Switching sides - From PhD studies to managing a PhD program

Short biography

Amy Gerc completed her PhD in microbiology at the University of Dundee in Scotland in 2014 and moved to Germany shortly afterwards. She joined the IMPRS-LS coordination office in November 2015 as a trainee in science management and is currently involved in organizing many aspects of the IMPRS-LS PhD program.

Why did you decide to come to Germany and how did you adjust to the changes in language and culture?

The decision to come to Germany for me was a simple one. My husband (boyfriend at the time) is German and has lived and worked in Munich for more than 10 years. After completing my PhD in Scotland I was in a position where I knew I could start on something completely new and the opportunity to move to Germany seemed too exciting not to embrace. In terms of culture, Munich certainly has it’s own traditions however I wouldn’t say that it is hugely different to our way of life in Scotland (except for the fact that the weather is a million times better!). You can certainly get by in Munich only speaking in English as it’s a very international city, however, since many of my friends and family are German I knew I wanted to learn the language. I have to admit this was not easy! I am now fairly fluent and I believe my learning the language has really enriched my experiences here.

Why did you decide to apply to IMPRS-LS for the position as a trainee in science management?

Throughout my PhD I was involved in the organization of a number of events, particularly public outreach events, and I knew that the planning, development and organization of these activities was something that I really enjoyed. Whilst I knew I wanted to stay in science, I was keen to explore options away from the bench. The Max Planck Society has an excellent reputation in Germany and I believed that working as a trainee in in the IMPRS-LS coordination office would be a great way into the world of science management.

How did it feel to switch sides from being a PhD student to becoming a manager of a PhD program?

For me, this felt like a natural progression. Working in science management, I am of course no longer working in the lab and whilst I do miss some aspects of lab work, I am very much enjoying the change and the opportunity to learn so much in a different field.

Can you briefly describe your job in more detail?

The IMPRS-LS coordination office is responsible for the organization of almost all aspects of the IMPRS-LS PhD program, including overseeing the entire application process. Since I started working in the office, I have gradually become more involved in different projects. At the moment I am involved in the organization of the IMPRS training workshops, the biannual IMPRS seminar, the annual IMPRS retreat, the IMPRS lecture series, the IMPRS newsletter and various other activities that IMPRS is involved in organizing throughout the year. I am also involved in the selection process for new IMPRS-LS candidates. On a day-to-day basis my job is quite variable. At the moment we have been working a lot on the design and content for a new website and are preparing for the arrival and integration of our new IMPRS-LS students.

What have you learnt during your time at IMPRS-LS and do you think you can make a difference in this environment?

A lot! I am a generally organised person, however I have to admit working in a coordination office in Germany has been an eye-opener. I have learnt a lot about the amount of work that goes into successfully running a PhD program, how attention to detail is very important and how important it is to constantly be thinking about the next steps to ensure the IMPRS-LS maintains it’s position as a top class program. In the coordination office we are always very open to new ideas from students and of course also from colleagues. I definitely feel like I have the opportunity to make a difference.

What do you like most about your current job?

I really love how I am able to be involved in lots of diverse projects. I am also in the lucky position that I am able to keep up to date with the amazing science that’s taking place in the institute whilst also having a chance to influence the general organization of so many different aspects of the program. It’s great to see how our hard work in the office translates into making a difference for our students and faculty. 

How does completing a PhD in Germany compare with your own experiences in Scotland? 

I would say that overall the process is fairly similar. As I was not part of a structured program in Scotland, it was more difficult to participate in the excellent soft skills workshops that our students have access to. Otherwise, I also presented my research at national and international meetings, was required to present my work at “Thesis Committee Meetings” and of course wrote my thesis and had my viva at the end of 4 years of research. I believe that one of the great things about science is how international it is, I can easily relate to the IMPRS-LS students' experiences. 

What advice could you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in science outside of academia?

Get involved as much as possible! I think it’s really important to show initiative and drive by really being active in your participation in a variety of different projects throughout your PhD. It’s easy to get a bit too involved in your research and to forget sometimes that there is a world outside of your research field. Taking a step back and participating in something a bit different now and again can also really help with keeping your PhD research fresh and exciting.