Forum to explore ‘spectrum of careers’ open to Stem postgrads
Science Foundation Ireland brings PhD researchers and industry together for event
Dr Ruth Freeman of Science Foundation Ireland pins a “Believe in Science” badge on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Data Summit in Dublin. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Postgraduate and early-career researchers from around the country will gather at an event in Dublin on Friday to explore the range of career paths and funding opportunities available to them. The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Career Options Forum will take place in the Ballsbridge Hotel and is aimed at researchers who are looking for cutting-edge research positions or job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).
“SFI has a very wide mandate”, says the organisation’s director of strategy and research Dr Ruth Freeman. “We are the only organisation that works with primary school pupils, secondary school students and their parents, all the way through to third- and fourth-level, and beyond, as well as the public, in promoting Stem careers. This event is primarily focused on people at the latter end of their studies or PhDs and who are thinking about their future career trajectories.
“It is important for people considering studying Stem to think about all career options: academic research, industry research, and other careers in areas such as science communications,” she adds. “It is not too late to register for the event and anyone who wishes to attend should email SFIsmartfutures@theconferenceoffice.ie.”
The forum is split into a number of separate elements, a plenary session in the morning before workshops and opportunities for individual meetings between researchers and industry representatives in the afternoon. The plenary session will outline career paths and funding opportunities which are available to early-career researchers and postgraduate students.
Dr Liz Elvidge, head of the postdoc development centre at Imperial College London will give a keynote address on What Every Postdoc Needs to Know. This will be followed by a question and answer session with Dr Elvidge and Irish Times science writer Claire O’Connell.
“We will also have an entrepreneur guest speaker, Dr Nora Khaldi, founder and [chief science officer] of Nuritas,” says Freeman. “Nuritas uses ICT and digital technologies to develop new nutraceutical products. Rob Daly of CPL Recruitment will give some advice from a recruiter’s perspective.”
These individual presentations will be followed by a panel discussion on research career options chaired by Ned Costello of the Irish Universities Association. “We have pulled in people from different walks of life to talk about different areas”, says Freeman. “They include Helen Berney of Analog Devices, Dr Jennifer Brennan of the Technological Higher Education Association, and Darrin Morrissey from SFI.”
The afternoon workshops will focus on areas such as entrepreneurship, preparing a CV, mobility for researchers within the EU, and the range of SFI support programmes available.
“SFI is unique in Ireland in that we have a balanced portfolio of programmes across the career spectrum, from early-stage to mid-stage career researchers to emerging research stars and up to established, highly esteemed research leaders, through individual and collaborative awards”, Freeman points out.
Among the most important of these from the perspective of early-stage researchers is the Industry Fellowship Programme. The purpose of the programme is to enhance industry-academia collaborations through the funding of collaborative research projects, and to stimulate excellence through knowledge exchange and training of engineers and scientists. The programme funds the temporary placement of academic researchers in industry, and of industry researchers in academia, with grants of up to €100,000 for fellowships of up to one year if full-time and two if part-time.”
Exposure to industry
“Between 30 and 40 researchers are supported each year,” Freeman says. “The programme is very important as researchers can be a bit nervous about stepping out of academia and into industry and this allows them do that. We have people from industry coming along to the forum as well and researchers will get the opportunity to have face-to-face sessions with them.”
She explains that it is important to highlight potential careers outside of academia. “At present, just one third of our research grants go to industry as a first destination,” she says. “Our goal is to get that up to 50 per cent. That’s an imperative anyway. When you look at the number of academic jobs available there won’t be enough for all the graduates coming through and they will need to look at other options.
“Event’s like [Friday’s] forum will help them make informed decisions. If you are interested in the Industry Fellowship Programme or entrepreneurship, it can be difficult to pursue them if you don’t have the right people around you. If you are in academia you are surrounded by other academics and you might not get exposure to other ideas and experiences. The face-to-face sessions with industry will give attendees who are interested in participating in the programme a chance to meet and discuss potential research projects. Those sessions are also open to students and researchers who are interested in meeting with companies that are actively recruiting for people with Stem qualifications.”
Freeman sees the forum as part of the overall career planning process. “We are hoping that tomorrow’s event will be the first step for people,” she says. “Maybe they will see a fellowship as part of their career plan or they might do another and then move into industry. They could apply for an industry fellowship and see how it goes. Also, with the right support they might decide they can do other things with their Stem qualification.”