Meet this week’s scholar on Stylish Academic, Veronika Cheplygina. We talk about getting on the tenure track, her style, and more.

Veronika is an Assistant Professor in Medical Image Analysis at Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands.


Please tell us more about yourself, your research background, interests…

My background is in Computer Science.
During my Ph.D. I worked on machine learning algorithms, and since then I have been applying these algorithms to detecting disease in medical scans.
In my spare time, I enjoy hanging out with my cat, cooking and meeting friends for dinner or drinks. A few of us are actually in a trivia quiz team, so we meet at least once a month. We’ve been doing this for almost 2 years two and I have even won once – I hope it will happen once again in 2017!

How do you figure out your personal style as a Woman In Stem? tenured vcheplygina 2

I like clothes that I feel comfortable in (i.e. I don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction). I also like clothes that are functional (pockets!) and that I can dress up or down depending on the occasion.
Favourites – I would nominate my navy blue skinny jeans, but they recently suffered the fate of all favourite jeans – eventually ripping. A close second must be a two-piece (cardigan and skirt) suit from Comma, which I have in dark red.
In my field, there are no expectations as to how one should dress, therefore many people have a very casual style. I don’t really like to stand out, but I do like to dress a bit more formally than I need to. I think the main reason for this, is that this simplifies my decision-making about clothes.
Recently I realized that I’m most happy with how I dress when I go to conferences.
When I pack for conferences, I choose the “slightly more formal” pieces, and I match them so that everything fits well together – a capsule wardrobe of sorts.
Now I’m trying this thing out, where every Sunday I do the same thing. I put several items I’m going to wear the following week into a different part of my closet, and I’m really loving it so far!

You recently got a tenure track position (congratulations!) and wrote a blog post about how this makes you feel…but do tell us more.

Thank you! …Of course, I’m very happy and excited about the position, because it is my most wanted job – although I was also looking at other non-academic jobs. But I also feel bad for others who apply to hundreds of jobs and do not get it. I feel like if I didn’t get the tenure track position, and chose to leave academia, I would have been very happy with a different type of position as well. So I feel guilty for “not wanting it bad enough” and not going through seven circles of hell to get it.
Recently I also noticed that when I tell people I got a new job, I sometimes try not to mention the details, letting people assume I got another postdoc – kind of like when I was hiding the good grades I got on tests in school.

Some are saying “no more” to the Tenure Track. What do you think?

I think these people are right to leave – it sounds like their jobs were terrible!
I think it’s wrong to have this notion of “X is one of the best jobs” (where X can be tenure track or any other type of position). It very much depends on where you work and who you work with.
I know several people that have left tenure-track or tenured jobs in academia because of the environment they were in and/or because they developed different goals, and I salute them for it. Of course, I hope that my position will be a good fit for me, but if it isn’t, I would figure out what I need to change.

In your blog post, you mentioned how you definitely worked hard, but luck and privilege played a big role in landing you the position.

For an Early Career researcher, what is the reality of seeking a tenure track position in academia? 

The problem is that by definition luck and privilege are things that “happen” to you, so it’s hard to say what you should be doing, other than hard work. But I do think there is some overlap.
For example, for myself, I usually consider it luck that I had a good experience during my Ph.D. I worked with amazing people who encouraged me to think independently, valued work-life balance and were generally very supportive. This environment helped my progress a lot. It is thus in partly responsible for me getting a tenured position. It might have been a different case if I did my Ph.D. in a very prestigious lab, but where I’d always be stressed out.
But is it really luck? I only applied to do the Ph.D. because I knew the lab was such a good place, so in part, it’s a function of me considering carefully about where to apply.
Another example is speaking Dutch fluently. Although in the Netherlands most research and teaching happens in English, I feel like a Dutch-speaking candidate is (perhaps unconsciously) seen as more favorable, so I feel privileged to belong to that group. But again, it didn’t just happen to me, because Dutch isn’t my native language.
What is true about both of these things, is that I did them with more short-term interests in mind.
For learning Dutch, I wanted to belong to this student society that I joined as an undergraduate student. For choosing my Ph.D., I wanted to have an interesting job (Ph.D. students are paid employees in the Netherlands), nice colleagues and enough space for other things in my life.
At neither point was I really considering what I’d be doing 5-10 years in the future, and I definitely had no idea that I would want to be a professor at a university. I just took opportunities that seemed interesting to me at the time, and they ended up having a positive effect on me getting this position now.
I must say that this also works the other way round: I also neglected potentially very beneficial opportunities, such as studying abroad, because I wasn’t always focused on the goal of working in academia.
Based on this, my advice to early career researchers would be not to have a single focus on a particular job title and be open to different opportunities that might come up.
You can follow Veronika on her blog, and on Twitter @vcheplygina