‘In many academic contexts, i’m the only one who looks like me

Verena Menzel, PhD candidate at the Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science faculty (EEMCS):

Verena lives in Germany and gained her Bachelor’s degree in Chinese and Computer Science. During her Master’s, she focussed on developing cyber security for electricity grids. She has always been captivated by the sciences, especially maths and physics - a passion that features prominently in her PhD.

‘Always wanted to be Dr Menzel’ 

‘After my MA, with the help of my supervisor’s professional connections, I explored options in industry and in academia, at the University of Twente (UT).  

Because of my passion for science, and because I had always wanted to be a doctor, I chose to go for a PhD at UT. I’m also motivated by the fact that in the academic and industry contexts I’ve been in, I’m often the only one who looks like me. We need more women in these fields, non-binary people, and people from non-scientific households. This really drives me, this idea of being an example, and paving the way for others.  

A modern, fun campus 

On my first visit to UT, I was impressed by how modern the university is, and how fun the campus seemed. Because of good communication between my professor at Münster and UT, I was able to develop my MA topic at PhD level. In fact, my MA thesis on cyber security in e-grids, with a few adjustments, became my first PhD paper. The conversion was seamless. I was very lucky. 

‘UT is such a welcoming environment’ 

UT is such a welcoming place. When I arrived, it was Well-Being Week. One of the first things I received was a letter with the programme, which included some flower seeds. Such a small gift and it meant so much. 

I study from my home in Münster and access academic resources and meetings, seminars online. I also do some teaching from home. It works great. I travel to Twente up to half a dozen times a month, and I enjoy these in-person visits. They are also a very important way of getting and staying connected, and helping me to feel integrated.   

Support is everywhere

Doing a PhD isn’t necessarily easy. You have to be motivated, organised, and have good time management skills. At times, it can feel like you’re looking out at an ocean of possibilities, and it can be a challenge to home in on the exact focus that is right for you and your trajectory. For me, personally, sitting right between electrical engineering and cyber security has its challenges too. The language and the point of view from which you are looking at the problems is different, because you always need to compare new ideas and concepts to the ones from your original field.  

There is so much support from the faculty, from my PhD peer group, and from the university, though. I have been able to ask lots of questions.The professors have plenty of time for me. And P-NUT, the university network of PhD students, has been a fantastic source of friendship and help, whether you’re looking for a nice chat, discovering the best pizza places, or exploring questions about the ethics of research. P-NUT helps you to get connected at UT and meet other doctoral candidates from totally different fields. It’s a great way of gaining completely new perspectives.’  

Verena’s future 

On completing her PhD, Verena would like to go into industry. She already has some connections that date back to the work she did during her Master’s. She’s looking forward to applying her expertise, but also to applying other transferable skills that she has picked up while doing her PhD, including self-management, organisational skills, and other life skills.  

Reframe PhD
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