Last week 6 young principal investigators from 5 departments across the University of Cambridge gathered with an audience of around 50 students to share their top tips for becoming a successful group leader in optics and photonics.
After briefly introducing their research in a short flash presentation, the PIs gathered at the front of the lecture theatre to take part in a stimulating panel discussion.
Outreach aficionados in the audience were delighted to hear the majority of group leaders recommend outreach and public engagement as a method of enhancing communication skills. Sarah Bohndiek emphasised that the ability to communicate with the public goes hand in hand with the ability to effectively communicate the core ideas of a research proposal, increasing the chances of securing the crucial funding required to run a successful research group. Steven Lee echoed this, explaining that running his podcast, TheScienceShed, had taught him to better convey his scientific ideas.
The young researchers also discussed carving out your research niche, though there was disagreement on whether to find your own, with Stefanie Reichelt revealing she had her own microscope at the age of 12, or whether to let your niche find you. Indeed, many niches come in and out of fashion anyway.
Alternatively, Emilie Ringe emphasised the importance of finding your niche skill set by imagining a 3 circle Venn diagram of skills. Should only 2 circles of unique skills be currently on this imaginary figure, she explained, you should search for a third, such that the intersection of the three represents a unique skill set only you possess.
Hannah Joyce pointed out that you don’t necessarily need to be an extrovert to be enthusiastic about your research and convey that to others, a reassuring message to the more introverted members of the audience. She went on to explain that professional presentation training was available to help us to communicate our research more effectively.
Sam Stranks remarked on how the best chances of success can be achieved by making your work stand out as much as possible. Reassuringly though, the PIs were unified in admitting that the majority of academic endeavours result in failure, at all stages and for all people. The key, as cliché as it may be, is to keep trying and never give up!
The young investigators also highlighted networking as a crucial aspect of becoming a PI, and the SPIE student chapter gave aspiring PIs the opportunity to do so following the panel, laying on a wine and nibbles. Indeed, attendees took the advice on board, enjoying the outstanding refreshments and food kindly supported by our sponsors, many sticking around to mingle with the PIs and one another for well over an hour after the scheduled end time of the event.
The committee would like to extend a special thanks to Sarah Bohndiek, Sam Stranks, Steven Lee, Hannah Joyce, Emilie Ringe and Stefanie Reichelt for giving up an evening to share their experiences. We would also like to thank our kind sponsors, the Department of Physics, The Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, CamBridgeSens, Nano DTC and IPES CDT on behalf of all the attendees and the CUSPIE committee.
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