6 ways to enhance your scientific career with networking and informational interviews

Do you want to know how networking and informational interviews can enhance your scientific career? Are you unsure of whether to stay in academia or not? Find out how to use your contacts and professional networking sites to find and obtain the right job for you.

  1. Use your personal contacts

Use existing contacts to get first hand, tailored information from people who’ve made the transition into different types of careers. You might also be a member of different networks such as an alumni association or a scientific society where you can find people to talk to about their careers, or perhaps you are attending a conference where you can speak to people directly about their experiences.

  1. Don’t be afraid of professional networking sites

Make the most of what’s on offer, be it LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Xing or other local sites. Search for people who have similar skills or backgrounds as you, contact them and ask if they’d be willing to talk to you about their career. Join groups on these sites to talk to people in similar fields as you are in or want to get into.

  1. Set up some “informational interviews”

An informational interview is an informal discussion about careers where you can get advice and information – it is not something that will lead to a job but should rather be a source of inspiration and advice. Get in touch with the people who might be able to offer you some sound advice, and ask if they can spare 20 minutes for you to pick their brains.

  1. Prepare for your informal interview

One way to structure these informational interviews is to use REVEAL*:

  • Recap – Who are you and why would you like to talk to this person
  • Explore – Prepare questions to help you explore the career area, role and sector
  • Vision – Follow up with more detailed questions about the trends for the field, and where your career could head in the longer term
  • Entry Routes – How did the person you’re talking to get into the role? Are there different routes to getting in?
  • Action Points – What do you need to do to get these kinds of roles? Can also ask for feedback on your CV
  • Links – Can the person recommend any other resources to you?
  1. Realistically assess your skills, values and interests

Scientists often struggle with working out what kinds of jobs they are best suited to. Look in depth at your skills, values and interests. Use this information to filter your career research. You can, for example, look for people with a similar skill set on LinkedIn and see what kinds of roles they have and gain some inspiration for what you might be interested in.

  1. Research the available career possibilities

There are a large variety of options out there for scientists who don’t want to stay on the academic career path. In addition to research in pharma, biotechs and startups there are also a variety of roles where you can use your scientific knowledge, understanding of the research process or data analysis skills. These roles often support scientific research, communicate research findings more broadly, or help translate research into real life applications.

Resources

Original video with Rachel Graf, EIPOD Career Advisor, EMBL Heidelberg

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Celebrating 15 years of BioMalPar

In honour of World Malaria Day and ahead of the 15th annual EMBL conference on the Biology and Pathology of the Malaria Parasite (BioMalPar), we spoke to the conference organisers Richárd Bártfai, Kirk Deitsch and Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, as well as Andy Waters from the BioMalPar steering committee – which is responsible for selecting the scientific organisers each year – to find out where the field is heading.

Richárd Bártfai, Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, Kirk Deitsch and Andy Waters

 

The BioMalPar conference is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. How did it all start and how has it developed over the years?

AW: I was part of the organisation of the original meeting in 2004 and have attended every iteration since.  It was originally a dual-purpose meeting designed to bring together the participants in the EC funded Network of Excellence of the same name, “BioMalPar”, the students in the associated PhD school that it funded, and to serve as an international meeting on malaria.

LB: I started attending BioMalPar in 2006 and was inspired by the format of the conference, allowing such great interaction and exposure to young scientists. It always allows the most cutting edge (mostly unpublished) research to be presented, and the addition of workshops to the conference programme allows for additional opportunities for learning, and these workshops are new and trending every year.

2018 BioMalPar conference at the EMBL Advanced Training Centre

What inspired you to organise this conference?

LB: This meeting to me is THE malaria conference that I annually attend. As a researcher from a malaria endemic country, I was inspired to organise the conference to strengthen exposure of the great research performed in such countries at the conference, and provide context for the research findings to show how the excellent research presented have direct impact to people’s lives living with malaria.

RB: This meeting is a prime example of a community effort. Hence organising it is an honour and a great way to serve our community. I very much enjoyed the collegial and welcoming atmosphere created by former organisers and I hope that we will manage to recreate some of it this year as well.

KD: In recent years, the conference has become more widely attended by non-European scientists and is now an event attended by investigators from throughout the world. When I was invited to participate in the organisation of this year’s meeting, I considered it an exceptional opportunity to interact with international colleagues and build stronger ties for exchanging ideas and potential collaborations.

The format of the conference is a bit distinct from that of other meetings in that the majority of talks are reserved for selected short talks. What is the benefit for the programme to have mostly selected talks?

KD: Reserving the majority of each session for short talks ensures that the latest, unpublished data will be presented at the meeting. Highlighting young investigators presenting new data for the first time also lends an air of excitement to the sessions that adds to the overall “buzz” of the conference.

LB: This is in my opinion one of the main strengths of the conference. The audience will have the ability to hear new data ‘straight from the horses mouth’ as the short talks are mostly presented by early career scientists and mostly covers unpublished work.

AW: The emphasis is on packing in as much new science by the early career researchers as possible.  This format makes it possible and allows one to work to themes in terms of the meeting organisation

RB: We will have excellent keynote lectures this year to set the stage and provide broad overviews on specific subjects. Yet, selected talks offer opportunity to young research fellows to share their exciting, unpublished findings.

The poster sessions allow researchers to present their findings

The short talk selection for this year’s edition has now been finalised. Could you share what the focus and highlights of the conference will be?

RB: The content of the short talks is traditionally kept secret till the start of the meeting and I do not want to break this tradition ;-). But we as organisers had a hard time to make a selection out of the numerous excellent abstracts submitted, so I am certain that the scientific standard of the meeting will be very high.

LB: As organisers, we were very happy to have a large basis of excellent abstracts to select from, which will make the final choices exciting to come and listen to!

In your opinion, what challenges is malaria research facing and how close are we to an effective malaria vaccine?

KD: Everyone in the field is thrilled that a malaria vaccine is now being deployed for the first time. However, we also recognise that this vaccine has significant shortcomings in terms of its efficacy and longevity of protection. Research into the nature of the immune response of people infected by malaria parasites, as well as identifying new drugs and drug targets and methods of vector control will all contribute to our ability to control the disease.

LB: With the trial roll out of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in Malawi, we are indeed closer to evaluating the large scale effect of this intervention. However, malaria is a very complicated disease and we should continue with our multifaceted integrative control strategies, which will possibly be the only way we can really have an impact towards elimination. Our research challenges remain to inform policy makers as to the importance of continued funding of the work and for the research community to continue translating these to tangible outcomes, as we have done successfully for the past decade.

RB: Despite substantial progress in the last decades elimination of malaria is still out of our reach. Integration of insight gained in various fields will be essential for generating breakthroughs in drug/vaccine development and vector control alike. The BioMalPar meeting certainly provides an excellent platform for the exchange of innovative ideas and hence will help to bring the well-desired goal of malaria elimination closer to reality.

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5 tips to drive more traffic to your exhibition booth

 

Sponsoring and exhibiting at events is still one of the major ways for companies to showcase their products and technology to relevant audiences. Companies spend a lot of time choosing the events they go to every year, but once they decide comes the big question – “How do we stand out from the crowd?”

There are various articles and ideas out there on how to effectively drive traffic to your booth, but from what we have seen, the methods you choose largely depend on the size of the audience, the competition onsite and the creativity of your booth personnel.

Here are 5 tips that have proven effective for life science conferences of 100-450 participants.

  1. Forget the flyers!

People have not flown thousands of kilometers to take your flyer back home. Companies love to produce promotional flyers that don’t say much and are destined to land in the bin. Rather, bring free samples and loads of free goodies. If you are marketing an instrument, bring it onsite and offer free demos.

  1. Bring in some colour!

In a previous post, we put together the logos of all of our supporters from last year, and one thing we noticed was that the predominant colour of choice for most of the companies was blue. Although you may not be able to change the corporate colours of your company, you could try to bring some bright colours to your booth – e.g. goodies in rainbow colours. You would be surprised what the effect of such a small thing would be.

  1. Spark joy!

When at a conference, people are usually suffering from jet lag, sleep deprivation and dehydration. And while you cannot make all of this go away, offering a good cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or ice cream can make you the hero of the day.

  1. Unleash your creativity!

When choosing your goodies, try to think outside of the box. People don’t need another pen or notepad. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think what you would like to keep as a giveaway. If you have to go with a standard giveaway, then at least try to integrate more than one function in it, e.g. I still carry around a pen/screwdriver I got at a conference 10 years ago and have since used it on many occasions. You may also want to consider offering some giveaways for children, such as colouring books, stuffed toys (e.g. shaped as bacteria or cells) or games.

Another great way to engage your audience is to offer interactive activities at your booth, such as short fun games, puzzles, quizzes, fun facts about your products, or virtual reality glasses.

  1. Be an active participant!

Try to attend as many lectures as possible during the conference. The scientific lectures will not only bring you up-to-date to the latest research in the field, but will also help you put your company in the context of this research when talking to participants onsite.

Don’t forget the poster sessions. By understanding the research of your potential customers you can more readily identify their needs and bring suitable solutions to their attention.

Last but not least, social events are always a great platform to meet people in a more informal atmosphere and break the ice.

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Meet the Trainer – Toby Hodges

Today we meet Toby Hodges from EMBL Heidelberg, who is an organiser and trainer at the upcoming EMBL Course: Computing Skills for Reproducible Research: Software Carpentry (16 – 18 October 2019). At EMBL, Toby supports EMBL’s bioinformaticians, providing training, advice, community building events and resources for computational science.

What is the greatest benefit of the course for the scientific community?

Computational research skills have never been in greater demand, particularly in the biological sciences. To meet this demand, many researchers must learn programming, command line computing, and other techniques required for data analysis. This Software Carpentry course provides a solid foundation for these skills, teaching researchers good practices in software and analysis pipeline development. The skills and experience that researchers gain by participating in the course will promote high-quality, efficient, and reproducible computational science.

What could the techniques in this course be used for in the bigger picture?

Almost anything! Command line computing, programming, and the other skills taught in the course are becoming vital in most areas of biology but are also widely applicable in a lot of other sectors and career paths – web design, journalism, politics, you name it! Of course, we hope that every researcher who attends our workshops will go on to a long and wildly successful research career but, should they choose to go in a different direction, we’re sure that the skills taught here will still prove beneficial.

Are the methods used in this course unusual or new?

New? Certainly not – most of the tools and techniques taught in our course have existed for many years already. What’s unusual, though, is for biologists and bioinformaticians to have the understanding of good practices in software development and workflow management that the workshop provides. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of poorly-documented and poorly-written scientific software out there. Once they’ve attended our workshop, researchers will be better able to ensure that the programs and pipelines that they create are reproducible and reusable.

In comparison to other training environments, what do you enjoy most about teaching at EMBL?

It’s helpful for us to teach in a relatively informal environment. We find that, when course participants are relaxed, it creates a positive environment in which they can learn. We’re also privileged to have access to such great teaching facilities and to have excellent support from our colleagues in EMBL’s Course and Conference Office, who make it very easy for us to teach these courses.

What is your number one tip related to the course?

Make the most of it, both as an opportunity to learn from the trainers and as a chance to develop your network. The coffee and lunch breaks are a great chance to get to know your fellow course-mates, to share ideas and experiences, and to learn more about everyone else’s journey to this point.

What challenges is your research field facing?

It’s becoming increasingly important to think about how we manage our research data. The volume of data produced in a typical experiment has become enormous in recent years and we’re scrambling to catch up. It’s vital that our research data is well-annotated and retrievable so that others can re-use it and reproduce our results in the future, but ensuring this can be challenging. The other major challenge to my work is the sheer volume of different research techniques, tools, and data formats being used in modern biology. Bioinformatics has such a diverse ecosystem of tools and file formats, which is developing at a breathtaking pace. It can be difficult to stay up-to-date.

Where is science heading in your opinion?

The future of biological research will increasingly involve the integration of many different types and formats of data into a single experiment or study. We already see this in multi-omics studies and the increasing combination of imaging and single-cell sequencing techniques and I expect the trend to continue towards these integrated approaches.

What was your first ever job?

Stacking shelves in a supermarket.

If you were a superhero what power would you have?

If I could choose: the ability to never make a typo. If I don’t get to choose then, sadly, it would probably be deafeningly loud voice.

 What is your bucket list for the next 12 months?

After a very hectic few years, my main target for 2019 is to get better at saying “no” to things.

What is your favourite recipe?

Michael Chu’s Classic Tiramisu: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/recipe/60/The-Classic-Tiramisu-original-recipe

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