Five years ago, the extended Erasmus stay of Monika Kus (34) in Antwerp was coming to an end: she was about to return to her native Poland. And then she met VITO research director Walter Eevers. He encouraged her to keep applying for jobs in Belgium. And it paid off, as Kus found a job as a chemist in industry. And at the beginning of 2019 the circle was complete and she made the switch to VITO.

It's quite a story: how come five years ago you suddenly wanted to return to Poland when you had almost completed your PhD research at the UAntwerp? 

I never finished my PhD. I started applying for jobs in the summer of 2015. With my educational level, I expected to find a job quickly, but that wasn't the case. After a year of applying for jobs in vain, I decided to return to Poland. Until, through the Connect2Work programme of the integration and citizenship service of Antwerp - where I live - I was brought into contact with Walter Eevers of VITO, who, like me, studied chemistry. He helped me renew my self-confidence and taught me some useful job application skills. It worked: I was hired as a chemist at a Belgian company'. 

After that you ended up back at university, and then came into contact with VITO again. 

'That was in the context of a collaboration between the UAntwerp and VITO, where I was responsible for the synthesis of new materials that can then be used in metal absorption. Through that process, valuable metals can be recovered in chemical waste streams, for instance. 

However, during that project, I found out that there was a vacancy at VITO in the materials research division. Because I was already familiar with this specific research and various VITO employees knew my professional capacities, I had an advantage. I was hired.’ 

What do you do exactly? 

‘I mainly work on 3D-micro-extrusion. With this technique we can print 3D on microscale porous materials. This allows us to manipulate the strength and stability of catalyts, meaning that many chemical reactions can be optimised. For example, a catalyst with a porous 3D structure not only decreases pressure drop in a reactor, but also improves mass and heat transfer'. 

You have worked both at university and in industry, and now you are active at VITO. How do these three working environments differ from each other? 

'In my job in industry, I mainly did chemical quality tests. I soon started to get bored with that, because it was largely routine work. I missed the real research, which is also less commercial in nature. In the joint research project between the UAntwerp and VITO, I found what I wanted again, and that remained the case after I switched to VITO. Now my work is very varied: every day is different. 

I also like the application-oriented aspect of VITO research, which gives me a strong drive. I didn't feel that so much at university. It is also nice that staff turnover at VITO is much lower. At university, a research group quickly goes its separate ways when a project is finished. Within a large organisation like VITO, there is more collegiality. I felt at home from day one. Or actually, from the Friday evening before my first working week, because the first time I saw my current team was during the New Year's party at the start of 2019. Not a bad way to meet your new colleagues!'

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