Revolutionizing STEM Networking: STEM Peers 2017

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What was brewing?

Here’s the sneak-peak into STEM Peers 2017

Where inspiring Scientists convened

To voice, what it takes to march

On an unconventional career track.

Be it research, be it business or management,

Communication and entrepreneurship transition stories;

The insider struggles, the rewarding moments

And the recruiter beans

All spilled out without filters to steer our pursuits clear.

As the evening advanced, the mix of beer, good food and IMON

Stirred up the enthusiastic pitches that came out loud

Amidst the formally dressed attendees

The Fedora hat & Yellow Suspenders cast a strong charm

And blared the message to stand out in the crowd

While you network, create, share and lend a helping hand

To smoothly sail The Career Transition ship

Through the opposing storms of doubt.

Composed by Meghna Thakkar, PhD (Post-Doctoral Researcher, MDC-Berlin)

 

STEM PEERs took place in Boston, the emerging hub for biotech/pharma industry on the east coast. The venue- Aeronaut Brewing Company turned out as interesting and stimulating for the brain as the event itself. The meeting was loaded with enthusiasm of the organizers/ volunteers and curiosity of the participants. An untainted rendition of real life experiences from professional journeys lent a personal touch to the event and inspired the participants to aim higher and be smarter, while chasing their dreams. A first hand detail of the event is accounted in the section below by some of the participants. As stated by most people who attended the event, this meeting offered a great opportunity to network and showcase creativity, while enjoying food and drinks amidst great minds.

Here are some expressions from our STEM Peers

Shyamtanu Datta, PhD

(Post Doctoral Scientist, UT Southwestern University)

“En route STEM PEERS-2017 from my hotel, I complained to the cab driver that I liked the city of Boston but I found it unwelcoming since I had not seen the rays of the sun since I had arrived. The cabbie told me “Boston never disappoints, sir. Today will be one of the nicest and sunniest day in your life, and I hope you take home lots of wonderful memories of this day.” And trust me, all his words came true. As soon as I arrived at the venue, the sun was up, smiling. As I entered the Aeronaut Brewery (the venue of STEM PEERS, 2017), I could smell the sweet aroma of the hops. It seemed that the pragmatic spirit of the brewery coincided with the “caring, sharing and growing” spirit of more than 100 participants, panelists, and organizers. Being an introvert, I know what a nightmare the word “networking” is to the nerds, but I never felt the burden of the word “networking” in that space. With a cup of coffee in my hand, I started meeting the participants one by one. There were different colored stickers on the badges that the participants wore. The different colors indicated the mentors, the volunteers and the ones who needed help/advice.

As soon as we all settled in, the organizers (Abhinav Dey, Ananda Ghosh, and Ranjith Anand) lit up the stage with their introductory speeches. From then on, there never was a dull moment. Whether it was about the entrepreneurial journey of Melina Fan (co-founder of Addgene), who started Addgene for the sheer love of sharing, or Vinay Eapan’s (Jane Coffin Childs Fellow, HMS) cool strategies of grant writing as a postdoc, or Nick Deal’s excellent suggestions on how to think from the recruiter’s perspective and how to be on the top of the pile, they were all inspiring and informative. Besides these speakers, there were star-studded panel discussions. The panel discussions were divided into four parts – industry research careers, academic careers, careers in the business of science, and careers in science communication and management. Each panel discussion not only broke many myths about STEM careers, but also broadened the horizon of career choices of biomedical scientists and yielded a lot of take-home messages. All of this was invaluable to aspirants like me. Among all these serious discussions, the organizers didn’t forget to entertain us. During the lunch break, there was a live music performance by IMON, a New York-based band composed of talented musicians like Ananda, Sahana, Sutirtha, Radha, and Simon! I am an avid follower of IMON and was looking forward to this event. From Chhaap Tilak to Jagao Mere Desh, the versatility of IMON blew me away.  Post lunch and after all the panel discussions, Smita Salian Mehta, Ragoo Raghunathan, and Anshu Malhotra devised a unique way to encourage the young aspirants to learn the art of networking. I must say even the most introverted people would have felt comfortable with networking after this session. The day came to an end with Syam Anand’s closing speech, which was full of hope and encouragement to take this event forward beyond all borders of nations. How I wished the event would have lasted a little longer and I could meet every single person present at the event…However, with the hope of meeting again with all the existing and many new members of CSG, I bid goodbye.”

Dolonchapa Chakraborty,PhD

(Freelancing Consultant)  

“I studied toxin-encoding viruses in my PhD. These viruses, similar to most other viruses, hijack their host machinery and co-exist with them in a dormant state. Try killing their host, and they get to them before anyone else. They escape their dead host and infect fresh meat. Your next question would be why does the host even bother to carry these ‘ungrateful’ viruses. Well the host survive in big colonies and some of these host cells graciously entertain the viruses for the benefit of their pack. You see, when the virus kills their host, they do so by releasing toxin that is also used by the rest of the host pack (mourners at the time for their deceased friends) to ward off predators. We call our dead host, public goods, and the mourners, cheaters. I find the above phenomenon very apt and relatable in my daily life. This is why when Melina Fan mentioned that after two years of research, she knew she had to make a self-sustaining product, it caught my ear. Hold on to this thought, I promise I will come back to it.

Why was I at STEM Peers? Because I am in my early career and networking is good I’m told. Moreover, I wanted to find out more about all the possible opportunities that’s out there for PhDs like me. When I started my PhD, the obvious next career step was research. This is not because without-research-my-life-has-no-purpose or some melodrama; it’s because I did not know any better. A friend introduced me to the Facebook CSG group when I told him I was feeling so lost regarding what to do. STEM Peers was in a month from when I joined and brought me back to one my favorite cities.  

What I expected from STEM Peers was what I usually get from talking to people in the field- suggestions, advice, dos and don’ts etc. Much to my surprise, I got conversations instead. People told me stories that made me relate to them. I did not feel so lost anymore. They talked about their past experiences; experiences that I could connect with. The hopelessness in me was waning. And since we were conversing, I was telling them my stories too. My stories weren’t naïve and childish but apparently inspiring; hah! I asked questions (that were probably silly), and people answered them. While there was encouragement when required, there were also no lies and sugar coats at other situations. The panelists made themselves sound real; I liked that. They credited part of their success to their families. They called themselves lucky. They talked about ‘real’ problems. When a career transition takes time, but you need to pay the bills, what do you do! Things like that.

The closing speech was about how CSG was founded. And how we will have to give back what we are taking now to make it a self-sustaining system. We cannot be like the cheater bacteria (well, technically, some of us will be). We are all in the same boat. And we have to pitch in whatever way we can. STEM Peers was not ‘just’ another networking event for me. It left me with some great contacts, yes, but mostly with the hope that may be PhD isn’t as bad as people (they who shall remain unnamed) make it to be.”

Ajit Kamath  

(PhD Researcher at Boston University)

“On a beautiful Saturday, I entered Aeronaut Brewery like I had done countless times before. Only, this time it was 8am, I was dressed in formal wear and was ready for the first annual meeting of PhD Career Support Group (PhD CSG), STEM Peers 2017. The event began with greetings from enthusiastic volunteers who handed us welcome packages followed by a light breakfast and a warm welcome by Abhinav, Ananda and Ranjith. Networking and learning was the main theme of the event. We were encouraged to forge meaningful relationships and make the most out of this opportunity to collect first hand information on different career paths.The keynote talk by Melina Fan, (Co-founder/CSO Addgene) about her journey and experience with Addgene was inspirational. She epitomized the saying “If you don’t like something, be the change to make it better”. Her efforts led to sharing of plasmids among the scientific community.

Next, a series of panel discussions walked us through the journeys of various professionals in different fields. Ranjith Anand, Smita Salian-Mehta, Ambrish Roy, and Richa Jaiswal gave insights on how they transitioned into industry careers. They gave us their perspective on stepping out of the ivory tower and what it takes to succeed in job searches. The recruiter’s’ perspective on hiring in Industry by Nick Deal (Recruiter at Stratacuity) and importance of connecting with recruiters who understand the job seeker’s career needs was an eye opener. It was assuring to meet recruiters like him who cared about the candidate’s needs and background to place them in the right career. The panel on academic careers by Nikhil Gupta, Mishtu Dey, Jagan Srinivasan, and Harpreet Singh told us a story of perseverance. Vinay Eapen followed this by his unique take on grant writing as an academic. Syam Anand, Ragoo Raghunathan, Subhalaxmi Nambi, Rajnish Kaushik, and Ananda Ghosh held an enlightening panel on the Business of Science. As scientists working the lab all day, we forget the business side of things which keep the gears of innovation turning. They illuminated careers in Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Marketing, which scientists like us can shine in. Ragoo gave us new networking ideas about talking to sales people in our lab and at conferences. The next time you go to a conference, talk to the reps at various stalls and learn about their companies. You will learn about new careers, meet amazing people and most importantly, score some freebies.

Post lunch break, we discussed interesting concepts of science communication and management with Abhinav Dey, Colleen Brady, Ana Batista, Sutirtha Dutta, and Muthu Dhandapani. They told us about their passion in science communication and how they matured in their careers. Efficient science communication is more important than ever today and these stories inspired the part of me that wants the world to appreciate science. Finally, we had an effective networking session orchestrated by Smita Salian-Mehta. The small group networking was very effective in connecting people. Ragoo, with his fedora and yellow suspenders, gave us a great lesson in standing out in a crowd. The day ended with Syam Anand’s closing statement. He talked about a hopeful future and how we can all help each other out. His vision of CSG is of an organization surpassing all borders. I left the Brewery on a high, feeling hopeful. I made a few meaningful connections that day and hope to keep nurturing those for a long time. I look forward to the next annual meetup and meeting old and new CSG members again.”

The STEM Peers organizers followed-up with the participants to rate STEM Peers based on their experience and we are grateful to have received more than 9 STARS out of 10.

Anonymous suggestions on areas for improvement/additions for STEM Peers 2018

  1. “Maybe increase the panel size for each category so that we could get a broader sense of the different opportunities available. Can include people who transitioned into industries right after PhD (without a post-doc) to get a sense of working on OPT. Also can include a CV writing/resume writing workshop. Maybe can keep a separate workshop for green card related questions and suggestions, as I did not get much input on my questions during the short networking/questions sessions.”
  2. “Grant/fellowship writing related session”
  3. “More time to Networking and panel discussions”
  4. “1. Limit number of attendees to 100, same like this year’s (allows better interaction). 2. Run parallel sessions, so that more panelists can be involved for the same career track. 3. Have some motivational talks by people in any stage of their career who are steering their profession. 4. Audio friendly environment. 5. Open doors to participation of Non-Indian nationals (extensive advertisement across campuses).”
  5. “More time per discussion session, could collect questions for panelists before hand”
  6. “Add a panel or talk on finance and tax related issues. I am encountering a lot of PhDs as librarians, it would be good to add this career choice. Role of professional societies in career development can be highlighted. An on-site proposal review panel can be convened to review the grants application written by the participants.”
  7. “Include STEM’s from other nationality, maybe a bit more in-depth information on the role PhD’s can play in management consulting, career progression in various related field etc”
  8. “I would suggest to bring some synthetic chemistry people either industry/academy”
  9. “I think there shouldn’t have been any panels, instead we should have spread out tables for speed networking with the panelists sitting at different tables to get a proper discussion going. The speed networking, as it happened, was way too crowded and it limited conversations. I do understand the space and time limitations with such a setup. Overall it was great, but this is just something to think about for next time.”
  10. “Venue was echoey and distracting during panels, though it was nice for networking.”
  11. “A two day retreat. Time was too short.”
  12. “Maybe more time for networking session”
  13. “Need a quieter place for more efficient networking sessions. A lot of things said were not audible in the back.”
  14. “A printed schedule for the day’s activities would be very useful.”
  15. “Please advertise it as a complete solution (career front) for PhD/ Postdocs where non-academic careers are not the only focus. At present it sounds like getting academic careers anywhere are impossible so let us start discussing about other careers. If academic careers are kept in focus, it will attract extremely serious scientists (PhD/Postdoc levels) who will just focus on academic careers.”
  16. “Better selection of panelist (consulting, finance, MSL, workshops)”
  17. “More time to discuss with mentors”
  18. “Entrepreneurship & Data Science careers”
  19. “More hands-on workshops for résumé and coverletters. Hands-on workshops for networking strategies.”
  20. “none”

 

STEM Peers will continue this yearly journey to serve as a confluence of STEM Professionals globally. We are always open to new ideas and available to support the ambitions and aspirations of our members. STEM Peers-2018 will be hosted in New York city and the preparations have already begun. If you would like to be a part of STEM Peers, please shoot us an email at stempeers@gmail.com.

 

 

What did Twitterati say?

Photo Gallery

 

Image Credits: Danika Khong, Smita Salian Mehta, Ananda Ghosh, Ranjith Anand, Ragoo Raghunathan

Featured Image: Felicitation Plaques created by Studio Artinuum (https://www.facebook.com/studioartinuum/)

Editors: Abhinav Dey and Anshu Malhotra

 

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PhD Career Support Group (PhD CSG) for STEM PhDs is a US Non-Profit 501(c)3  organization and all donations to PhDCSG are tax deductible

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