So, you want to be a scientist? In that case, know that simply mastering your chosen subject is only the beginning. There is a lot that they don’t teach you in graduate school, for example how to manage your career, how to get funding or how to be a group leader. Fortunately, there is a series of books about these three topics, written by University of Groningen Dean of Talent Development Ritsert Jansen.
Jansen is a Professor of Bioinformatics with a strong interest in all the ‘additional skills’ that someone needs to become a successful scientist. Over the past few years, he has been the Dean of Talent Development at the University of Groningen, creating a system to help scientists during the various stages of their careers. He has also published a series of books: Developing a Talent for Science (2011), Funding your Career in Science (2013) and recently, Leading your Research Team in Science (2018). All of these books are published by Cambridge University Press.
The first book mainly focuses on those all-important early career choices, whilst the second book focuses on what it says on the cover: how to obtain those elusive grants to fund your research. The final part of the trilogy describes how to make the transition to group leader. This is inevitable as you progress in your scientific career. At some stage, you will have to supervise your own PhD students, as well as postdocs and technicians. This takes skills that you do not acquire in the lab.
For example, how do you make sure that all the individuals that you are hiring are the best you can get and that they will form a team? You could just advertise and hope for the best. Jansen describes how to use your own networks to find the best candidates and how to achieve a good mix that will help the group to become a team. None of it is rocket science, but the lists of things to consider that Jansen provides in the book are helpful.
Furthermore, he provides information on how to approach job interviews, for example by using the STARR method. This helps you to assess candidates by asking them how they have dealt with a difficult situation (S), by explaining their task (T), describing the actions taken (A) and the results of those actions (R), and how they now reflect on the experience (R). It is a well-known method, and having it included in this book will help you to actually use it.
After a chapter on building a team, Jansen tackles the Human Resources side of things. Universities usually offer help through specialized Human Resources and Financial Affairs departments. Jansen lists examples of what these professionals can help you with. But there is more to running a group: what about patents and other legal affairs? Again, there are lists of things to consider.
Once your group is up and running, and producing scientific output, you need to consider how to disseminate all the knowledge that your group is producing. Open Access publishing is currently an important issue and Jansen provides a guide to different options for Open Science. Citizen science is another hot topic and may help you to get invaluable data. But it is also a way to engage non-scientists in your work, and thereby to increase the visibility of science in society.
The final part of the book describes how to engage with the media. Publicity can be important for your career, but there is much more to being media-savvy than just making sure they get your name right. You need to invest in relationships with journalists, get acquainted with social media platforms and have a very good idea of the message that you want to get across.
On all topics, Jansen gives a clear introduction and lots of ideas and to-do lists, as well as some hands-on exercises to get you going. The book is a resource, not a bedtime read. You probably want to use sticky notes to mark the pages that address your current concerns – and the rest may come in useful later. All texts are very readable and the many lists and exercises are clear. Not everything will be equally helpful or inspiring to all readers, but there is so much in this book that there will always be something for you if you are – or aspire to be – a group leader.
The book is on sale online at €26,40 or $18.91, but in the spirit of Open Access publishing you can also
download a pdf version for free
Zito Ysenbaert is the first winner of the Gerrit Krol Award, the University of Groningen (UG) essay competition.
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