On December 2nd the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) warmly welcomed three alumni to revisit their former stomping grounds and inspire early-career researchers. Lively discussion matched the seasonal atmosphere.
The event was offered as part of FIMMPOD, FIMM’s postdoc and senior researcher professional development program, with the goals to foster connections with alumni and inform about different career paths.
Markus Vähä-Koskela, senior researcher and FIMMPOD coordinator, explains why he organized the event:
I wanted to provide opportunities for staff to network and to hear about career options. Inviting former FIMM staff currently employed elsewhere to share their experiences is probably one of the most relevant ways to do this. Alumni are living examples of diverse career options, and they are direct and very approachable contact points to potential employers.
Better together: presentations and informal exchange
The event was organized in a hybrid format with both on-site and online participation, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In a warm and cozy environment, three FIMM alumni presented their professional career paths and answered questions. They reflected on their previous roles at FIMM and their current positions, and any steps in between. Markus noted that “all three alumni mentioned how experience gathered at FIMM, some via FIMMPOD activities, had helped them land their positions.”
After the talks, the dialogue continued in round-table discussions. After the official part was closed, the alumni stayed for further small-group and one-on-one discussions with PhD students and postdocs.
Regarding the format, Markus also noted that his experience with the previous FIMM alumni event was reinforced:
Having several alumni at the same time is excellent for fostering discussion. The alumni also seemed to enjoy the event and, themselves, 'compared notes' on transitioning into industry, which livened the discussion.
The alumni: who are they and where are they now?
The three visitors welcomed to the FIMM Alumni event were a former PhD student, project manager, and group leader who have now all transitioned into positions in companies.
John Patrick Mpindi worked as a bioinformatician and earned his doctoral degree in the group led by Olli Kallioniemi and has since worked as statistician at Siemens Healthineers in the UK. John Patrick enjoyed his return to FIMM:
For me it was a happy return to FIMM where I gained knowledge and skills that have been useful for my work in industry. For example, the skill to communicate complex statistics to biologists and other scientists without a computational/statistical background was developed at FIMM in Prof. Olli Kallioniemi's group.
And why these sorts of events are so important:
Reflecting back on my final days when completing my PhD, I feel that I needed talks of this kind. That is why I felt obliged to give back to the FIMM community because a PhD student or postdoc might be helped or inspired when they listen to my industry career journey.
Mervi Kinnunen worked both at the FIMM Genomics Unit in the FIMM Technology Centre and as a coordinator and project manager of the FinnGen pilot projects. She currently is an associate director and project manager at IQVIA.
William Hennah started his academic research group at FIMM and now enjoys a dual role as a group leader at the HiLIFE-Neuroscience Center and senior level expert on genomics at Orion Pharma. William explains his experience at the event: “It was great to come back and see both familiar and new faces, especially to do this in person. It was also good to see the enthusiastic interest for finding out about career alternatives in science.”
And how working at FIMM helped prepare him for his current dual role in academia and industry:
While working at FIMM, I had become an independent researcher, working collaboratively with other researchers. Moving to industry as an expert in my own field, with no major infrastructure in that company to support that field, the ability to work independently and support other researchers was a key aspect to success in the transition.
The participants: the reason for the event
The event drew nearly 50 enthusiastic participants. One of them, Meri Kaustio, a FIMM-EMBL PhD student nearing the end of her studies, got a lot out of attending. She explains:
I’m possibly interested in finding a job in industry after finishing my PhD, so to me it’s always interesting to hear from researchers who have switched to industry. That way one gets a better picture of what sort of options might be out there and which skills might be beneficial.
Philipp Sergeev, an international PhD student, was interested in learning about future job opportunities in Finnish companies. In his opinion, “alumni are a great source of information, because they were in the same situation not so long ago, thinking where to apply, what vacancies are on the market, etc. Moreover, this was an interactive event, so you could ask the most relevant questions for you.”
Philipp found a wealth of information from the alumni, including practical tips and the bigger picture. He explains:
By attending such meetings and collecting pieces of information, I can make a better understanding of the situation in Finland and in my particular field and what skills are required for successful employment. And the last thing is the most important one, since as a PhD student you have a lot of opportunities to develop yourself.
Markus looks forward to planning the next FIMM Alumni event and summed up the day perfectly: “We had a fantastic event with lots of happy faces - FIMM can be proud of its vibrant alumni network.”
For more information about the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, please visit the partnership website!