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Careers in Science: an inspirational symposium

The first edition of the Symposium on Careers in Science took place in November 2017 in Geneva. With more than 20 inspirational career talks, the event has been applauded by more than 200 participants!

Careers in Science

Only 3% of the PhD students in science will become PIs. The contrast between the number of PhD students and postdocs and the limited availability of tenure faculty positions means that non-research careers in science are no longer alternative options for the scientists interested in pursuing non-research-based careers. Instead, they are the norm to 97% of post-graduate students. On the other hand, whoever is close to the researchers’ community witnesses the concerns of young researchers and realises the difficulties and emotional burden they feel regarding their future. Am I heading in the right direction? What do I need to do next? Can I change my career path? Where to go and how to get there? How can an institution empower its highly skilled and talented workforce to face its future with confidence and no fear of challenges?

The NCCR Chemical Biology recently addressed this question by organising a Symposium on Careers in Science, Academia and beyond, bringing forward a new concept: the event didn’t just describe possible alternative professions beyond bench but on the contrary searched for the insider’s look provided by another scientist who dealt with the uncertainty of either staying in research or leaving the bench. In other words, we aimed to create a space where young researchers could hear, get informed, learn, be inspired and interact with speakers holding a science education and a solid professional journey covering all the career possibilities.

Inspirational talks

A narrative throughout the two-day event was thus crafted so that participants could successfully identify with the speakers. We asked the career discovery speakers to tell us a story and take the audience on a journey that would recount their career path without being confessional but highlighting their career choices, the skills that are useful and what fulfils them as professionals. We asked for honesty and truthfulness about what it has taken, without embellishment but still with enthusiasm. Many science careers possibilities were presented by cherry-picked speakers that followed the academic journey or moved to science administration, entrepreneurship, industry, education, science publishing, NGO/IO or more. The importance of self-motivation, perseverance in one’s goals and passion kept on coming back. Achieving resilience in the face of failure, perseverance in the face of adversity, were the other central messages for any ultimate success.

A critical event pacing

Career discovery speakers alternated with speakers giving toolkit talks on specific topics such as how to build a strategy for a job search on the academic track or how to start a professional career in industry. Long breaks allowed people to spend time, breathe and mingle informally with each other and the speakers helped furthermore to keep the momentum. The talks were concluded with a motivational talk that powered up the audience! Finally, at the end of the second day, a series of four workshops were proposed to help participants identify their transferable skills, improve their negotiation skills, understand the importance of strong social network and the value their training represents for the market.

Positive feedbacks from speakers and participants

The Symposium on Careers in Science certainly represented a source of inspiration and discovery of the rich diversity of career options one can follow with a science education. The tremendous amount of forethought including all details done certainly payed off. Anyone interested to take over the torch for a 2018 Symposium in (Eastern) Switzerland?

I wish such events existed when I was a postdoc trying to figure out what career path to take.

This was a very positive, optimistic, inspiring meeting that invited us to think out of the usual career boxes. Please do organize it again!

A participant

The Symposium on Careers in Science : Academia and beyond, was organized by the NCCR Chemical Biology and sponsored by the SNSF, the NCCR MSE, NCCR QSIT, NCCR Synapsy, NCCR RNA & Disease, NCCR Bio-Inspired material and NCCR Transcure. 

Copyright main picture: Shem Johnson

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