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20 EU-LIFE post-docs on their way to become a PI. First milestone, knowing how they want their career to be.

28 Jun 2017

It is June 13th, the sun is shining in Paris and temperatures are rising. The first participants of the LIBRA Career Development Compass are starting to arrive at the BDD, the Genetics and Developmental Biology building at Institut Curie (IC). Half an hour later, Graça Raposo, head of Training Unit of IC and Renata Basto, leader of the GEP team at IC welcome the 20 participants, female post-docs from EU-LIFE institutes and previously selected in a competitive call, for the first afternoon of reflecting on careers. It is the first training and networking event of the LIBRA Career Development Compass, a programme supporting women researchers on their way to become an independent researcher and make a career in academia.

"Exchanging with so many powerful and successful women is a really empowering experience."

A number of additional researchers from IC have also come to the BDD to listen to the first talk of the day: Danijela Vignjevic, a junior PI working on cell migration and invasion, talks about her career, with a lot of hands-on advice on managing the challenges of being a junior PI. She also introduces the audience to the global happiness scale of countries and we learn that she has managed to move in the right direction. The second speaker of the day, Jonathan Weitzman from Université Paris Diderot, where he leads the department Epigenetics and Cell Fate, gives an unusual talk, focusing on ‘who you want to be’ rather than recounting his own career. To say it in his own words:” How helpful would it be to you to hear me going on about the career steps I took 20 years ago!” The audience hears quite a bit about the decisions he took, of course, among them many unconventional ones, such as repeatedly changing career directions or taking off a year to travel the world. The take-away message is that there is not one set path that needs to be followed – the crucial thing is to find your own way!

After a lively discussion session Barbara Wilson from Wilson Development Associates takes over to focus on the merits of networking and then continues with a two-hour workshop exclusively aimed at the Career Development Compass group.  The EU-LIFE scientists work on developing personal visions for the future and identify the topic areas that the participants would like to explore in the second training event in autumn. The day finishes with the group going out to dinner together, organised by a CDC participant from Paris.



Day 2 is dedicated to part one of a workshop on self-leadership, instructed by Hilde Janssens. Hilde has worked in science for many years before embarking on a career as trainer and brings a wealth of expertise to the workshop, covering topics such as ‘strengthening self-awareness’ and communications skills. The format is highly interactive and practical, involving case-studies, role play and working in small groups. In the evening the LIBRA Career Development Compass have the opportunity to informally discuss what it means to be a PI with female PIs of IC, among them institute director Geneviève Almouzni. A glass of wine and French delicacies make the experience even more pleasant. The discussions are lively and the atmosphere is great! One of the participant phrases it like this: "Exchanging with so many powerful and successful women is a really empowering experience."

The next day is the already the final of this first LIBRA Career Development Compass event and dedicated to part two of the self-leadership workshop, with participants continuing to work on communication skills and strengthening their self-confidence. After three days of reflecting on good leadership and the key ingredients for a fulfilling professional life, it is time to say good-bye until November, when the second training and networking event of the LIBRA Career Development Compass will take place. 


By Dörthe Nickel, European and International Relations at Institut Curie