Lost in translation
CERN Alumna: Monika Grothe
At CERN from 2001 to 2015, Fellow in the EP division and then working in the CMS experiment with several roles
Today: Technical Architect - Manager, at a consulting company/system integrator.
Twenty years spent in particle physics research at a very high level and then having to leave due to lack of funds can take its toll. However, if one accepts it with pragmatism, one can indeed avoid pitfalls and evade what seems to be an impasse.
“At CERN I had the opportunity to deal with all the challenges that particle physics has to offer, from hardware development to doing analysis, publishing physics results, going to conferences, participating in working groups,” describes Monika. “When you are a physicist at CERN you are more than “just” a particle physicist because you have the opportunity to manage teams, write proposals, defend results in public.”
However, how does this all translate into something you can sell outside CERN and academia? “People outside the research field do not know what to do with you,” says Monika. “They ask you: “Are you a data architect?” And yes, you are a kind of data architect because you indeed did something approaching that. “Are you a software engineer?” Sure, you can do that as well. As a trained research physicist, you can perform all these roles that, in business, are really sought after. However, potential employers are confused by you saying “yes, I can do it” for too many things. In addition, they have no way to judge you and what you did because they have no idea what working in academia means and they often have unclear ideas as to how research is done based on portrayals of researchers in film and media.”
Therefore, a big part of searching for a new job outside academia is how you explain yourself to the outside world. “When you do a transition, you have to put real effort into preparing your CV, you need to translate your experience into something an employer can understand,” confirms Monika. “You don’t know what they call it, every field has its jargon. When I had to write my CV, in the end I went to a professional coach to get feedback on what I was writing.”
Today Monika is a proud member of the CERN Alumni Network and recalls her time at CERN with a lot of fondness. “I loved the CERN environment, the nice international atmosphere, the fact that, thanks for example to the kindergarten, you can happily combine your professional and personal life. Being a CERN alumna comes with a lot of pride; being able to say “I worked at CERN” helps a lot to develop a successful career.”