“In Search of a Way”

“I was in Germany and I’d just finished my PhD. Having spent a year in Costa Rica, I’d become a specialist in coral reef ecology. Although there isn’t much money in marine biology research, and very few advertised positions, it was what I really wanted to do.

“I’d just met Gernot, so I didn’t feel like moving abroad again right away, so I decided to relocate to Rostock where he lived.  Although it felt right to move in together, I was worried that I was taking a step backwards and that the place was limiting my options for jobs. I was unemployed. I sent out applications for research positions, first locally, then across northern Germany, then globally. I did small jobs to pay the bills. Bar work, festivals, I did all I could to support myself.” Ines’ upbeat manner masks some of the tension in her voice.

“There were moments when things got difficult. There were a few tears. Some of the places I applied to gave me good feedback, they would say things like, ‘you were one of our top five candidates, but you are missing this…’ and that would help, but the majority of them didn’t say a thing. After a while it’s hard not to start taking rejections personally.

“Working other jobs and being productive made me feel better. It’s easy to lose confidence if you don’t do anything for a while, so you have to stay busy. Sometimes I thought, I’m good at this. Why doesn’t anyone let me do what I want to do!”

My first break came in the form of an environmental assessment agency job. At least it was in my area, but it still wasn’t research and German lakes are not the same as tropical reefs, so I kept applying for more interesting positions. At one point there was a job out in Panama that I really wanted. I even got a second interview with the project manager, but nothing came of it.

“Gernot was always there for me, ‘I support you no matter what you do,’ he’d say, and I knew he meant it.

“At this point it had been 18 months since I’d finished my PhD. Then one day I got a reply to my application for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow position at the University of Exeter. They said that they wanted to see me, so me and Gernot ended up flying to Exeter. A few hours after the interview, still walking around town, I got a phone call and was offered the position. Gernot was beside me, so I didn’t even have to wait to accept it!

“The move wasn’t easy. You have to build a new social circle and home—find a new family of friends. But having Gernot with me has made it a lot easier and Devon is incredible. We hike on the moors and the coast, we go swimming and camping, and we have an amazing group of friends that love the same things.

“My job is great. 90% of the time I’m in front of a computer…” Ines’ unrelenting smile widens, “…but during the other 10% I’m diving on some of the most remote coral reef systems in the world. My contract ends next year—my life doesn’t get boring— but I’ll find my way.