Dr. Ines de Castro (Representative of the initiative)

Reports from the PhD/PostDoc-Initiative


In 2019 our PhD/PostDoc´s have learned in our seminar series about parallel careers to academia. We have started by a theme that is close to many of us, current module tutors and students’ supervisors: “Teaching”. This exciting and lively seminar was led by Dr Kaufmann (Student Coordinator of Molekular Biotecnologie, Heidelberg University), awarded by her excellence in teaching. A group of us are now participating in her teaching programme, a new adventure that could enhance our CVs.
We have also learned from a former scientist, Dr. Schwarz, what it is to be a publishing editor at Springer. It was an enlightening overview into the publishing world and who knows a possible career for some of us.
With the Heidelberg Alumni Network vice-Director, Ms Friedrich, we have explored some Alumni profiles that could translate into possible connections in many different areas, Consultancy, Pharma Companies etc. Located all over the world this network could be extremely helpful when thinking about moving into a different city.
For the SFB1129 retreat, this year we have organised a coaching session with the “Arc Founder”, Astrid Schrader. Driven by the goal of exploring your full potential at work, we took a journey into understanding what we can bring of our personalities to achieve our aims. Some participant comments: “The workshop provided us with a great opportunity to vocalize our wishes, plans and concerns about our future careers in science.”, “I felt I was in a safe place to talk about our own and each other´s current career problems and learned tricks for having a happier work life”, “It was a good opportunity to meet and discuss with other members of the SFB1129 that have similar issues”.

To complete this year we are running three afternoon sessions focused on “Leadership” tailored for PostDocs and final year PhD students that have in mind a transition to Group Leader positions or other leadership roles in parallel careers.

Ines de Castro, Representative of PhD/postdoc initiative of SFB1129

2014 – 2018

To make science even more fun …

The primary task of the PhD/postdoc initiative is to get the topics of PhD students and postdocs on the agenda of the SFB committee in order to make a positive change. But what can such a positive change be? Just because of the presence of a PhD/postdoc initiative there will not be more successful experiments. But what if science would be more fun? The so-called “fun-theory” summarizes the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Diverse projects have adapted this principle for example to make recycling more attractive or to use the stairs instead of the escalator ( Could we also apply the “fun principle” to science within the SFB1129?

The question was, if people would more likely join a seminar and be active in a scientific discussion if it was more fun. We therefore started the “Think & Drink” seminars. To these seminars people can come with a question, they would like to discuss, and gather with others in a relaxed atmosphere without PIs. No presentation is required, but with snacks and drinks, students and postdocs can discuss science or other questions of the lab life. After initial struggles when to have these meetings, we now have it once a month on Thursday afternoons at 5 pm – alternating with the official SFB1129 seminars.

Another project of the PhD/postdoc initiative was to organize a VIP speaker seminar. Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell came for a round table discussion with PhD students and postdocs. In order to enable discussions, the number of participants was limited to 25. In a relaxed atmosphere with food and drinks, Stefan Hell gave private insights into his scientific career and the questions that move him. It was an interesting discussion about ups and downs of the scientific community, the struggles for discoveries and the inspiration and satisfaction a pursued idea can provide.

The annual retreat is meant to foster scientific discussion between the groups. As in the previous year, PhD students and postdocs could discuss their science in a poster session. Additionally this year the retreat was preceded by a whole session organized by the PhD/postdoc initiative. The morning started with an Impulse talk by two young EMBL scientists, Lars Steinmetz and Judith Zaugg. They gave insight into their careers and turning points in their lives, things that worked out, but they included also detours and experiences, they would have loved to miss. The presentation evoked a vivid discussion and both speakers were very open to diverse questions.

What followed was a bit of an experiment. We went outside to be active. The overall question was, if the whole retreat would be more fun if people would get to know each other better, if the idea of collaborating would become concrete and tangible. We therefore had a team event in form of a chain reaction. Similar to domino day, an initial impulse had to be propagated and amplified over some distance up to the final confetti canon. 35 PhD students and postdocs were assigned by chance into 7 groups. Within these groups they built several stations to spread the impulse and then to transmit it to the next group. Diverse material could be used to build the chain reaction: balls, rockers and tunnels and the classic dominoes up to electric equipment such as hairdryers or record players. The building process started communication within the group and neighbouring groups. Participants described the chain reaction as a “great opportunity for students to get to know each other and break the ice” and appreciated the chance to do something practically before all the theory. In general, participants said they would appreciate a recurrence of a similar event and would recommend it for other SFBs and Transregios. It was great to see how doing something together “just for fun” could release a lot of positive energy. Everyone was involved in an activity where the overall effect is more than the sum of its individual parts. And that is what an SFB is all about in the end.

Andrea Imle, Representative of PhD/postdoc initiative of SFB1129

Impressions from the team event at the Retreat in July 2016: