New Year's Letter 2015

"Follow your passion, dream your dreams and know your strengths”. Postdocs on Tour tips & tricks from 2014  and a sneak preview on 2015

2014 was the first working year of the Ghent University Postdoc Community. We went on tour along the different faculties to discuss the development of economic, societal and scientific impact in an academic context. In December, five of Ghent University’s highest flyers among our professorial staff debated the tension field between these three kinds of impact and gave advice to ambitious postdocs wanting to take the next step in their career.

About 15% of Ghent University postdocs participated in at least one of our activities and shared their insights via our feedback surveys. For all of you that could not attend, especially young postdocs at the start of their academic career, we’ve summarized the tips & tricks from Postdocs On Tour 2014 most valued by your peers:

  • If your aim is an academic career, focus on research. The number of publications is still the #1 criterion to evaluate a researcher. All other scholarly activities will generally only matter when comparing CVs with equal scientific output.
  • Choose relevant research topics. This brings forth high-quality research that will make an impact on society.
  • Set a professional aim (either academic career, industry, public service) early in your career and use a postdoc position to grow and develop skills in that direction. Know that there is a triangle of research, public service (including education) and economic valorization and that you cannot excel in all of them. High impact research is difficult to combine with high societal impact!
  • The required "international experience" for postdocs is a flexible concept (e.g. multiple shorter research stays are a good alternative for one large period abroad, international collaboration, etc.). When going abroad, do not loose contact with your home university.
  • Be pro-active, inform superiors and stakeholders about your ambitions.
  • Say yes to new opportunities, but retain focus.
  • Learn to sell your work! If you can't sell a project to your mother, why should experts buy it? Follow a training in pitching.
  • Never underestimate the importance of networking, even if you do not like the fakeness of the word. It is pivotal for the development of any kind of career (academic and non-academic). Establish a professional network in- and outside academia early in your career. Use this network to identify good collaborators (both academic and industrial). Try to stay connected to your network over time. Realize that complementarity is of the utmost importance to start up a company or a (multi-disciplinary) collaboration. Start by coming to Ghent University Postdoc Community events!
  • Be pro-active in acquiring funds at an early career stage (e.g. FWO krediet aan navorser, Marie Curie, other personal grants). Find a balance between showing your independence with respect to your chief/PhD-supervisor and acknowledging the chances he/she gave and still gives you. While, as a postdoc you can write a lot of project proposals (e.g. FWO, EU funding) you cannot be financially responsible and you therefore need a ZAP member to join your projects.

Preview on 2015

A new year has started, which brings new ‘Postdocs On Tour’ sessions. This year, the focus will be on career development outside academia, both as employee and as entrepreneur. The concept remains, now with two themed discussion lunches with four experts during the year and an exciting event to challenge existing stereotypes about postdocs in December. In addition, we will organize two networking events, preceded by information sessions on topics suggested by you in our feedback surveys (e.g. on the rights and obligations of postdocs under different contract types). Dates and details will be announced soon.

We also want to address a special call to international postdocs, both ‘freshmen’ and ‘seniors’. You certainly share our main issues, thoughts, concerns, but you might also have additional ones, and therefore additional expectations from the Postdoc Community. We aim at meeting your needs and at the same time building on the experience and additional value you bring to Ghent University from abroad. Possibly with dedicated events in the future, but certainly with your active involvement in the already planned ones. If you have specific ideas, questions, suggestions, do step out of the big group and let us know! Contact the Officer for International Postdocs: Maria Conterno.

So, for 2015 we hope that all Ghent University postdocs take their career development into their own hands. Make sure to let us know how the Ghent University Postdoc Community can help you further. To conclude, a quote from our panel debate: “Follow your passion, dream your dreams and know your strengths”.

Kim Heylen (President)
On behalf of the steering committee of the Ghent University Postdoc Community