Switching seats heralds greater opportunities for the future. During speed informing, doctoral students meet up with alumni – and find out just how varied a career can be.
This series of events is a bit like speed dating, but instead of flirting, it’s all about discussing careers. Doctoral students get to know new alumni every ten minutes. Ten Max Planck Institutes have participated so far. The caretaker is perplexed[FH1] . The auditorium of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin is actually really well equipped for a careers information event. But the chairs have to be removed to make space – for cardboard stools. Blue and red, they’re highly stable when they’re folded together. The stools are all positioned in little circles on the blue carpet – ready for five groups to get to know each other. A bit like speed dating, just not with the aim of finding the love of your life or someone to have an affair with, but exploring career options instead. An event for doctoral students from the Max Planck Institute who have intentionally signed up – and not just for fun and games. They’ll also be taking away knowledge for the future. Two hours after all the cardboard stool manoeuvring the whole thing kicks off. The 30 participants don’t know much about it, all they know is that this is called speed informing and it’s a new event format on the topic of “Pathways to a career – What lies in store after Max Planck?”. That’s what was on the flyers. Doctoral students meet up with Max Planck Society alumni, in this particular format mostly those who took a job outside academia after their doctorate. To allow the doctoral students to get an idea of who they’re meeting in advance, they’re sent a paper detailing the alumni’s individual career paths. They in return answered questions about their ideas of professional life.
The diverse career situation is also reflected in the choice of alumni: One patent attorney, two freelancers, one director of an integrated research and treatment centre at a university hospital and a head of marketing and medicine at a pharmaceutical firm have returned to their old Institute to make themselves available for the question and answer session about their chosen career paths beyond academia. And now the cardboard stools come into play again. Each of the alumni takes charge of one seating group, then things get going: A maximum of six doctoral students can question a former Institute member. A shrill whistle kicks off the speed informing discussions. Each group has ten minutes before they are startled by another shrill whistle. Then the doctoral students rotate to the next seating group and the next of the alumni. The atmosphere is relaxed - but when the conversations are ongoing and the clock is ticking for those ten minutes, the 30 young scientists are highly concentrated, hanging on their predecessors’ words, able to ask targeted questions. They take notes periodically to record details.
The plan to put everyone in touch with each other is a success. Some of the doctoral students complained a little at the end of the hour, after the final whistle, about the sheer shrillness of the whistle that wrenched them out of their concentration; other than that, everyone was impressed. And the conversations pick up right where they left off when everyone comes together again at the end. “I tried to embolden the young people,” said Wolfgang Kapfer, a former doctoral student and now head of marketing at Sanofi-Aventis, “to confidently apply for a job with their heads held high because they have done their doctorate at Max Planck. Especially at the start, that’s an important point of reference for others to know about.” He thinks it’s a good thing that the Public Relations Department of Administrative Headquarters initiated the series of events, always in conjunction with the Press Officer of the Institute concerned. Other alumni report that they would have liked to have had such an opportunity available to them while they were undertaking their doctoral work.
A total of six Institutes took part in the first round of speed informing. “The excitement about this new format was visible on all sides,” says Christina Beck, Head of Science and Corporate Communication at Administrative Headquarters, after evaluating the feedback forms. “The speed informing was a thoroughly motivating and inspiring evening for me,” wrote one participant, who went on to say that it was much more informative to have the opportunity to sit down for ten minutes with all of the alumni than to sit in on presentations at the usual career events. “I was able to ask the questions that were important to me and I received insight into the world outside of academia.” Other events are planned – including with alumni who have continued their careers in academia. That was a suggestion that came up in the feedback forms. All in all, however, it was confirmed that the focus was just right. Ultimately, in the words of one doctoral student, “It’s much easier to get to know the Heads of Junior Research Groups than it is to establish contacts with people outside of academia.”