NAME: Ana Mijic
CURRENT TITLE: NEW UPDATE! Ana is now Senior Lecturer! Join me in congratulating her!
Senior Lecturer in Urban Water Management, Imperial College London
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Water Systems and Interactions/Water Resources Assessment
YEARS EXPERIENCE: 14
EDUCATION: Dipl. Ing., MSc in Civil Engineering; MSc in Hydrology for Environmental Management; PhD in Earth Science and Engineering
What’s your job like?
As any academic position, my work combines (in no particular order) teaching, research, writing publications and project proposals, supervising PhD and MSc students, outreach activities, loads of travelling and meetings and various administrative duties. My research group of seven PhD students and associated academic and research staff works on developing simulation models that we validate using experimental data, which can be applied for assessing available water resources and testing adaptation measures for water supply security and environmental risk to infrastructure (flood and droughts) under climate change.
What’s a typical day like?
Although my day almost always starts the same way – with buying latte at Tube station and a long ride to the Uni – it is almost never the same. Which is probably why I deeply enjoy what I am doing. Firstly, my working hours are fairly flexible, meaning that sometimes I may end up working quite late in the evening, but with a privilege of coming to the office rather late the next morning or working from home. If it’s the term time, then I spend quite a lot of time preparing for lectures, marking coursework and exam questions. I always leave free time to meet with my students, though I am not one of those control-freak supervisors (or at least I hope I’m not!). Then there are other meetings related to the ongoing and potential future projects or various Section related activities. When the teaching finishes, then I catch up with my research and publications, looking for potential funding opportunities and collaborations, reading as much as possible (though that usually ends up with increasing the piles of to-read papers!) and very rarely, but deeply enjoying it when the time permits, I code. I try never to miss lunch with a few of my dear colleagues and friends that have been my source of wisdom, comfort and fun for many years now. I spend tons of time reading and replying to emails. And yes, I do check Facebook and Twitter more than once a day :).
Fun is the unknown and pushing the boundaries. The amazing feeling of doing something no one has done before, even if that is just a small step towards the final solution. Fun is when your code is finally working properly. Fun is chatting with your students and seeing the same excitement in their eyes when they try to solve a problem. Fun is seeing them becoming amazing young researchers. Fun is teaching and getting feedback from students; the comment that you made it easy for them to understand. Fun is getting your project proposal accepted and your papers published. Travelling, meeting and working with amazing people all around the world. Fun is doing what you love and the feeling that there is no other place where you would rather be.
The challenge is that nothing comes for free. All that I have achieved so far is the result of so many sleepless nights, failures, bad decisions, and working to meet tight deadlines. Challenging is to meet expectations, not only from your employer and colleagues, but your own expectations. Good academic institutions offer so much support and resources, but they equally expect you to be brilliant in every aspect and all the time. Which is not easy. Challenge is also to know exactly what you want to do, and make choices that don’t compromise your integrity — to constantly challenge your mind (and body) and work with people who you do not get along with. Challenge is to know when to stop working and dedicate your time to family and friends.
What’s your advice to students?
1) Don’t be afraid of changes
If you have read all that I wrote so far you may think that I have nothing to do with geology. Which is by no means true. I did my MSc thesis on groundwater flow modelling and my PhD on two-phase subsurface flow. But the strange set of circumstances brought me to work more on urban systems analysis and water resources management. But I found a way to combine what I love to do and what I have to do by looking at the interactions between groundwater and other hydrology and infrastructure systems and resources. Also I was born and did my undergraduate studies in Belgrade, Serbia – the city and country where many awful things happened when I was supposed to enjoy life the most. Now my family and me are in London, and I got a whole new perspective and experience from moving here. If you open your mind (and heart), a whole new world may open for you.
2) You cannot know if you like it until you try it
Indeed choosing the type of work you want to do in your life is not easy. I do hope that some of the posts here will help young people to have an insight what different jobs may involve and give them some indication what they may want to try to do. But really until you try something, you cannot know if you like it and how good you are in doing it. One indication that you may want to become a researcher and academic is if after reading “What’s fun?” section you don’t think I am a complete nut. But by all means, do try different things. The morning you feel happy going to work, you’ll know you’ve found a perfect job for you.
3) Never ever be an (academic) asshole
Any profession, and academia in particular, is flooded with super smart people with huge egos. At the same time there is a limited number of available positions, limited amount of funding, huge expectations, tiredness… and one may be tempted to “take a shortcut” and reach one step higher by not giving any thoughts or concerns about other people’s opinions, time or feelings. Or one may tend to do only the things that are in his/her own interest, completely apathetic towards the needs of the project or research group. I am not saying that you should become an academic Samaritan and completely dedicate your life to others. But you will be as good as your group is. Fair enough, even if you’re not a part of the team, working together, respecting each other, and yes, sometimes doing something just because someone asked you for help, you may still become famous. For being an asshole.