Conny Reichling

Managing director of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Luxembourg

Former researcher in historical sciences, Université du Luxembourg

Academic research experience

I was a PhD candidate in the history department at the University of Luxembourg in “co-tutelle” with the Free University of Brussels. I was able to assist and teach a few bachelor’s degree classes as well. During that time I co-founded a young researchers’ association in Luxembourg to help and give guidance if needed to foreign and new PhD candidates, and to promote PhD culture in Luxembourg (which has a research culture that has only recently developed).

While I was doing my PhD, I realised quite soon that I would not want to stay in research for my professional career. I need to be able to do different activities and work on different topics over the long term. I couldn’t identify with the fact that I would focus on one (or at least one main) subject over a long period of time. Also, I wanted to have a little stability in life, which the career of a young researcher cannot offer.

Transition from academic research

After my PhD, I looked for job opportunities as a project manager and in the field of communications, where I could offer relevant soft-skill experience gained during my PhD. I’m well aware that I wasn’t trained in a proper MA programme in either of those fields. It was quite challenging at first to get interviews, as people with actual master’s degrees in those subjects were more qualified on paper. In my job applications I emphasised my versatility and soft skills.

At first I aimed for a position in a cultural institution, but these generally have very few job openings, so quite quickly I broadened my search to communication in other sectors. In the end, the job that I accepted was very far from the area I’d first expected to be working in, but nonetheless it has turned out to be very challenging and fulfilling.

Current job – and how it compares           

I’m one of two managing directors of a Luxembourg NGO working in the area of public health and vocational training in West African countries. I have worked at this NGO in three different roles since being recruited as Community and Public Relations Manager following my PhD.

In my current role I coordinate a team of 10 people and work closely with our board of trustees and the local African partners in order to push forward the projects on site and to raise awareness in Luxembourg.

My job is mostly communications. Together with my team I organise events, and we work closely with the local newspapers and media agencies to raise awareness of and donations for our development projects on the African continent.

Daily business as well as long-term result-based management can be quite challenging sometimes. The impact we have is correlated to the lives of many people depending on the success of our projects and programs.  The beneficiaries and the partner organisations are relying on us to provide financial support and expertise.

Overall this work is very rewarding, since we have a direct impact on the field. We are enabling people to become self-reliant and helping them master their own fate on a daily basis. We are supporting our local partners in their daily work in the field to provide local populations with healthcare and vocational training solutions.

Competencies old and new

My experience as a researcher helps me a great deal in my current job. I am confident in my skill set which I can use every day. My training as a researcher makes me self-reliant and helps me relativize a great number of situations that might seem difficult at first and find a solution to fix or mitigate them.

My NGO work has made me grow out of my professional comfort zone: I’ve gained a lot of new competencies “on the job” related to my tasks here (e.g. how to set up a communication budget and a communication annual plan, how to plan an event to raise awareness or to do a fundraiser). I’ve also learned how to interact with different partners who all have very different cultural backgrounds.

Reflections on my career path

Reflecting on my career path and choices, I would do it all again. I would do my PhD in History and I would also change paths after that and that would be ok. I think what helps (and helped) a great deal is that I never had ambitions to stay in academia. I am very competitive. I am also very motivated by new challenges that force me out of my comfort zone. This I find in my daily work at the NGO. I might have had the same satisfaction in academia, but I do not regret my choice to leave and take this path.

My advice

Think out of the box and believe in your capabilities!

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