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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Letícia Santos de Lima: From doctorate directly to professorship


Anne Dombrowski
Starting in September 2018, Letícia Lima will be Professor of Fluvial Hydraulics and Water Resources Systems at the Department of Hydraulics Engineering and Water Resources (EHR/UFMG) at the Brazilian “Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais”. She obtained her doctoral degree in Geography at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in December 2017, and during her doctoral research she was part of the THESys Graduate Program and the research group "Transformations of land-water systems" at IRI THESys.

Letícia, what have been the most important moments or decisions in your CV so far?

I was able to detect strong research teams in Brazil early in my career and embraced the opportunities they gave me. I joined a research center right after my masters and also got a temporary contract as a lecturer. Later, I chose IRI THESys for my doctoral studies, got a scholarship and went there. In my last year as a doctoral student, I was selected for a postdoc position in the US, but because of bureaucratic obstacles it did not work out in the end. However, that gave me the energy needed to finish my PhD in time (3 years). When I had finished, I saw two professorship positions available at my hometown university and hurried up to apply for them. All of these were great decisions.

You skipped the postdoctoral phase and jumped directly into a professor's position. How was that possible?

The federal system for civil servants in Brazil is entirely based on regulated and transparent selection processes. When a new position is offered in a federal university every person with a doctoral degree can apply and goes through a selection process usually composed of CV evaluation, written exam and lecture exam. You must have studied hard for these exams and be prepared to face a committee of five evaluators from the same scientific field. Every item in your CV has a weight, so the postdoctoral phase would be well valued, but it is not a determinant.

In your opinion, what are the challenges postdocs have to face?

You must publish a lot and develop robust project proposals to gain a permanent position, particularly in Europe. In some countries, this phase could last up to 10 years of your career due to lack of job opportunities, and this may cause a lot of anxiety. Another challenge is work-family balance. Lack of support for early-career scientists may affect particularly women. I must say that postdocs in Germany are in a better position than in many other countries considering parental leave, vacations, social security, and salaries.

What advices would you give to young researchers for the postdoctoral phase?

Engage with strong research groups, keep the connections you made during your previous phases and collaborate a lot. Collaboration will give you a chance to publish more papers beyond those of your own projects. Your CV will be evaluated regarding the number and quality of your publications, your research network and experiences. Get experience with teaching! This is highly valued. Also, do not stay fixed within only one research group and take advantage of research stays and academic visits to consolidate your academic network. Show in your CV how far you can go!

What's your career goal, or what is your vision for your future career?

I would be very happy to see my research creating a strong and positive impact on the environmental policy agenda of my country. If I can fantasize a bit, I would dream about seeing federal politicians making good decisions with some of my papers in hands. If I want to go a bit further, I would love to become an expert adviser for the United Nations.

Anything else you would like to add?

I want to emphasize that I strongly believe that more robust support for women in science is needed. Men are still the majority in many universities and are occupying more directive positions than women. Just check your surroundings! In addition, women need more support for maternity because they are the first ones to be affected in their careers. Therefore, I stand up with my female fellows on this cause.