Thursday, 15 September 2011

Future science leaders

I normally approach careers workshops with a slight trepidation, quite sensibly avoiding events which spend the whole time explaining to me in intricate detail why I should change my career choice (Even now I can hear imaginary careers counsellors saying "Stop! Go and do something else! Make lots of money! Who cares about job satisfaction!?"). After all, my imaginary careers counsellors argue, why would I want to be a research scientist?

I want to be a research scientist because I am passionate about research; about finding out new things and trying to use that knowledge to improve our lives. I am confident (for now) in the choice of my career and while I know I have other options, I don't want to pursue them right now. So you can imagine that I didn't really know what to expect from a two day workshop in Oxford for "Future Science Leaders". Well, what can I say? It was absolutely brilliant!

Finally, I had a chance to chat (often one-to-one) with successful scientists who have eminent careers in research science. We had talks from Jocelyn Bell Burnell, William Phillips and other very eminent scientists - too many amazing people to list! Most of them were female but ALL of them were absolutely inspiring.

The speakers shared advice on everything from tools to keep your travel organised (thanks to Alyssa Goodman, I now use the wonderful TripIt!), to how to approach eminent scientists at conferences without saying "lovely weather, isn't it?" thanks to Catherine Heymans.

It was an amazing opportunity to chat to the speakers about issues like the retention (and uptake) of women in science, and the advice on keeping your profile high was invaluable. There were also some great ideas for presentations and advice on giving sessions in schools.

I particularly liked one very practical piece of advice which I'll share with you here: when you're at a conference wear your badge high and on the right side - that way when you meet someone and shake hands they will read your name even if they don't hear it.

The most important thing I learned though, courtesy of Katherine Blundell who organised the workshop, is to be confident in my own research, and when self doubt creeps in, to tackle it with sheer hard work. Good advice, if I ever heard it!