Benedicta Drobota

Project Expert and Business Innovation Coach (Romania)

Former researcher in Management and Marketing in Agriculture at University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine “Ion Ionescu de la Brad”, Iasi (Romania)

Benedicta DrobotaAcademic research experience

After I graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture, specialising in Economic Engineering, I continued with masters and doctoral studies in the field of Management and Marketing in Agriculture. Intent on building an academic career, I was pleased when a few months after finishing my PhD I started a postdoctoral research post. I learned how to organise research activities, conduct analysis, manage resources and communicate project results. During this time I worked on international research projects under the European Commission’s FP7 programme. I participated in national and international scientific conferences and broadened my experience on a research internship through the Erasmus programme at the University of Bari (Italy). As a postdoc I also spent some time in Germany and The Netherlands (Wageningen University). In all, I spent eight years, from 2005–2013, on my PhD and postdoc.

Transition from academic research

From 2009, alongside my research projects, I’d also spent part of my time working within consulting companies, writing proposals for different type of projects, managing projects or all sorts of company operations. This had started with consulting for a company owned by a former colleague, and grew from there. After finishing my postdoc, lack of research funding led me to make my work in the private sector my full-time occupation. Although self-employed consultancy did not give job security, I was attracted by the range of opportunities it could offer.

I used my analytical skills gained in academia to create quality investment projects in the private sector, focusing on agribusiness: farm equipment; new technologies; animal husbandry investments; processing units; agritourism; and renewable energy. The contacts and clients I’d developed when I worked in academic research provided a good base, but this needed to grow.

I had to adapt to different environments and teams and be flexible for each project to succeed.

Besides the work, I also improved my social skills and created a personal brand, which helped me find business opportunities and grow my professional network.

Working on a project basis, sometimes as a freelancer, is not easy, since there is no work security, no guarantee that the project will get financed. However, I learned to believe in myself, knowing that I could bring value to any company. This self-trust helped me pass from one project to another without any significant gaps and keep my financial stability.

After a number of years’ experience on a wide range of projects I was ready to take a new step forward: moving from project writing or implementation to project evaluation and business innovation coaching for innovative projects in agribusiness.

Current job – and how it compares

Now, I’m working as an External Expert for the European Commission, examining research and innovation projects and reviewing their implementation. The role has two aspects: evaluation and coaching. I enjoy all aspects of my work nowadays, since I have the freedom to choose my projects.

Last year I evaluated over 80 business plans and feasibility studies in agriculture, ICT and renewable energy and conducted full evaluations of around two dozen projects in rural development and innovation.

For the SME Instrument Programme and also as a freelancer, I offer business innovation coaching sessions to companies that need help with the transition from one stage of development to another. I help them find their limiting factors and propose strategies for expansion.  

My role is most like academic research when I’m evaluating projects. I have to be very well informed and up-to-date with new technologies.

Competencies old and new

The analytical, problem solving, project management and public speaking skills I gained in academia have been very important: they are still helping me every day in my work. More areas needed to be developed, of course. These included people skills, sales, networking, and administration. Most of these skills I’ve developed on the job (though I’ve been on training courses too). I’ve learned something new from everyone I’ve worked with.

Reflections on my career path

I’m pleased that during my career journey I learned to be flexible and create motivational environments for teams to develop and companies to grow.

An important step for my success was overcoming the fear of failure that everyone has and trusting in my abilities to succeed. I learned how to embrace life as it is, stop fighting against systems, and to start contributing. That enables me to focus on bringing value, using the skills that I have developed during the different stages of my career.

My advice

The transition out of academic research can be frustrating and with a lot of question marks, but we need to be open to new challenges in order to grow as individuals and as experts. The research skills that I gained during my years as a researcher are definitely an added value for any company, providing solid ground for further personal and professional development.

I have failed sometimes, but I’ve always got back on my feet and continued more determined and with confidence that any downside is only temporary and is a preparation for the next move.

Having a PhD is not about the diploma or recognition, is about the skills you gain that will help you open doors and create a successful life and career.

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