PhD is my fourth child

Anita Pelle, associate professor, the single holder of the Jean Monnet Chair title at the University of Szeged, studies the competitiveness of EU member states, leads a research group, organises a conference, and drafts study materials. Besides her scientific work, she also performs in private life: together with his husband, they care for three children. The young female associate professor also tells us that she loves to cook, likes gastro literature, and grows herbs on their terrace.

What does it mean to be awarded the Jean Monnet Chair?

The title is awarded by the European Commission; one has to apply for it. In fact, it is a three-year scholarship. Besides Chairs, there are Jean Monnet Modules, Centres of Excellence, Projects, and Networks. The Chair title is awarded to the given person and his/her institution together. To my best knowledge, only one person has had it at the University of Szeged so far: László J. Nagy, in the 1990s.

What duties does the title imply?

The applicant undertakes teaching tasks related to the EU, and puts other activities on his/her agenda. I’ve started to lead a young researchers’ group in the field of European studies, I am taking part in organising a conference, and I have set the objective to draft multilayer educational contents on the European economy.

What is the topic of the research?

Competitiveness in the EU. In fact, the EU member states are rather diverse in terms of competitiveness. There is an obvious divide among them: a core and a periphery, the latter consisting of the Eastern new member states and Southern Europe. The sources of competitiveness for these countries are largely different and if we don’t do something about this problem, it will threaten the integrity of the EU.

How does the research go?

In a working group. We get together with the undergraduate and PhD students every month, and discuss who has read or written what. I would like us to review as much related literature as possible because if books are just lined up on the shelves, it is as if they did not exist. I had already bought new issues for the university from my earlier scholarship, and if there is any chance to buy new books, I always send my request list. I myself strive for reading as much as possible; analysing the data can come afterwards.

What is the objective of the research?

We aim at formulating some recommendations. We strive for participating in discourses where the topic is the future of the EU. I have been invited, among others, to Jean Monnet networks and conferences – these connections reach out to Brussels. We trust that we manage to plant some seeds of thought along this line.

How long have you been working at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the University of Szeged?

I started as a student assistant in 1998. I held seminars and participated in faculty tasks. After graduation, I spent one year in the corporate world, at a German multinational company, but I soon realised that it was not my cup of tea. Fortunately, I returned to the university in 2001 and climbed up all along the ladder: I became research assistant, assistant lecturer, lecturer, and then associate professor. I remember defending my PhD in the 35th week of pregnancy. Sometimes I funnily remark that PhD is my fourth child, besides my two sons and my daughter.

How can you harmonise a researcher’s life with motherhood?

I have written an essay on this issue, in the framework of an EU-funded project. Its title is: Constant multi-tasking, or the every-day life of a contemporary Hungarian female knowledge-capitalist with kids. The concept of multi-tasking was explained to us back in our Computer Programming course: the computer does not do the things in parallel but it pursues different tasks in a sequence, switching extremely quickly from one to the other. When I was a student, I had never thought that one day this would become the single workable mode for me as well.

How does a usual day go in your life?

Each day goes differently; what is common in them is that they always start early and sometimes last long. There are some fix points in my schedule like my university classes and the kids’ afternoon and evening duties. The boys attend football trainings and music school. They have to be transported everywhere. I try to dedicate as much time to research as possible but I can very rarely let myself the luxury of solely writing for hours and hours. I’m teaching on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then, on Thursday and Friday, I try to engage in scientific work.

Is there any time left for any hobby?

Cycling and swimming truly relax me. I love to cook and read literature. The book I last read was Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree by Santa Montefiore which a novel taking place in 1970s Argentina. My favourite reads include cooking books and gastro literature as well. I particularly like Italian, French and Spanish cuisine.

So, Sunday lunch at your home is not always breaded meat and mashed potatoes?

Last time, for example, we had pizza. I like to create all kinds of dishes using vegetables; my favourites are cream soups and layered vegetable dishes. Sometimes the kids also assist in the kitchen. My elder son has an outstanding taste to find out what spice goes well with what food. We just need to bring it inside from the terrace as we grow rosemary, mint, basil, oregano, and also lavender.

Photo and text: Anna Bobkó

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