Career Support at the Heidelberg Pain Consortium

In the competitive science environment entry level scientists can often find themselves lost without guidance. One of the most helpful source of insights in this situation is support from senior rolemodels.

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Trainee presentation at the International Pain School

Firstly, SFB1158 aims to recruit scientists at a very early stage. Besides building on existing programs both on a national as well as local level we initiated programs like the Junior Career Fellowship program, about which details can be found below.

Contrasting the female enrolment rate into graduate programs in life sciences (51,5%), women are still underrepresented in postdoctoral (28%) and even more in faculty positions (18%). As tackling this inequality is an important cause for the consortium we are offering several levels of support tailored to the individual situation. 

Early Career Support

In order to support young scientists working in the Heidelberg Pain Consortium several measure have been created:

Junior Career Fellowship

The Junior Career Fellowship supports undergraduate life science students as well as medical students to take up a project finally leading to their thesis at one of the participating groups. The next call for applications is planned for April 2017.

Career Coaching:

In cooperation with an external expert from the DFG, SFB1158 offers individual career coaching.

Young Scientists symposium

Even the greatest scientific findings are useless if they remain in the drawer of one’s desk. As the consortium is inherently focused on cooperation and exchange it is of utmost importance to encourage scientists to present their work early on. Besides specialized training events like the summer school (see above for link), the Young Scientist Symposium provides an excellent opportunity to present results and spark a dialogue.

Seed grants

In 2016, SFB 1158 started to accept applications for small grants ( max. 15k€) for junior scientists to pursue a promising  topic of their interest. The next call is anticipated for March 2017.

Mentoring for Female Scientists

SFB1158 builds upon a plethora of gender-equality and family friendly measures that are already in place at Heidelberg University, which was ranked one of the most family friendly universities by the DFG, and the respective partners.

Such resources include are for example:

  • The equal opportunites  office, which oversees all university-related activities and supports female scientists in difficult situations.
  • Olympia Morata program supports young female researchers to work towards a Habilitation (or equivalent academic achievements) with a 50% scientist position over 2 years to particularly boost their chances for obtaining scientific independence.
  • The Rahel Goitein-Strauss program of Medical Faculty Heidelberg enables young female clinicians to be freed of clinical duties to devote time to research activities by compensating the respective clinic with a rotating clinical position.
  • The ‘Physician Scientist Program’ of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg provides promising young physician scientists the opportunity to take 2 years of clinical work to perform research in a faculty institution of their choice based upon stringent selection process involving evaluation of scientific project proposals.

In addition to these previously existing programs, the consortium pioneered several new initiatives to further empower women in science.

  • Annual gender symposia at which female external speakers give advice about general problems faced by women in science and their solution as well as individual feedback on hurdles in young scientist’s career. Cooperating with external partners from the DFG, SFB1158 provides career counseling sessions including one-on-one meetings and tailored support in the individual career. In cooperation with external gender equality programs SFB1158 plans to further expand its activities in order to provide the best possible environment for career development.

International Pain Summer School

 

 

Scientists of SFB1158 teamed up with faculty from the Canadian Pain Network as well as leading pain scientists in Germany to organize a summer school with a sharp focus on interrogating, discussing and debating on structure-function properties of neural circuits of key importance to acute and chronic pain as well as their reorganisation over pain chronicity.

Funded generously by the Volkswagen Foundation, this was a stimulating and highly rewarding experience for the SFB1158 trainees as well as international participants (USA, Canada, & Brazil amongst several European countries), who constituted about 50% each of the trainee population.

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The relaxed atmosphere enabled faculty and trainees to interact on a personal level

The mood of the 5 day-long summer school was vibrant, interactive and scientifically demanding while being relaxing at the personal level and marked by high quality science interspersed with highly enjoyable faculty-trainee interactions.

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Richard Carr and Walter Magerl demonstrating QST in their methods workshop

The school was structured into many distinct units, including refresher core courses, special research lectures, trainee data-blitz talks, methods-oriented workshops, debates and project defence. The gender-balanced German and international faculty comprised of highly acclaimed scientists from clinical and basic domains, representing not only multiple facets of pain but also other relevant disciplines, such as fear & anxiety, depression, synaptic plasticity, immunology and imaging.

A very well-received feature of the summer school were the special method workshops on novel technologies, both on rodents and humans, organised in small groups by young scientists and junior faculty from SFB1158. Another highly popular feature were the student debates about controversial topics of high relevance for the pain community

Disguised as a ‘fun’ feature, it was evident that the debates encouraged trainees to think independently, discuss controversial issues, crystallize key arguments for and against scientifically disputed issues, and, importantly, consider and respect different points of view.

Postdoctoral trainees on the brink of starting their own research groups were particularly excited about a project defence workshop, in which trainees developed and defended a virtual project proposal from scratch. Postdoctoral trainees could recruit their own team from the participant trainee pool and plan a virtual laboratory. Experienced international faculty judged proposed projects on account of originality, coherence and feasibility and gave personal, detailed feedback to participating teams.

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The direct exchange during the debates greatly enriched the experience

In candid feedback, all trainees lauded the school program strongly, but also expressed a wish to have a less intense program, more time for debate preparation and more personal time with the faculty, which we duly note and will act upon in the future.

We are very pleased that this scientifically intense and personally enjoyable experience was seen as a career landmark by SFB1158 trainees, which also brought them in close contact with their international counterparts. That they bonded very well, personally and scientifically, is evidenced by the Facebook page they independently founded for the International Pain Summer School.

The organisers are very grateful towards the trainees and the faculty for making it a major success and all eyes are now turned to 2018 for the next event!

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