The EMBO Meeting Day 0: Career Advancement Day


The EMBO Meeting 2011As I told you earlier, I was selected as certified blogger for The EMBO Meeting 🙂 This was really cool even though I had to travel a lot right afterwards and am now ill: definitely, when you come back from a place where it is 38°C every day to ~23°C, you feel the difference! But anyway: blogging about the conference makes me feel better 😉 Here is thus a short overview of the Day 0.

What is the Day 0 at The EMBO Meeting? When you check out the program, you can see that the conference per se lasts for 3 days, and that there is a special-session day right before the meeting begins. This is precisely what I refer to as Day 0. It is dedicated to learning how to make your path throughout the never straightforward way of building a career in life sciences. Indeed, the day is composed of three distinct sessions:

1. In the morning, you have a 3-hour workshop. In my case, I chose the one on CV writing & interview skills. Will tell you more about it below!

2. An ‘Expanding Career Options’ lunch: you had to choose a top 3 of different alternative careers to be presented to you beforehand. At the lunch itself, you have 40 minutes/table where you discuss with the speakers. More below as well 🙂

3. In the afternoon, another 3-hour workshop. I chose the one by EMBO reports’ Sam Caddick entitled “Make science make sense”. Details coming below.

Workshop ‘CV writing & interview skills’

So, in July of this year, I entered my third — and hopefully, last — year of PhD. The question therefore is really there: what is the best way of presenting myself when I want to have this post-doc position and there are quite a few other folks who want it, too? Even though I have some experience with CV composing and going to interviews (not only for academia), I decided that having a more let’s say professional discussion with someone will greatly help. And I was not wrong!

The very good thing — well, one among many in fact — was the announcement sent by mail a few weeks before the meeting. It was a mock job offer and we were asked to apply. This meant that we had to do what we consider we have to do when applying for a real job: send a CV and/or a cover letter, motivate our candidature, etc. And since the workshop was also on how to handle the interview, I think we should also get ready about it.

I think it is time to introduce you to Barbara (see pic) who guided this workshop. Barbara Janssens, a career advisor at DKFZ in Heidelberg did a really awesome job. She started telling us about her own path: a PhD, afterwards a post-doc and “at the end of it, no papers but two kids” were the outcomes, how she ended up searching for motivating alternative position and how she does what she is doing now. By the way, I really invite you to check out this page on Facebook, for more information and various updates.

Barbara Janssens (on the right)

Barbara Janssens (on the right)

So, Barbara distributed around the anonymized CVs of the applicants to the mock job offer and we had 2 minutes/CV for evaluation: what is good in it, what is not. We thus counted how many ‘recruiters’ would pick this person or this one, and collectively set a quite impressive list of DO’s and DONT’s (see pic below). As I said above, the workshop also told about how to handle an interview. There was a volunteer who did a practice one, with Gerlind Wallon (from EMBO) in the role of the interviewer.


DO’s & DONT’s in your CV: a quick overview

What did I get from the workshop? A lot of useful tips, a great mood for the remaining part of the day and this quote from Oscar Wilde that puts everything together: Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

The ‘Expanding Career Options’ lunch

My colleague Uli already wrote about the issue of available jobs in academia. It is clear: there are very few jobs in academia. Since I am a very curious person and my interests range (too?) widely, I thought that an easy-going discussion about careers I know a little about is an awesome thing to do. Thus, I subscribed to the lunch 🙂

How was it done then? As mentioned above, there were 3 tables you could attend. The choice — to be done before the meeting starts, of course — was tough since all the tables sounded very interesting. At the end, I picked the three following topics: “A career in intellectual property: the life as patent attorney”, “A career in a NGO” and “Science communication and science education”. We thus could switch a table every 40 min during which the alternative career was presented and everybody could ask questions. A very fruitful exchange I’d definitely recommend!

Workshop  “Make science make sense”

I was very much looking forward to this session and I was everything but disappointed! It was a very lively session, with a great presence by Sam and a lot of exchange among us, the participants. In brief, the main question was “How to talk about science to lay persons?”. Of course, this question is motivated: the ivory-tower style is obsolete. We had our lay person, too: she studies Business and volunteered to stay and exchange with us throughout the whole workshop. Awesome feedback 🙂

Our lay scientist

Our lay scientist

To give you a brief idea of how we proceeded, Sam asked us to describe our research in one sentence in the beginning of the session. Afterwards, we read the sentences (yes, all of us) and our lay scientist was asking the questions if she had troubles understanding what this was about. Afterwards, Sam went on with very useful recommendations on how to turn our very-complicated-absolutely-vital-for-the-whole-field research topic into something attractive and understandable by everyone out there. We then gathered in small groups and reformulated our sentences, read them again for the others from the audience and for our special guest. Regarding my topic, here what came out:

Before: “I try to understand how bacteria influence flies’ sexual behaviour and to this end, I cut flies’ heads.”

After: “I’m interested in how horny fmies can get when they host some bacteria in their bodies.”

So, in conclusion: if you guys plan to attend The EMBO Meeting, I definitely recommend you the Career Development Day! A lot of fun, great people and new horizons wait for you.