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Alumni Stories: Zuzanna Borek
"(...) As a coach, I am a bit sceptical about too big plans for the future. Of course, you have to set a direction to know which way you are going, but the most important thing is to enjoy the process and the journey to the goal, not just the endpoint. From this perspective, I am very open to the future. Now I am very happy and grateful for the place I am in, for being able to do both. "
Name and surname: Zuzanna Agnieszka Borek
Place of residence: Berlin, Germany
Job position: PhD researcher, DRFZ oraz Communication Coach and Facilitator
Field of study: Biotechnology
Is there anything you especially remember from your time at the Jagiellonian University?
We had fantastic laboratory classes at the Jagiellonian University. The laboratories took a lot of time, but you could learn every technique related to molecular biology. There was no difference between world-class science and what we learned during our studies in Cracow. In Germany, Spain or the Netherlands, I know it from experience, laboratory practice is gained during internships. You join a project team, and you can learn something in the course of that project. At the University, we could take lab classes in any course whose curriculum provided for this form of instruction. We learned not just the theory. It was great.
I fondly remember my participation in the university choir. This is one of the most fantastic experiences. I wasn't very active, I wasn't there too long, because my studies were very demanding, but there were very open and nice people in the choir.
And my best memory is graduation. I was happy that I was already done with college that I could go abroad and start working. It was the end of a certain stage in my life and the beginning of a new one that I had been looking forward to for five years.
Do you miss this choir now?
What I miss most is the music. I have a piano that I like to play if I have time. I'm not some kind of virtuoso, but I love music.
Now let's get back to our career plans. You were looking forward to starting work.
I missed mentoring a lot at the time. I had a plan of my own, but I didn't really know how to go about it or what to do. In my immediate surroundings, I did not know anyone who was involved in my field. Sometimes I talked to my friends to ask about something, but there was no mentoring or coaching that would help me make an informed decision. During my studies, I went on two internships, first to Barcelona and then to the Netherlands. In both places, I got a proposal to stay for a doctorate. I stayed in the Netherlands and did my PhD for 4 years. Unfortunately, for some reasons, I could not complete it. I chose the Netherlands because at that time it was the only place outside Scandinavia where a normal contract of employment was offered as part of a doctorate. However, after some unpleasant situations that happened to me in that country, I decided to change the direction I was going in and turned to coaching.
After finishing my adventure with the Netherlands, I had a 7-month paid vacation. At that time, I did not want to start a second doctorate. It is often said in the scientific community that a PhD prepares you excellently for each post-doctoral job. With the firm conviction that this is so, I began to shop around. I've been to several job interviews. After two or three questions, I noticed that, unfortunately, these earlier opinions were not true, and I felt completely unprepared for work. I had nothing to offer these people. When I was talking to them, I was shaking, nervously laughing, my self-esteem was zero. And actually, after discovering this, I spent some time rebuilding myself, and then I realized that I must have a plan B. I started going to various workshops, not about science but business, about selling, about team management. I was curious about what you could learn there. I wanted to meet other people. Someone once asked me about coaching. At the beginning I was very sceptical, but I thought, ok maybe I will read something, see what it means to be a coach, what you need to do to be a coach. And quite by accident my husband once told me that he had seen a billboard with an advertisement for a coaching school. He persuaded me to check it out. And I really liked it; I signed up for a training cycle. It was a Friday-Sunday weekend reunions. On the first day, I thought, what am I doing here. This isn't for me. And on the third day, I felt at home. This is what I found out. A career I had never thought of before but which I am made for. I have a lot of natural talent in that area.
Did your education contribute to your career development? After all, what you are doing now is different from what you learned in college.
First of all, I still feel like a scientist. Now I am doing my PhD in Germany. The Jagiellonian University has given me that I can feel like this scientist. It was in Krakow that my adventure with science began. Moreover, thanks to the Jagiellonian University, I was able to take up my second doctorate. It is not easy when someone sees that the first attempt was not successful. And yet here I got a second chance, among others because I graduated from the Jagiellonian University. The reputation of the University is great, and in this field, which I represent, even very high. My experience as a coach also influenced my career as a coach, whether from the aforementioned laboratories or seminar classes. Even then, during my studies, even unconsciously, I was learning to observe how people communicate with each other, how to talk to achieve the desired effect.
What is your current job like? Is it possible to combine PhD studies with coaching?
Now, 60% of my time is filled with my PhD work. I am writing about Leśniowski's disease (chronic enteritis). I work with coaching for 10 hours a week. I work both individually and with groups. I'm learning all the time. Ultimately, I would like to work mainly with groups. When I work with individuals, we usually end each session with what can be described as communicating with self. Because if someone can communicate with self, they also find it easy to communicate with the other person is not that difficult. On the other hand, when working with a group, we focus on how to talk to each other, how to be a team, we learn how to help each other with changes and conflicts.
As a coach, I am a freelancer. In addition, I am also employed by a scientific institute - the German Center for Research on Rheumatism. It is a key center for immunological research in Germany. My boss is a doctor and the research group he leads consists of, among others from doctors working in the hospital and people from other professions who are employed by the above-mentioned Center. At the moment, I am involved in data analysis as the only bioinformatics scientist in our group. It turns out that most people prefer to do the experimental part of the research rather than analyze the data, which in turn is very interesting for me. And here once again the knowledge from my studies helps me, because then we also had bioinformatics classes.
I have no problem with reconciling coaching with a doctorate; on the contrary, thanks to coaching, I am more efficient, much more focused.
What are your biggest challenges?
My biggest dream is to both finish my PhD and be a coach. I want to keep doing both. As a coach, I am a bit sceptical about too big plans for the future. Of course, you have to set a direction to know which way you are going, but the most important thing is to enjoy the process and the journey to the goal, not just the endpoint. From this perspective, I am very open to the future. Now I am very happy and grateful for the place I am in, for being able to do both.
What is success for you?
Certainly, this is financial independence with a less than a full-time job. It is very important for me to have time for family, travel and sports.
What advice would you give to people who are just entering the job market?
I have four rules, and I think they are universal. The first is not to be afraid of being fired from work, changing the place of work or the boss. If we feel that something is wrong or something is not making us happy, don't be afraid to change it. Second: ask a lot and search. We need to look for the people and answers we need. Once upon a time, I had this idea in my head that there was one way to make a career in my profession. That's not true, but there was no one who told me this 10 years ago. That's why it's worth looking for people and answers. Third: leave Poland, not because it is a bad country, but because travel educates and broadens the mind, as well as creates great opportunities to meet people. Finally, you should take care of yourself, your mental and physical health. Do not get caught up in endless work.
How do you envision the cooperation between the Jagiellonian University and its alumni?
The survey you posted on LinkedIn was great. I liked it in many ways. It wasn't too long, and it was simple and clear. And I didn't start getting loads of spam after I filled it in. I clicked on it out of curiosity and was positively surprised by how enjoyable it was. This is definitely a good start.
I really like the idea of mentoring students. Such assistance from people who already have some experience is very important. I missed it, and I think that everyone will benefit from the support. In addition, it is an opportunity to meet new people and network, which is extremely important nowadays.
Interviewer: Piotr Rapciak.