Vivian van Breemen PhD

Have you ever considered working and studying at the same time, but you maybe were worried about managing it all? Let’s learn from someone who achieved the difficult task of combining an academic career with a full-time job in central banking. 

Meet Vivian. She is a supervisor at the European Central Bank (ECB) and a PhD graduate at Nyenrode Business Universiteit (NBU). She obtained her PhD in finance simultaneously with her full-time risk management job at De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) and later also at the ECB. Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is: how did she do it? Working at a central bank and obtaining your PhD at the same time is no easy task.

Working and studying: How it all started

After her Bachelor of Applied Sciences and a pre-Master, Vivian graduated with two Master’s degrees in economics and finance from the University of Groningen and Nyenrode Business Universiteit. Eventually, she also obtained a PhD specialising in Credit Rating Risks.

Already during her Master’s, she became interested in the roles of central banks and their activities. This is what eventually led to her starting her career at De Nederlandsche Bank. 

“I started my first grown-up job at DNB in 2018. As a banking supervisor, my main role was risk management for the financial sector. I was responsible for assessing credit risks and analyzing the impact of climate-related risks on Dutch financial institutions. For instance, we closely monitored how events like the Covid-19 pandemic affected households and businesses, and how it could lead to potential issues in loan repayments.”

 As opposed to a regular bank, working at a central bank allows you to directly contribute to maintaining financial stability in an uncertain world! Sounds quite exciting, right? 

“As an independent central bank, DNB is dedicated to maintaining the stability of the financial system. Alongside their European partners, they work to ensure price stability, promote the soundness of financial institutions, and facilitate efficient payment systems.

Working at a central bank is actually really cool, it allows you to dive into very complex yet topical subjects, like inflation or climate-related risks, while your work directly contributes to sustaining a stable financial system!” 

How to work full-time and pursue a PhD at the same time

Vivian decided to pursue a PhD after being offered the opportunity. And despite the fact that it’s not common to do your PhD while having a full-time job, she decided that she couldn’t pass on this unique chance. 

She shared some of the most important learnings she gathered in the past four years:

“In case you are considering doing a PhD as well, think about whether you (somewhat) enjoyed writing your master’s thesis and whether you like to solve complex questions. It is also key to find a topic that you are really passionate about and to be a bit pragmatic and output driven. Otherwise, one can easily get lost when doing a PhD with a very long duration as a result. Some level of perfectionism is natural for a highly driven individual but try to stay away from falling into ‘analysis paralysis’.”

Plus, her full-time job and PhD were complementing each other very well.

“What really helped me was the fact that my PhD topic (risks in capital markets) was super relevant for central banks. This created a win-win situation. I was able to create research that was directly relevant to answering topical policy-related questions. Also, research is highly valued at central banks such as DNB and ECB, making it a great place if you want to combine research with obtaining practical work experience. I have sat down and discussed my research with market participants such as regulators and credit rating agencies, but also presented my work during international (central bank and finance) research conferences in, amongst others, San Diego, New York, Lisbon, and Paris.”

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Her advice for YOU

After intense but beautiful years following this dual path of study and work, one thing Vivian knows for sure is that it does require a lot of effort and sacrifice.

“To excel, in anything really, I believe you need to be extremely motivated and hard-working. What really helped me, especially at the start of my career, was the guidance and support of my supervisors. They have pushed me to go beyond my own boundaries but also guided me in the right direction. In pursuing my career successfully, it also helped to have a spouse next to me that is very supportive. We build each other up, rather than compete against each other. 

For all young women who are standing at the beginning of their careers, I advise you to be determined and confident of your capabilities and to seize every opportunity, including those in central banking and research!”