From academia to the rest of the world

Presenting a business idea to the group. Credits: SKIES

Training in entrepreneurship, open science and career development for PhD students

The SKIES (SKilled, Innovative and Entrepreneurial Scientists) training in Portugal aimed at broadening the career perspectives of PhD students in Portugal, by improving their self-awareness and bridging the gap between the skills acquired in academia and those required in industry, private companies and non-research career options.

The training, organized by Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA), took place between the 19th of April and the 5th of May, spreading along three weeks, with four online sessions and two days of in-person training in the beautiful city of Coimbra.

Exploring skills and the job market

In the first week, the participants assessed their own (entrepreneurial) skills and explored which sectors of the job market may have links to astronomy. The online sessions were enriched with presentations of two former astrophysicists, now working for the private sector, and Portugal Space, the Portuguese Space Agency.

Open science, innovation and the business world

Visit to Instituto Pedro Nunes. Credits: SKIES

On the 28th and 29th of April, the group gathered in Coimbra for two intensive but fun days, which involved exercises on how to ideate and create your own business, ran by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship and DotSPACE; a visit to Instituto Pedro Nunes, a local business incubator/accelerator; and two sessions dedicated to Open Science and Intellectual Property Protection, by Leiden University and UC Business, the technology transfer office of the University of Coimbra.

According to one participant, the training “opened up my awareness to the wide variety of career paths possible after the PhD. Great to hear the personal experience of each of the contributors. Good to have hands-on experience on building a business plan, etc. The two days in Coimbra were excellent, also for networking (especially after the pandemic!)”.

Networking was promoted with an informal dinner and visit to Coimbra’s Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory.

Bringing science to non-researchers

Visit to Coimbra’s Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory. Credits: SKIES

A survey ran among students and post-docs of the IA, to aid in the preparation of the training programme, revealed that science communication scored high as a topic of interest for potential participants. In an online session facilitated by the science communication group of the IA, with the presence and support of the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach, the students were challenged to plan a public engagement activity after an introduction to the subject.

“Astronomy: one subject, many possible careers”

… was the motto for the last session, a debate involving former astrophysics researchers that pursued different fulfilling careers and two companies: Deimos Engenharia and LOAD. The participants learned from their experience and were introduced to the mentoring program of the SKIES training.

“It is very rewarding to see the result of several intensive weeks of preparation of the training, both the positive feedback of the participants and the generosity of all the invited speakers and mentors, who greatly enriched this program, and whom I would like to thank” Catarina Leote – organizing team

By the end of the training, some students said they would “enter the mentorship program”, “find more workshops and events like this”, “remain open and keep looking and learning about other opportunities” and “try to develop more skills over the next years, in parallel to academic skills”.