Gayane Atoyan

Head of Tracing Service, Armenian Red Cross Society, and Environmental and Social Safeguard Consultant, International Projekt Consult GmbH (German company in Armenia).

Former PhD researcher in Environmental Law at Newcastle University, UK

Gayane AtoyanAcademic research experience

My interest in a career in academia took hold when I was a master’s student in my native country of Armenia. I planned my research project four years in advance of starting my PhD in England.

A decade after my first degree I decided to develop myself personally and professionally and enrolled for an MA degree in Law at the American University of Armenia. While I was preparing the research-based thesis as part of this, I was employed as a Senior Project Coordinator at the Armenian State Agrarian University on a project (initiated by the United States Department of Agriculture) for developing and improving higher education in Armenia. My duties included research and analysis of existing teaching and learning programs. I found this research very interesting and engaging. As a result I planned a PhD research project with the aim of getting the degree and becoming an educational developer in higher education.

My research area was Environmental Law – specifically, comparative research into environmental impact assessment law in different jurisdictions. My main achievements were conducting academic doctrinal mixed-method research including field trips and the award of the PhD degree.

I was very keen to continue my academic research and was planning to apply to the UK’s Doctorate Extension Scheme so as to develop my career within academia there. I had recognised that there were gaps in my academic CV that would need filling in order for my academic career to progress. However, family issues deflected me from this path: I had to return to Armenia where the subject of Environmental Law is very underdeveloped, with no teaching or research programs at university level.

Transition from academic research

With no academic employment options in Armenia I tried to search for a job outside academia. The best possible option for me was a consultancy role that would provide opportunities to research and develop reports in similar ways to my PhD research.

I was unhappy that my PhD in the UK had not prepared me better for further academic opportunities. I had very little experience of teaching during my PhD studies and publishing an article was never encouraged by my School or supervisor. As a student from a developing country I knew little about different doctoral systems and thought my experience was the norm. 

My concerns and fears developed closer to my PhD graduation as I realised that my academic CV was incomplete without teaching hours and publications. Moving from the academic sector was a short-term objective: my ultimate goal remains an academic career.

My recent transition has to be seen in the context of my overall career, which started outside academia. Coming from a post-soviet transitional country, my career has changed a lot. My first (Diploma) degree as an International Relations Specialist gave me the opportunity to work with different international organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Belgium and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling as well as an Armenian NGO that supports refugees and insecure families. These experiences, in addition to my skills as an academic researcher, gave my job applications the necessary strengths to secure my current roles.

Current jobs

I now hold two contrasting positions. One is a part-time consultancy role based on my PhD research and thus on my professional development as an environmental lawyer. The other is a job at a humanitarian organization that is completely unrelated to my studies. This job demands a change in my professional background and I try to develop my skills based on the requirements. I love learning continuously and here is an opportunity to get to know another field as a result of a change of employment.

My consultancy position is Environmental and Social Safeguard Expert at Internationale Projekt Consult GmbH, a German company with an office in Armenia. I am researching and consulting on Armenian laws and regulations in the environmental decision-making process. I also assist in working with female entrepreneurs in the regions and train bank officers in environmental compliance and social safeguard measures. This non-academic research-based consultancy position is a part-time job. My full time job is at the Armenian Red Cross Society. The position is Head of Tracing Department. We are tracing missing people due to migration and WWII.

Competencies old and new

I am actually using my research skills in both positions. Some of the most important competencies in my roles are networking, analytical skills and reporting.

I have developed new skills in humanitarian law and humanitarian aid. These have enabled me to contribute expertise to the Restoring Family Links Project within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement worldwide. I am using my skills and knowledge in IELTS and tutoring as well as my presentation skills for organising and conducting workshops and seminars sometimes.

Reflections on my career path

If I were applying now for a PhD I would go for one not in the UK but in a country where a PhD is a paid job. In addition, I would find a PhD research opportunity with a mandatory teaching role and a multidisciplinary research approach so as to work with different specialists rather than only one supervisor. I also wish I had published work in the process of my research.

I’d like to see countries that provide PhD opportunities to international researchers more sensitive to the dangers of wasted resources: newly acquired innovative ideas might not work back in the home country. I believe that every PhD student’s path and further career development should be considered, otherwise international researchers may suffer more than their counterparts.

Currently I am in a process of looking for postdoc opportunities that will give me teaching and publishing experience and enable me to pursue my dream of entering into academia.

My advice

If you are set on an academic career I suggest you look for a PhD with the prospect of a ‘full package’ of research, teaching and publishing. Otherwise, the efforts are lost.

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