“An academic career is just one of many options”

This summer, the MDC is starting a new program called ASPIRE. It aims to help postdocs at the Center forge their own career path.

Dr. Krull, you head the MDC Postdoc Office and plan to launch a new program this summer called ASPIRE? What does the acronym stand for?

ASPIRE is an acronym for “Advanced Science career development Program for Innovation and REsearch.” The name hopefully reveals something about the intention of the program, which is funded by the Helmholtz Association. Its aim is to help postdocs at the MDC move their scientific careers forward in a purposeful way. The program therefore consists of three tracks that provide guidance for different career paths. Applicants are required to choose one of these three tracks in advance.

What tracks are offered?

The three ASPIRE tracks are Academic Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Industry, and Science Management and Science Communication. The first track targets postdocs who seek a career in academia, that is, who want to become, for example, a lab head or a professor. The second track is designed for those who want to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry or start their own company. The third track is directed to those who later want to head a scientific institution or work in a communications department.

That means applicants should already know which direction their career should take?

One of the main reasons for launching ASPIRE is the fact that, currently at least, there are many more scientists being trained for an academic career than there are available professor positions. Current figures show that across Germany only about ten percent of postdocs will one day receive a professorship. That means we have lots of highly qualified people – and with ASPIRE we want to create awareness that there are also excellent options outside of basis research where postdocs can establish themselves career-wise. 

Can postdocs inform themselves beforehand about these alternatives?

We are holding an information session on May 21 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon to provide more details about the different career tracks. We have also invited external speakers, and there will be a round-table discussion. Postdocs who are still unsure about which direction their career is going to take may have a clearer picture afterwards. In addition, the Postdoc Office regularly organizes a Career Day for PhD students and postdocs. In contrast to ASPIRE, it is open not only to MDC employees but also to interested individuals from other institutes and universities in and around Berlin. This event also gives young scientists an opportunity to develop ideas for their career path. 

When exactly will ASPIRE begin, how long will the program run for, and how many postdocs can participate?

The program is expected to start in August and will then run for one year at a time. There can be a maximum of twelve participants per track, but fewer would be welcome too.

How can one apply for a spot?

Interested postdocs need to submit a letter of motivation and their résumé to the Postdoc Office. We will then make a decision on who is suited for the program in consultation with MDC lab heads. In the Academic Leadership track, for example, it would be an advantage to have already published papers and successfully applied for third-party funding. To successfully apply for the Entrepreneurship and Industry track, it might be helpful to present a concrete business idea. And for the Science Management and Science Communication track, it would great if the applicant had already done press or outreach work – even if it was for a small local organization.

We naturally hope that all participants will benefit from this year their entire lives.
Dr. Sandra Krull
Sandra Krull Head of the Postdoc Office

What exactly awaits successful applicants during the one-year program, and how much time is required to participate in ASPIRE? 

The latter is rather difficult to say and also depends on the personal initiative of participants. We plan to work primarily with external trainers who will give one- to three-day workshops on-site at the MDC. The trainings will amount to a total of probably ten to twelve days in the year. And we naturally hope that all participants will benefit from this year their entire lives.

Anke Brodmerkel conducted the interview.