Curiosity for alternative approaches and searching for interconnections between different (sub)disciplinary fields may result in some of the most exciting findings and rewarding experiences in doing research.


In times of crisis, to whom will politicians or other decision-making bodies and organisations turn for guidance? Why are certain individuals seen as experts in times of uncertainty and how is their “expert knowledge” shaped and produced? These are few of many questions our REWIRE fellow Vera Axyonova tackles in her research project called “Expert Knowledge in Times of Crisis – Uncovering Interaction Effects between Think Tanks, Media and Politics beyond Liberal Democracies”. Read this interview to get a glimpse of Vera’s work life as a post doc as well as her research project.


Describe your research in one sentence.

Vera: In my REWIRE project, I study how knowledge about crises (and in times of crises) is produced and communicated by expert professionals in political settings beyond consolidated liberal democracies, how this knowledge is used by political and societal actors, and how much influence it has on policymaking.

Tell us about a normal day in the life of a postdoc.

Vera: How a “normal” day in my life as a researcher looks like depends very much on whether I am working from office (home office), doing fieldwork, or attending a conference. The most “normal” days are when I am not travelling, of course. They start with a cup or two of tea and then going through my to-do list for the day, which I normally prepare the evening before. The rest of the day then includes doing a lot of desk research, writing and revising papers, answering emails, having (e-)meetings, and chatting with colleagues over coffee or lunch. Playing badminton, discovering new (culinary) sites in Vienna or just a movie in the evening concludes a not-too-busy-with-deadlines normal day.

How will society benefit from your research?

Vera: In the complex world that we live in, specialized expert knowledge in different spheres – be it foreign and security policy, economic governance or medicine – is something we all depend on. This becomes most apparent in times of crises, which force us to take difficult decisions amid high uncertainty. The Coronavirus pandemic has shown this most vividly. Therefore, it is crucial to understand where the specialized expert knowledge comes from. In other words, who are the experts, what knowledge do they produce, and how? Many scholars study these questions in the context of Western democracies. But crises do not happen only in democratic settings, and knowledge about these crises is also produced by experts coming from autocratic and hybrid political environments. This knowledge can be critical in coping with crises that go beyond the borders of a single state. I want to understand how expert knowledge “works” in non-democracies and non-consolidated democracies, especially when this knowledge concerns transboundary crises, such as the Covid pandemic, climate change, or violent inter-state conflicts.

#researchgonewrong: Share a funny/surprising or unexpected anecdote with us from your academic career so far:

Vera:I want to share an anecdote with which a former colleague of mine (a researcher of memory politics) opened her PhD defence years ago. It was a story that one of her interview partners told to her during fieldwork. The story goes like this: a man comes to his neighbour one day and says that he has to kill him. The neighbour is shocked and asks in astonishment: “Why? What happened? We have been good neighbours and friends for years!” “Well, the man says, yes, but it is only today that I’ve learned from a book that your ancestors killed mine in an inter-ethnic clash.” My colleague shared this story to highlight the irony of discoveries and new knowledge. While we as (social) scientists would like to think that our research is always a force for good, our findings can be (and often are) misinterpreted and misused in ways that can harm individuals, groups and whole societies. This story made me think a lot about potential consequences of my own work and of how I communicate my research results.

What does REWIRE mean to you?

Vera: REWIRE means to me three things. First, it is an invaluable chance of having more time to think, a rare good in the life of any postdoc, which is commonly torn between multiple deadlines for job applications, paper submissions, and teaching. Second, REWIRE is the opportunity for me to define my own priorities as a scholar and return to full-time academic research after having worked in a different sphere. Finally, REWIRE is a unique experience of exchanging with an amazing community of women scientists and having a glimpse into their exiting studies across a variety of disciplines in social sciences, humanities and STEM.

The most important lesson learned so far that you want to share with other future (female) early post docs:

Vera: As young researchers – first as doctoral students and then as postdocs – we are trained to concentrate on our uniqueness, on what differentiates us and our research from others. Sometimes we internalize this drive for uniqueness so much that it turns into obsession with own achievements, and we stop looking for complementarity with the great work of scholars who use other theoretical and methodological lenses to study similar things. Curiosity for alternative approaches and searching for interconnections between different (sub)disciplinary fields may result in some of the most exciting findings and rewarding experiences in doing research.

Quickfire Questions

Keyboard or Pen?

Pen for first ideas and mind-mapping, then keyboard

Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?

Chocolate, ideally with salty caramel

Early bird or night owl?

(Not too) early bird


Find more information on Vera's research here.