Many young scientists follow a standard academic career path. For some researchers this makes their dreams of an academic career come true, but for quite a lot of others it is just the result of not considering the countless fascinating career paths they might follow outside academia. However, before considering such alternatives, you certainly need to know more about these potential career options. And researching several different opportunities is a tough, time-consuming task for an individual. But there are also more effective ways to explore the unknown and get in touch with your future employer. "Networking" is the name of the golden key to your career, and new student initiatives help you to use it right. That is why I founded the "Jungchemikerforum Berlin" 2 weeks ago.
Take it the way you want--in life it's all about networking and selling yourself. Decades ago, you finished your apprenticeship to become a baker. You then did the same job all your life--being a baker for 50 years or more. But times are changing. As a physicist you may stay at university to become a professor--that's what you've probably been dreaming of since you were an enthusiastic freshman. But you also might, for example, do research in industry or even do something completely different. For example, many scientists now work in patent law. Or how about consulting? If you are shivering now and thinking, "Hey, I'm a scientist," you might ask yourself if that is just because you didn't get used to these thoughts at an earlier stage!
I agree that looking into all these many new fields of employment would probably be exhausting for most of us, especially in times where you are intensively preparing final exams or finishing your diploma thesis. However, there is an encouraging answer to this dilemma: organizations of young scientists all over the world. Being interested in new career opportunities as a young chemist, I was exactly in the situation described above. The only problem was that although there were about 30 such groups of young chemists all over Germany, there were none in Berlin. This problem is now solved.
The "Jungchemikerforum Berlin" is the part of the German Chemical Society (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker e.V.) that is formed by society members who are about 30 or younger. So how do we help students find the way that suits them best? The first activity is to invite lecturers from the chemical industry, consulting firms, and patent law firms for us to hear more about possible future prospects in those areas. Also, we visit companies and take a look inside--and not just the "big" companies that everyone already applies at! For example, there's a booming biotech industry in and around Berlin. Small start-ups, flexible and unconventional, yet nonetheless achieving exceptional results, may be more interesting for some than the big players like Merck or BASF.
In your work life, you will have to give talks or presentations all the time--so it's probably a good idea to try it as early as possible! That's why we also organize science meetings and offer workshops to improve presentation and communication skills. Of course there are also contacts to similar organizations in other countries; the development of those contacts is one of the main issues for our new group in Berlin. To summarize: You learn about the way your work life may go, you get to know job profiles from young professionals, and get in touch with interesting companies. In addition, there are opportunities to improve your presentation skills by participating in our workshops.
Finally, there is also hope for those of you who are not young chemists but rather life scientists. I want to mention an initiative closely related to our chemists group, the Biotechnologische Studenteninitiative e.V. (btS). What we want to achieve for young chemists, the btS is doing for the biotech area. And in addition to lectures and excursions, they also organize a successful student fair called ScieCon, where students may meet potential employers. Founded in September 1996, they are a truly independent student organization with currently six local offices across Germany. To take some words from the preface of their brochure: "With its range of presentations, exhibitions, series of lectures and workshops, btS closes information gaps both for the students and for the biotech industry. By talking to representatives from industry, students can learn what industry wants and needs, they can expand their skills via placements organized by btS and thus learn at an early stage what it means to assert oneself as a scientist on the market."