On Friday November 27th, the Career Network of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing held the 3rd Career Perspective Panel Discussion with a panel of five former life sciences PhDs. For the first time, this was not held in person but as virtual event.
To provide PhD students and postdocs with some insight into career trajectories inside and outside of academia, five panel members from different fields were invited. During the panel discussion, excellently chaired by PhD student Lisa Drews, all panel members gave us information about their working days, how they find a good work-life balance, and what steps they undertook from obtaining their PhD degrees to get to their respective current positions.
One topic was how and when to focus on acquiring management and leadership skills? All members agreed that regardless of what field you end up in, it is essential to provide your colleagues/co-workers with adequate feedback and to be able to receive feedback from your team members. The general advice was to try to follow some courses on these topics whenever they come around and also keep working on them throughout your career.
An always interesting topic for lively debate and discussion is the question of when to have children, if desired. Is there such a thing like a “right time”? Orsolya Symmons, Scientific Coordinator in the Antebi department at the MPI for Biology of Ageing, emphasized that timing could not be right or wrong in this regard. A very motivating statement she made was: “As scientists we have learned to troubleshoot every aspect of our work and to solve problems. It will be the same when kids enter the picture.” This view was shared by Katharina Filarsky, R&D manager at Bayer, and Sophie Steculorum, research group leader at MPI for Metabolism Research and CECAD: finding a new balance might be a bit more complicated, but you will always find a way to make it work.
On work-life-balance Ines Höfer, Sales Specialist of high-end microscopes at Olympus, gave the excellent advice to specifically identify sources of work-related stress. Is the pressure coming from an external source or are you the one putting (too much) pressure on yourself? Finding the right balance is (for the most part) not depending on the job but on you. Nadia Storm, Project Leader at Emendo Consulting, has always found a lot of joy in working long hours in her past and present positions and loves the diversity of her working days that are never boring.
Part of the new set-up via zoom were “break-out sessions”, in which participants could ask questions to the individual panel members in smaller group sessions. Both the speakers as well as the participants found these sessions really interesting and valuable. And as one panel member said: “What happens in the break-out session, stays in the break-out session.”
Text by Laurène André, PhD