- Parent Category: Activities
- Published on Tuesday, 08 June 2010 11:51
Draw up your masterplan to a successful career, start at the Postdoc Retreat.
Did you know that there is a lot you can do as a PhD to increase your chances of a successful career? That there are more determinants to success than your publication list alone? And that the value of your PhD is not limited to academia? These are just a few of the eye-opening conclusions drawn by postdocs and final year PhDs at PCDI’s Postdoc Retreat, which took place from 21-23 April 2010 in Heeze. Each year, 80 – 100 young scientists gather to reflect on their current position, to find out what skills are they are still missing for their next career step and to learn what opportunities there are in the vast world of Life Sciences.
As a young researcher, you are always busy. There is a lot of pressure to do that experiment to confirm promising results, to finish that one missing figure for your paper, to show good data on lab meetings etc. What time does this leave to reflect about where you stand, what’s next, what you want and whether you have set your priorities right? This is exactly why the Postdoc Career Development Initiative (PCDI) organises the annual Postdoc Retreat. Already in its fourth year PCDI offers early career researchers, i.e. postdocs and final year PhD students, the opportunity to devote three full days to their future career.
How to have a successful career? Love what you are doing, choose a position that suits your interests and skills best, (prove yourself to) have the right skills and to know how to sell yourself, were among the things we heard at the retreat. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but drawing up a masterplan is not impossible!
What you need, what you want and what you already have...
What skills do you need? On the first day of the retreat, successful academics give career advice: Know how to get/use feedback from colleagues, how to establish collaborations, how to present yourself and set gaining independence as a priority... Their tips go beyond publishing and grant-writing, the activities which postdocs/PhD students are probably most worried about. Of course a good publication record is important, but you should not neglect the development of your other professional skills if you want to make it in academia.
After interesting conversations during dinner and a good night’s rest, the next day’s programme moved towards alternative careers. PhDs can be successful in many ways, there are so many science-related positions that it may be more important to first ask yourself the question ‘What do I actually want?’ before ‘What options do I have?’. What all keynote speakers on day two have in common is a PhD in the Life Sciences and a passion for science. When they left academia, they continued to shape their career according to their individual skills, interests and drives and... each got successful their way: by turning discoveries into businesses, by policy making and coordinating programmes research or by setting up teams and research strategies at a biotech company.
The message ‘Follow your heart’ was repeated by many a speaker on the retreat. You really have to like what you do. If you feel your heart is not in your current career, than it is really up to you to take action and change your career to your contentment. Deciding on what you want does not happen overnight, there is work to do!
Being aware of your transferable skills is part of the masterplan to success. These are skills that are applicable to other professions; you have certainly acquired many of them during your postdoc/PhD but are you fully aware of your valuable capacities? Think e.g. project management skills and solving complex problems. PCDI invited life scientists to the retreat to speak about how they used their transferable skills to the fullest and also became successful in surprising careers like software developer or graphic designer. Identifying your transferable skills and further enhancing them will certainly do good to any career you choose.
Work out your masterplan.
The Postdoc Retreat was not only about by listening to lectures. Participants were also put to work during three parallel sessions of workshops, to start drafting their individual masterplan. The first session focused on what you actually enjoy doing. Soon qualities people were not aware of were identified and personal preferences emerged. Not unimportant matters to be aware of when deciding on your next career step! But then, how to convince others, potential employers, collaborators and your peers of your qualities? Know how to present yourself! This was the focus of the second session: Do’s and don’ts when writing an application letter, how to better connect with the other party, improve public speaking and how to give your presentations extra quality? Finally, participants improved a transferable skill of choice: non-verbal behaviour, grant writing, negotiation, project management or how to give/ask/receive feedback.
On the final day of the Postdoc Retreat, PCDI invited a few dozen of ex-researchers over to talk about their career choices and their current positions. Represented careers included the pharmaceutical industry, biotech companies, government and education. Some PhDs stayed in academia but no longer performed research. It was a good opportunity for career orientation. Talking to people not only helps to draw a picture of the job that matches both your qualities and interests, it also helps to determine skill gaps, skills you still have to work on.
Networking is therefore another part of the masterplan to success. Grab every chance to learn about potential careers and how to get there. Those who wish to stay in academia: when was the last time you discussed careers with PI’s at your institute? Not only discuss science but also find out how they got to their positions. Was it only because they had the best publication list? Ask and learn!
PCDI’s Postdoc Retreat not only shows the diversity in career options for PhDs, positions are also put in perspective. The world of Life Sciences is not limited to academic research, it includes technology transfer, biotech companies, government and media, with a common goal: improved health. Knowing where all parties stand and how they are interrelated helps to find your niche.
People with very successful careers have followed their heart and have drawn up a plan to shape their career to their liking. Why wouldn’t you do the same?
PCDI supports career orientation and development
Our Postdoc Retreat gives you a head-start in career orientation and development. PCDI offers you further support to drawing up your masterplan. Find on this website a resource of career development information for young scientists, and participate other PCDI career activities e.g. themed half-day career events, organised all year round. Sign up for our newsletter and we will keep you informed about upcoming events.