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From top tennis player to researcher

From top tennis player to researcher

Photographer:Fotograaf:

Yuri Meesen

Recent UM graduates looking for a job during COVID-19 pandemic

For years, Debbie Gach (23) competed as a tennis player in the Netherlands. She decided to leave the world of competitive sports behind in order to focus on her master’s degree in Human Movement Sciences, with a specialisation in Sports and Nutrition – a degree she has now obtained. “I look forward to working life.” She would like to get a PhD position or become a junior researcher.

2017/2018 was a good tennis year for her, Gach says over Zoom. It was also the year when she completed her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. “Playing tennis, doing an internship, writing my thesis… I was very busy towards the end of my bachelor’s degree. I went from my internship location to tennis training. I often didn’t get home until ten pm and then I still had to eat and then go straight to bed, because I had to be up in time the next day to go to class. I played competitive tennis in Germany on Saturdays, in the Netherlands on Sundays, and I also competed in the occasional tournament.” The people around her had long realised that she had too much going on in her life, “but I had to feel it for myself before I could accept it.”

Gach became exhausted, which led to injuries. She was forced to slow down her tennis career. Partly because of this, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. She didn’t enjoy it, which resulted in her taking a gap year. It gave her a lot of time to think about the pros and cons of pursuing a professional sports career. “Just playing tennis is not for me”, she decided. “You really end up in a bubble. Lots of training, lots of travel. Sometimes you spend three weeks in one country and then three weeks in another one. That’s not what makes me happy. Also, I always really valued my relationships with people at university, and at home I had my partner, friends and family.”

Gach decided to enrol in the master’s programme in Human Movement Sciences. “I haven’t regretted it since.” Until the lockdown in March, everything was going smoothly for her. She had passed all her exams on the first try and was ready to start her internship. She was supposed to work on a hospital study on protein intake in patients recovering from orthopaedic surgery. “That didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but fortunately my internship supervisor gave me a new thesis topic and data from a previous study.”

Gach’s master’s thesis was rewarded with a very good grade. Research is a good fit for her, so she has been applying for research positions. “There’s a lot of competition and it often takes them a long time to respond. You need a lot of patience.” She does not yet know whether she’ll end up with a PhD position or a job as a junior researcher. Earning a PhD takes a lot of hard work, but “if I come across a position in a wonderful PhD project, I’ll apply for it, of course.”

While applying for jobs, Gach is also training to become a nutritionist. “My master’s degree taught me a lot of theory, but this programme is teaching me how to develop personalised coaching plans, among other things.” It’s her back-up plan in case landing a research position takes too long. Also, “it’s nice to have something to fall back on. I don’t know if I want to be a researcher for the rest of my life.”

How about tennis? “I still play, but I don’t compete at the highest level anymore. I’m feeling the ‘itch’ again now that I have a little more time, but I’ve decided to go for a ‘real’ job.”

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