Max Planck Digest - starting an interdisciplinary lecture series 

How the Career Network supported me starting an interdisciplinary lecture series

Raymond, you as senior PhD student had the idea to initiate a novel lecture series called Max Planck Digest. First of all, what are the lectures about and what is the major goal behind this?

The Max Planck Society consists of 86 institutes around the globe with diverse research being conducted in the natural and social sciences. With such a big network, it has some challenges for keeping communication between the institutes and the researchers. This was the main driver for organizing the Max Planck Digest lecture series, for which we quarterly invite speakers from different Max Planck Institutes to give a lecture on their research interest. The overall goal is to strengthen the intercommunication within the Max Planck Society in an interdisciplinary environment.

From the idea to reality: How did you realize the new lecture series? How did the Career Network of the MPI for Biology of Ageing help you? And how do you organize such events next to the bench work of your PhD project?

My first approach was with the PhD representatives at the time who helped me develop the idea further. Our PhD coordinator, Dr. Daniela Morick, was also key in contacting us with the MPI AGE Career Network to present our idea for this new lecture series. They were extremely helpful in guiding us on how to coordinate this type of events and gave us the funding to bring this idea to reality.  

After we got the approval from the MPI AGE Career Network, together with the PhD representatives, we organized a committee with motivated students to work on the logistics of the lecture series. Thanks to this committee, we have learned how to delegate and split the workload to avoid affecting our other responsibilities as PhD students.

Can you tell us more about the seminar speakers? Which scientific fact that you learned during the Max Planck Digest impressed you the most?

For the selection of the speakers we include the whole PhD student and Postdoc community of our institute. They all have the opportunity to propose candidates from the different MPIs and then our committee is responsible for sending the invitation and to work on the logistics of the lecture. Our first speaker was Dr. Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. He showed us evidence on how birds have adapted to sleep while flying, especially in migrating birds that need to fly sometimes for months without resting time on land. Our next speaker was Prof. Dr. Julia Pongratz who gave magnificent talk about how land usage has a direct impact to climate change, a topic that is of great importance to all of us.

Why do you think interdisciplinary events are important for scientists? And along that line: Why is networking in general important for scientists and how does it help your career?

This kind of interdisciplinary meetings help scientists acquire a different perspective of how our world functions. It also helps to keep us up-to-date with a variety of topics that may otherwise be more difficult to understand or have access to. It also improves networking which is a great avenue for new opportunities. It will impact your way of tackling problems and is a nice resource to get or give advice on how to solve different issues. As scientists, networking is crucial for developing new collaborations that benefits from people with different expertise and that could potentially result in better quality work.

Since a few months, the world is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you keep the new lecture series running nevertheless and how is networking and science communication affected?

Due to the pandemic we needed to adapt accordingly to continue with the lecture series. We have moved to an online meeting platform to connect the speakers with our audience. This has some clear advantages as our invited speakers do not need to invest extra time traveling to Cologne. We have adjusted to communicating our science through digital platforms and, as a consequence, we are able to share these meetings with a broader audience. Overall, we have taken these new challenges positively and have learned how to continue being productive and keep connected.

The MPI AGE Career Network aims to support scientists in shaping their individual career paths. How do you think you and the organization team of the MPI Digest seminars could benefit in terms of your future career?

As scientists we have learned how to work in teams to move research forward. However, our objectives with the MPI Digest are different from our day-to-day work doing basic research. My colleagues and I have learned how to manage our times more efficiently and how to organize and manage these kind of events. The Career Network of our institute has been pivotal in supporting us along the way in coordination with our Travel Management and Accounting Departments. We can benefit from the skills that we have acquired and can transfer them to our individual career paths.

A contribution by Laura Wester.

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