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  • Aimee de Köning

The important thing on this journey is not to do everything on your own

The journey of a doctoral researcher is a strenuous one. You are challenged on all sides. It forces you to dig deep inside yourself to learn where your roots begin, where they end, and that the unwavering support of your roots through all the storms of life do not stem from any external source. The journey is teaching you the importance of being rooted in yourself and branching out to others.

What if that mountain of success is one you never ever expected to reach?


But somehow, with all that you are, all that you have experienced and seen, all that makes you who you are, and all that made those who chose to hire you believe that of all the others, you are the most capable one.


Suddenly, you find yourself standing in front of that proverbial mountain. And then in the second week after the rush and adrenaline of the initial days wears off you sit there in your office looking at your screen and your mind goes “Well..., f**k…, what now?”.




Mistakes are normal

During the DSII industry experience courses, we discuss error management, analysis, models, types of errors such as miscommunications, misunderstandings and failures that could potentially lead to hazardous events.


Often, when the occurrence of hazardous events cannot be directly related to a systematic or random malfunction, its root causes can be traced back to a human error. Now, it is quite normal to make mistakes, and when mistakes are made it is important to show ourselves the same compassion we would have for others in such scenarios.


As very rarely do such mistakes occur from some sort of malicious intent, what is vital and what sets us apart is the ability to reflect on our mistakes and learn from them.



Facing yourself is part of the solution

When I set out on my journey to become an expert in my field, I found myself in a new world. Laboring endlessly to arm myself with all the knowledge I could possibly gather on safety engineering, mobile heavy machinery and robotics.


It was far too late when I realized that I had isolated myself completely.... Overwhelmed, stressed, sleep deprived, and riddled with anxiety, I found myself running around in what can be best described as this dark forest of knowledge that was so overgrown. I could no longer see any clearance in the forest, falling back on old coping mechanisms and again being confronted with aspects of my past I had long thought to be a historical fact and no longer relevant.


These were emotions not particularly new to me, and overcoming them previously is a significant part of who I am, how I perceive myself, and how I experience others' perceptions of me. What I never expected was to be confronted with them again.



We are not alone

During this tumultuous start of the journey and when realizing the root cause stemmed from my self-isolation, I first reached out to my peers, and after that to my supervisor.


Everyone answered my fears and concerns with empathy and compassion, providing support and guidance on how they overcame similar experiences in their journey.


From this I learned that the important thing on this journey is to not do everything on your own, but instead to reach out and share your knowledge, experiences, and learn from those around you, to let it help others as it helped you.


Overcome your patterns

While the root cause of your behavioural patterns leading to these mistakes might lie outside of your control, overcoming them is completely within your power.


You are never as alone as you think you are. Often you are your own worst enemy.


On a final note: build your ship, sail the vast ocean of this new world that you find yourself in, and reach as many of the little islands as possible.


Communicate, experience, share and grow.


In the immortal words of C.P. Cavafy, “Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years...”.*



- Aimee de Köning, DSII Doctoral Student



* Link to the English translation of this poem.





Photos: Pixabay, WiX, Canva