Doctor's career path: Lecturer Katharina Cepa

‘I think the strongest aspect of doctoral studies at Aalto is the community.’
KTT Katharina Cepa
Katharina Cepa (born in Germany) participated each summer during her doctoral studies in the large key conferences in her field.

You graduated with a Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration degree in 2015. Was it obvious for you that you wanted to continue your studies in a Business and Economics doctoral programme?

I always knew that at some point I might want to get a doctorate, but thought I would work in the industry for a couple of years before. Thus, as my graduation date approached I started actively looking for a job as strategy professional. At the same time, my Master thesis supervisor had posted a job announcement looking for PhD students for a multi-year Academy of Finland-funded research project on Big Data and Strategy Work. I found this a very interesting opportunity and thought that writing a dissertation in this area would be equally valuable for a career in academia or the industry. I then compared my experience from my various internships with that of writing my Master’s thesis and found doing research rather more enjoyable. Writing my Master’s thesis was an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, so I decided to table my plans to work in the industry and apply straight away to doctoral studies.

I started working as research assistant in January 2015, graduated from my Master’s in Economics and Business Administration (Strategy) in March 2015, and officially started my doctoral studies in September 2015.

What do you consider the best aspect of doctoral studies at the School of Business? And is there something that needs improving?

Looking back now, I think the strongest aspect of doctoral studies at Aalto is the community. My colleagues, from doctoral candidates to postdocs and professors, treated me as part of the research community and gave me lots of opportunities to learn how to be a good researcher. Departments at Aalto arrange lots of research seminars with internal and external speakers, which allows learning about the field and building important networks.

The second really strong aspect is the freedom to choose one’s own courses from different Aalto Schools and departments or other international schools. This way, each student can build the theory base and methods skills they need for their dissertation and career.

My own journey to a doctoral degree went rather smoothly. That being said, there was some uncertainty for me in transitioning from master’s student to doctoral candidate and in moving from doctoral candidate to defending, but I guess that is part of the process.

I found that having a good network of fellow doctoral candidates in various stages of completion was key to gaining emotional support and learning about practicalities such as funding sources, conferences, or availability of courses abroad.

Did you attend seminars and conferences abroad during your doctoral studies?

I started attending conferences after my first year of doctoral studies. From then on, I participated each summer in the large key conferences in my field, one in Europe and one in the United States. I also attended smaller seminars and conferences around specific topics. Attending such a varied range of small and large conferences gave me a good understanding of different research communities and allowed me to build international networks with people sharing the same research interests.

Did you complete courses at foreign universities during your doctoral studies? If yes, did you apply for funding?

I completed a number of courses and summer schools at foreign universities. I spent four months in London as visiting scholar at Cass Business School. I also attended the KIN Summer School on digital innovation in Amsterdam twice and participated in other summer schools such as the GSERM Methods Summer School in Ljubljana. The research project as part of which I did my dissertation covered the fees and travel costs for some of those courses and conferences, but I also applied for funding from Finnish foundations to cover the costs for others. Having a good network of fellow doctoral candidates helped me stay informed about grants and deadlines.

How long did your doctoral studies take?

About four and a half years: I officially started in September 2015, defended in November 2019 and graduated in December 2019. However, I have informally started work on my dissertation in January 2015 and started my new job as Lecturer (Assistant Professor) at Lancaster University Management School in September 2019.

Did you find employment the way that you had hoped after your doctoral studies?

Yes, I actually found employment much faster than anticipated. I started looking for academic jobs about nine months before my planned defense date, thinking that it might take a while until I find a job. However, the first job posting I found was a very good match and my application was successful.

Doctoral programmes

Doctoral programmes of Aalto prepare to become highly qualified researchers and experts in most demanding positions. Doctoral education is carried out in a unique multidisciplinary international scientific community.

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