Welcome to the resources which support the workshop on Academic Career Development that I ran as part of the Young Scientist Day in Amsterdam on December 12th.

If you attended the workshop there are specific resources and an annotated copy of the presentation available in a password protected site here:


This page links to some of the resources that we talked about during the workshop.

The focus of the workshop was academic career development which we explored through three activities.

– what universities really want from prospective academics (tenure or tenure track positions).

– the process of benchmarking yourself against other scientists.

– future challenges and what you can do as a PhD or postdoc to start building the skills that will support your future.

Each session started with a set of questions from the attendees. Here I’ll try to address these with supporting materials or repeat the advice from the session

There were a number of questions about how to find academic jobs, how many postdocs to do, how to know if you are on track and doing the right things. My advice for these questions is to start using your local academic network for the answers. Find someone who can act as a mentor and give you their perspective on your progress and priorities. This should be someone other than your current supervisor (as their focus will rightly be on your project).

You also need to look at the training available for researchers from FOM and your own institution. If there isn’t training available, then approach your human resources department to ask for it!

There were also a number of questions about the (sometimes harsh) realities of an academic career. Times are challenging in academia, but also in other sectors and professions. Everyone needs to develop their own approach to building resilience to cope with these challenges,but there is good general advice in this guide:

Workplace Resiliency

and a short article from Mindtools, full of practical advice.

Remember that the FOM training is designed to develop the skills and share expertise on many key academic challenges, such as funding, publishing and valorisation. You might also find some insights from this recent blog post from one of the UK’s leading physicists, Professor Dame Athene Donald where she talks about the challenges of climbing the academic ladder. (This also seems like a good point to mention that social media is a great tool for researchers, so I was surprised how few of the researchers I met were using it for professional benefits – this guide might help.)

If you are a postdoc, remember that the PCDI – Postdoctoral Career Development Initiative  also runs a range of training opportunities and a great network of researchers in the Netherlands. Their “retreats” are similar to the YSD but residential, so with even more opportunities for networking.

Aspiring academics need a range of skills and knowledge beyond their subject. Perhaps the most important two skills are the ability to write well and the ability to secure funding. Both of these areas are covered by the FOM training programme, but we also talked about the opportunities to get to know potential funders. At the moment, the European Commission is recruiting people for its Horizon 2020 experts’ pool. Although this opportunity may require more experience than most early career researchers demonstrate, it is worth being aware of and perhaps applying for (or encouraging a more senior colleague to do so).

Full details: http://ec.europa.eu/rea/become_an_evaluator/index_en.htm (Before you look at this it might be worth reading  the Science Careers overview written for early career scientists.)

At PhD and postdoctoral level it is natural that many of the attendees were still considering options outside academia (even in the academic career session). The FOM event is a fantastic opportunity to hear career stories from former researchers. Even better, FOM works with Harry Linders, a careers specialist who has a wealth of knowledge about career development and career change and was mentioned repeatedly during the day as part of the career success of the speakers. Contact the event organisers to find out how to talk to Harry. (If you are reading this and don’t have access to careers advice, start with John Lees book “How to get a job you’ll love”.) One career area which we didn’t have chance to discuss in more detail was the variety of non-research, non-teaching academic jobs. There are many different opportunities in academic management and support – there is a UK guide to developing a university management career which includes case studies. (This guide is published on www.jobs.ac.uk which is the principal site for academic vacancies in the UK.)

Given the competition for posts, there were also a number of questions under the common theme of boosting your chances – deciding what your priorities should be as a postdoc; whether to focus on a narrow topic or build a broader base of expertise; developing a stronger network. There isn’t one formula for academic success, but the early stages of a research career are about creating a reputation so you need to write good papers to build the foundation, then make sure people know who you are and what you have written.

In terms of choosing how narrow to make your expertise, I’d echo the comments from Wim van Saarloos, Director of Stichting FOM who recommended doing the things that you enjoy and are passionate about. His career path, like so many that were presented on the day, wasn’t linear and didn’t follow a standard route – it was about doing things well and keeping your eyes open to the circumstances you were working in. Wim described the point in his career when he realised that there were more established researchers working in his field who would have an advantage in funding competitions. This “political” awareness (meaning that he was aware of his system and the people in it) is an important tool for career success and was evident in many of the presenters. They demonstrated that they had invested time in reflecting on their situations, seeking and following expert advice, taking control of their careers by walking away from posts that weren’t taking them where they wanted to go and having their eyes open to opportunities. 

The audience was typically international for a research community and I was asked about the differences between countries in terms of academic culture and achievement. My perspective is that there are more similarities than differences, particularly as the Horizon 2020 funds begin to emerge as a significant source of research income (for a guide to Horizon 2020, see the Science Careers overview written for early career scientists and  published the same week as the FOM event). However, to be more aware of the differences, I’d start with Eurodoc, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers, which is made up of 34 national organisations of PhD candidates from the European Union and the Council of Europe. 

Finally, one researcher expressed an interest in science communication. I must confess, I’m not sure how well established this is in the Netherlands, but to start developing these skills these resources may be useful:

setting up a researcher blog from Vitae

Public Engagement resources from the UK’s IOP

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement

This post has to finish with my gratitude at being invited to be part of the Young Scientists’ Day again – it is a superb event which should have real impact on the career development of the researchers attending. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.