Renira Angeles is a joint postdoctoral fellow at Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), Department of Social Sciences, and University of Bergen. She earned her PhD in Political Science at CEU, and a MSc in Political Economy at BI Norwegian Business School. During her doctoral studies she was a visiting PhD researcher at the London School of Economics and the University of Amsterdam. After submitting her thesis, she had a temporary policy advisor position. Her main research interest lies in the political economy of the welfare state, health economics, health care services, income and health inequalities and the implications of democracy.
DSPS alumnus Miklós Zala (Political Theory track, 2017) caught up with Renira at the beginning of 2021 to talk about her experience at CEU and her career after graduating.
Hi Renira! You entered the doctoral program in the Political Economy track in 2011. How did you end up at CEU?
Hi! I got to know about CEU through Nick Sitter. I was enrolled in an MSc program in Political Economy at BI Norwegian Business School. I learned from Nick that there is a PhD program at CEU. I had some thoughts for a project, and Nick told me about his colleagues and asked me to check what they worked on and to send them an email about my work. I got in touch with Achim Kemmerling, and he showed some interest in my project. So, that's how I got to know about CEU and DSPS.
Why did you choose the Political Economy track?
I had my bachelor's degree in political science, which was a relatively broad program. But I knew back then that I was interested in the "grey zone" between economics and politics. These were typical questions such as "why is there more redistribution in some democracies than in others", "why is there more economic inequality in some democracies than in others". I also found the political economy faculty profiles of DSPS exciting and the topics and projects they were involved in.
So, basically, you had an interest in both the field and DSPS faculty.
Exactly. I found the PE faculty's background very interesting. They were involved in international research projects, which was interesting to me as well. So, the international factor was also important.
You entered the doctoral program in 2011. What were your impression about the Political Economy track and DSPS in general?
My first experience was overwhelming. My fellow doctoral students in PE were intimidatingly good. But, of course, I also learned a lot from them. The lectures were very intense and interactive, somewhat different from the Norwegian system, which was new to me. It was such a good program that I was slightly afraid of not keeping up with the level. So, this was a mixed experience: both fascinating and intimidating. Perhaps, it would be good if DSPS could have offered some help.
What kind of help do you have in mind?
I do not have an individual or counseling type of help in mind. More like some social activities that help students to understand that their struggles are not idiosyncratic. Of course, the DSPS had these, but more emphasis could have been on group activities.
Otherwise, what did you think about the PE program?
It was superb. The academic profile of the faculty was fascinating.
But despite the early difficulties, you caught up and finished the courses successfully.
I think for many, there were lots of ups and downs, but in the end, the most relevant thing was working with my supervisor, Achim Kemmerling.
In what way?
We worked very well together, and from time to time, we needed to satisfy the official requirements of DSPS. I think we solved those very well. But probably what I missed was more official monitoring of the activity between my supervisor and me. So, I had only communication with Achim. I felt a bit detached from the Doctoral School as far as thesis supervision is concerned. But this problem was not CEU-related. I don't want to be misunderstood; the whole supervisory process worked out for me well. Still, if we're going to put it in perspective, there is room for improvement in monitoring the progress of the writing of doctoral candidates. That would also improve efficiency, in my view.
Could you specify for us what do you mean by efficiency?
I think DSPS's goal should be to get students finishing their program within four years, that is, till they have guaranteed funding.
I see. You defended your dissertation on the topic of "political causes and consequences of CEO pay across advanced democracies".
Yes, although I submitted the thesis in 2017, my external examiner, Isabela Mares could not come to Budapest earlier than the next year.
Before we discuss your career's next stage, how did you find DSPS as a social environment?
My CEU life during the program was great. But it did not happen all at once; it came with time: around my second year, I started to find stability and developed routines and social activities (and groups of people I met frequently). So, from the second year on, it was excellent. One benefit of DSPS and CEU is that you get so close to your colleagues. Plus, we had PERG, our Political Economy Research Group. That was also a place where I found my group of people with whom I could socialize. I appreciated other activities at CEU, especially the wine evenings. The list of social activities throughout the academic year is impressive work from DSPS. CEU was also very generous in funding seminars; PERG received generous support from the University. That was a unique experience for me.
Although you were in a special situation, PERG is the most relevant and successful research group in political science at CEU.
Thanks to the founders Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits and their students. I also believe that other research groups are catching up. But PERG was a great place in bringing together students and faculty as well. Our relationship became much stronger due to these meetings. The lack of hierarchy between students and faculty was great. We were just researchers in the room interested in the same topic. That goes back to what I mentioned earlier: PERG's meetings created a relaxed environment. Having these research groups is a significant asset of CEU.
What happened after you got your PhD degree?
I tried to enter the job market quite early, maybe a year before I finished. But I don't recommend that because there are many positions—at least here in Norway—where you at least have submitted or even defended your PhD to be selected. So, I wasted my energy in a way. After finishing the program, I was very excited but also had a little burnout. But I squeezed out the last energy that was left and submitted multiple applications. Fortunately, I had several job interviews, and I think that is thanks to my CEU background. It is fortunate because I could build up some experience too. But during the first interviews I got, I did not have experience in doing a good job interview performance. So, I did not do well on the interviews, at least regarding the high-profile positions I applied to. I was struggling to promote myself well. For these high-profile jobs, the other candidates came from prestigious places. So, I underperformed because I did not act professionally. I tried to behave "naturally" during the interviews, i.e., that you should be yourself and real, not playing a role.
In the light of what you said, do you think that CEU and DSPS could organize mock job-interviews?
Absolutely. We organized mock thesis-defenses shortly before our actual doctoral defense. But it was de-centralized. We had to organize them ourselves or through a research group. It would be good if there was the opportunity at CEU to hold mock job-interviews as well, perhaps even after the doctoral defense (it could be done online). Maybe this could also be an alumni activity, mainly because most of them already having relevant interview experience.
So, you thought that your not-playing-any-roles approach could be a successful strategy for interviews, but it wasn't. What went wrong?
I thought in the beginning that what you should do is to stick out by being yourself with your original thoughts. But then I found myself at the actual interviews, and the milieu was harsh, and I did not have any tools. In these interviews, you get drilled.
Can you give us more details about the milieu?
I got excellent, penetrating questions from the panel that I did not think through initially, and the whole situation was intimidating. You stand alone in front of 3-4 people, and I felt that I could not show my real abilities. I think a previous mock defense could have helped a lot.
Did you receive, nevertheless, a job offer in the first application round?
No, in the end, I had five interviews but was the second candidate in most of the applications. But my impression is that the reason I was shortlisted for those jobs was CEU's prestige.
What did you do after that?
Let me answer this by going back a bit in time. When I submitted my thesis, I got, via network, a temporary policy advisor position. I thought this was a good backup and also a good way of catching up financially. In that unit, people knew about CEU. So I was doing all of the interviews mentioned above. and I continued applying to jobs. while enjoying financial security due to my governmental position.
Which application proved to be successful?
Finally, I got a postdoc position at NORCE Norwegian Research Centre in Bergen. It is the former Stein Rokkan Research Centre, and the project I am in is a joint project with the University of Bergen. My research group mostly researches health economics, health services, and welfare states – mainly from a Nordic perspective. I really like this group because in the end, I got to work with what I am most interested in: redistribution and political economy, but also more about the health sector, which is new to me.
How long can you stay there?
My position ends this November, but I just got a permanent place in the group. I know this is quite fast, putting it in an international perspective. I know people struggle after their postdocs, but there is a firm policy here to eliminate and minimize temporary positions in academics (at least for early career researchers). So, for the foreseeable future, I continue here, and then we will see. And it is worth emphasizing that there is a significant amount of work with your career after PhD—it is not just finishing a PhD, and you are done.
What are the pros and cons of the PE track?
The pros are: a lot of outstanding people embedded in the international research environment. And I see that positive import of this here in Bergen. And we were also highly encouraged to publish in international journals. PERG is an evident strength of the PE track and the fact that some very high-profile professors visited us during my time at CEU.
The cons: there was a lot of fluctuation in the faculty. So, the faculty turnover was a bit high.
You are in Norway for the foreseeable future, but do you have any plans to conduct some research abroad?
Yes, I would like to spend a one-year research visit later on at one of our partner universities or at an institution that I have connections to through CEU.
Final question: what do you like to do in your free time?
I did ballet before, but I am not doing it here in Norway right now (due to commuting). Fortunately, there are many outdoor activities in Norway, I do cross-country skiing and ski-touring now during wintertime. Moreover, these activities are corona-friendly because you are not in a crowd, just out in nature. During the summer, I like to go hiking in the mountains. Another activity I enjoy very much is reading fiction, to avoid always reading some academic literature. I also want to enrich my thinking and not stay in the academic bubble all the time.
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