) studies in human resource management in modern organizations (POU Cracow). I chose a field of study that appealed to me. I hadn't had time to settle in at my job yet, when I got a call from my Master's thesis supervisor: wouldn't I be interested in a PhD in Switzerland…. !!!! Me???? I????!!! Doctorate???!!!! And in Switzerland of all places ??? !!!! My supervisor recommended me to her former PhD student from the Jagiellonian University, who was doing post-doctoral research in Switzerland and was looking for a PhD student for her project. During the interview, it turned out that the project was very interesting and required the techniques that I used while preparing my master's thesis. I made up my mind. A few months later I was already a PhD student at the University of Basel. Fortunately, the coursework was in English. After three and a half years I defended my doctoral degree and completed postgraduate studies in Cracow. During my doctorate, I met my husband (also a chemist and also Polish :)). Looking for a post-doctoral job was quite depressing. As a PhD holder with no experience in the local market in Switzerland, without fluent knowledge of the German dialect, my chances were very poor. My husband got an interesting job in Switzerland, where there were few offers for chemists. I focused on learning the language. After some time, the company where my husband worked was closed. He got a job at a pharmaceutical company in Austria, where he works to this day. The company was also interested in me. Only 3 months after moving, I also got a job offer. I started in the research and development department as an analytics expert. As I found out later, my main advantage over the other candidates was the knowledge of electron microscopy, which I used for my PhD research in Switzerland. After a 1.5-year break caused by maternity leave, I returned to work (through my own choice, to a different position, but in the same company) and still work there as Analytical Science and Technology Manager to this day.
To sum up - the events that had a decisive influence on my career include studies in Cracow, thanks to which I became independent; practice in the USA, which shaped me as a person with a curious mind open to the world and other cultures and nationalities; PhD in Switzerland, which gave me confidence and showed that often what we don't dare to even think about (in my case, I never thought that I would go for a PhD) can really change our career.
Photo from the graduate's own collection
- How has your education contributed to your career development?
Thanks to chemistry, I was able to go to the USA for an internship, where I not only developed my worldview, but also improved my language skills, learned to work in international groups. This, in turn, helped me decide to start doctoral studies in Switzerland. I know that all my choices are related and go well together. Each of my decisions has contributed to the fact that I work in my profession and I am satisfied.
- Tell us about your current job. What are you doing now?
I currently work for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world as an Analytical Science and Technology Manager. My task is to support many departments (quality, production, drug registration, etc.) in analytical and chemical issues. My responsibilities include: monitoring the stability of the drug for which I am responsible; answering questions from health ministries around the world; optimization of analytical methods for testing finished products; transfer of analytical methods to other branches of our company around the world; supporting audits. I am very pleased with the job, because it is not monotonous and routine, there are always new challenges, and cooperation with people from all over the world.
- What are your biggest challenges right now?
At the moment my biggest challenge is to finish the project, which has been going on for almost 5 years. I hope to be able to finalize it in the coming months.
- What is life and work like in Austria?
I like the fact that there is not as much rush for money, for career. Most people work just enough to earn a living, an interesting vacation and a ski season ticket. In Austria, many people (20-50% of women) do not work 100%; Often, couples also divide responsibilities so that, for example, a man works 80%, and a woman 60%. Austrians care about work-life balance. For them, it is important to be able to spend their time actively every day (cycling, hiking, running, climbing, swimming, skiing) rather than earning a little more money. Life in Austria seems a little easier and calmer to me. All stores are closed on Sunday. Thanks to this, Austrians can devote themselves to their families and hobbies. Older people are very active. On mountain trails you can see many older people (over 70/80 years old) walking at a swift pace.
- What is your definition of success?
Being happy and proud of what you have achieved. It doesn't matter if it's about graduating from school, university or having a job. It is important to be satisfied with your "little" successes. Despite the fact that at each stage there are different challenges, you have to believe in yourself and face them with courage. There should be a balance between achievements and challenges.
- What advice / guidance do you have for current students entering the job market?
Do not be afraid, be brave and try to find a job that, at least to some extent, will help you develop in the direction you wish to go in your career. Many people do not believe in themselves and their abilities. Finding a job is not easy, finding an interesting job is even more difficult, but you have to take advantage of the current opportunities. There are many internship programmes at home and abroad. Don't be afraid, just believe in yourself and slowly pursue your short-term goals.
- How do you imagine the cooperation between the Jagiellonian University and its graduates?
For me it is interesting to get back in touch with people from university. In addition, I think that meetings of people from specific scientific sectors would be interesting - e.g. chemistry, biology, physics graduates. This would be an opportunity for networking, which is very useful in the current world.
I believe that graduates could help revise the curriculum for a given field of study by providing information on what knowledge and skills are important on the job market, and which classes are completely useless.