Interview: Theory and Practice

Gulbakhyt Sultanova - Official [square]As part of our “Crossing Continents” series of articles about researchers making large moves to further their careers, we spoke to a uniquely mobile academic, Dr. Gulbakhyt Sultanova of the University of the Balearic Islands. Gulbakhyt’s original base is Narxoz University in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Prior to her recent move to Spain, she also studied and worked in Germany. A specialist in knowledge management, intellectual capital and education, she has a unique perspective on researchers working in theory and practice.

We began by asking her –

Your career has involved very large moves, including to your current stint at University of the Balearic Islands: how has your flexibility in location affected your career?

The effects of my mobility have been positive. Twice, I went to Germany after quitting a good, well-paid job. Twice, I returned to Kazakhstan after completing my master´s and doctoral studies to start from scratch.

And twice, I found a very good job with no connections within a few weeks. I think it’s because international study and work experience is highly appreciated in the labour markets of Western Europe and Central Asia.

My personal advantage was that I started with my master’s studies having sound work experience in banking. Also, I gathered new work experience in consulting before starting my doctoral studies. So far, international mobility has advanced my career and given me freedom of choice in what to do with my life.

Currently, I am doing my postdoctoral research in Spain and I am going to stay flexible in location for years to come.

What were the biggest challenges associated with moving around so much?

Every beginning is hard. And everyone will encounter some difficulties integrating into a new society.


"...everyone will encounter some difficulties integrating into a new society."


For example, when I began my studies in Germany, one challenge was to switch from English to German in my everyday student life. Also, I had to learn to get directly to the point in answering the questions from my German professors.

When I returned to Kazakhstan, next challenge was to switch from German to English in my everyday professional life. Also, I had to adjust to the mentality of my own country again.

But what I am observing is that integrating and reintegrating has become a sort of habit with me. It takes less time with every change of location.


"...integrating and reintegrating has become a sort of habit with me. It takes less time with every change of location."


What are the biggest benefits that your move to the University of Balearic Islands has provided?

First, I have an opportunity to closely work with experienced researchers from the Department of Applied Economics on the issues of quality assurance at universities. Second, I have an opportunity to finish our research on performance measurement at universities while being assisted by Spanish colleagues.

Finally, I can improve my Spanish; I started learning the language while I was living in Germany.

How did your university prepare you for your research career?

My doctoral studies in Germany gave me the chance to absorb new knowledge in a face-to-face contact with my supervisors. Also, I improved my skills while participating in a range of courses for doctoral students such as project management, change management, negotiations and teamwork, etc. And, I developed stamina by going down the stony path from posing a research question to eventually composing policy recommendations.

In what ways did your university leave you unprepared?

It would be better to conduct even more interdisciplinary research since real life is interdisciplinary. No one phenomenon is about pure Economics, pure Philosophy or pure Physics. Also, it would be better to apply those research methods that are not typical for a particular domain and learn why something works or doesn't work. Breaking rules and thinking what if there is no box around one’s subject is a way to make innovation happen.


"It would be better to conduct even more interdisciplinary research since real life is interdisciplinary..."


Based on your research and your experience how could universities better prepare students to undertake careers in research?

The best way is to start with developing research skills as soon as possible and let students break rules in a specific domain. Why teach research skills from the very beginning? These skills are about a set of transferable competencies such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, etc. These competencies can be transferred to any occupation enhancing the employability of graduates. The most interested students can continue with research, others can better survive in the labour market thanks to well-developed competencies.

What message would you send to researchers graduating now who might be contemplating what to do next?

Go from academia to industry and implement in practice what you have learned and invented. Especially in Social Sciences, you can become a productive researcher if you address practice-oriented problems having accumulated your own experience in industry. My advice is stay in touch with practice.

Thank you for your time.

What are the main benefits of being a highly mobile researcher?

  • It broadens opportunities to work with leading researchers.
  • It can create a flexibility of mentality and habits, which may get easier to accomplish with each move.
  • It can add to an interdisciplinary perspective, which is key to understanding real life.


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