Since she began training as a coach/counsellor, Isabelle Kohler has gone through extensive self-introspection. During this journey, she came across the mantra ‘trust the process’. It resonated with many aspects of her life, including her career. In this column, Isabelle invites young scientists to be open to the unexpected in their careers and to trust the process.

Last October on a Saturday morning, I found myself sitting in front of my computer, eagerly awaiting the first online session of my year-long coaching and counselling course. I wanted to do this course to gain sufficient skills and learn appropriate methodologies that I could use when supporting and guiding (PhD) students and postdocs. Little did I know that I would learn much more about myself than I realised.

The profound self-introspection I went through during the course has been extremely useful – but also very intense. Like my fellow students, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be a good coach/counsellor. When I shared these doubts with our teacher, she often repeated the phrase: ‘Trust the process’. Trust the process? At first, this mantra seemed like a cliché – until I realised that it was not only relevant to learning how to become a coach/counsellor, but that it could be applied to various aspects of my life, especially my career.

It’s been four years since I started working as an Assistant Professor at VU Amsterdam. When I reflect on my VU journey, one thing stands out: it certainly didn’t go as planned. I signed my contract in January 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple lockdowns that followed. My contract was a five year tenure track, which was supposed to culminate in a permanent position, provided I fulfilled the outlined conditions. I was on the brink of developing my own research line and continuing my academic path toward professorship.

Fast-forward to today: the pandemic hit and I spent the first year of my contract mostly working from home. I obtained a permanent contract after two-and-a-half years already because of a change in policy at the VU. I contracted COVID-19 in 2023 and developed Long Covid. I founded my company, NextMinds. I began writing this column for C2W International. I started my training course in coaching and counseling. I received much more attention for NextMinds than I ever did with my academic work. Finally, I also built my research line and fulfilled nearly all the requirements of my tenure track contract, thanks to the excellent work carried out by my two PhD students, the support of my colleagues, and my collaborators. Yet, I had not anticipated that my career would take the turn it’s currently taking.

It didn’t go as planned, and I’m glad it didn’t.

I love the direction my career is moving in; I enjoy combining my academic and entrepreneurial sides. Everything is falling into place. If someone had told me in 2020 to ‘trust the process’, I would have laughed. Today I realise that it was 100% true: my hard work over the past decade is leading to a career path that I find fulfilling and meaningful. I didn’t know when it would happen or in what form, but I can see it taking shape. I needed those years to think, to get ideas, to process them, to do a lot of introspection and to make things happen.

That’s my message to early-career scientists: trust the process. Start by setting goals and making plans, and work hard towards those goals – but don’t freak out if you don’t achieve them. Trust that every step you take will take you further, even if the destination isn’t clear yet and isn’t exactly what you imagined. Things take time to happen – time, growth, learning and opportunities. Be open to the unexpected, whether it seems positive or negative at the time. It is likely to contribute to your career and your journey towards your goals. It may even change your goals – for the better. Trust the process and believe in your hard work and skills: they will lead you to a place of fulfilment and meaning.

All in all, our teacher was right when she told us to trust the process: I’m feeling more and more confident with my practice clients, at home and with a great sense of purpose. I can’t wait to take (and hopefully pass) the exam in a few weeks’ time, and to start actively coaching early career researchers in a few months’ time!


If you are interested in learning more about how to navigate academia, do not hesitate to join the NextMinds Community! For this, you have plenty of choices: visit NextMinds website to learn more about my work, sign up for the newsletter, and follow me and NextMinds on LinkedIn. By signing up to the newsletter, you’ll also be the first to know when I start offering 1:1 coaching sessions!