Julia Villarroel
Julia Villarroel

Interview with Julia Villarroel, a former participant on both career development (CaDYS) and professional development (ProDYS) for young scientists’ courses.

What made you choose hfp consulting’s workshops? 

I’m a scientist and a bioinformatician by training and once I had finished my bachelor’s degree, I started dreaming of pursuing the academic track and having my own lab where I could undertake my own research one day. Therefore, choices were fairly easy to make: from bachelor to master to PhD then to PostDoc. However, it was then that I realised that career paths from thereon were not so linear; as I felt they had been up until that point. As much as I love research, I wouldn’t have sacrificed my family to move to a new lab in a new country just to make my CV look more attractive. Yet, that seemed to be the only way I could reach my career goals. I felt lost and unsure about what the next step in my professional life would be. I was looking for guidance, mentorship, and tips to help me delineate a strategy that would make me feel more in control in a moment of utter confusion. Other colleagues had taken the CaDYS course and were very happy with how it went, so I signed up for it. Later I signed up for ProDYS because I felt I’ve learned so many valuable tools from the CaDYS that I was sure I would find ProDYS very useful as well.

Why did you decide to take the second course?

Tobias Maier and Irene Nagel-Jachmann, the coaches from CaDYS, did an excellent job keeping all the participants engaged. They created such an open and trusting environment that I felt at ease from the first moment I entered the virtual class. I enjoyed the structure, the interactivity, and the valuable and translatable tools (easily applicable to everyday life) that I gained from CaDYS. Based on that experience and the agenda for the ProDYS course: communication in the scientific world, negotiation, time management, which I considered extremely meaningful and complementary to CaDYS, I signed up for this course as well. A good decision in every respect.

What was the best aspect of the CaDYS course from your point of view?

I enjoyed and was happily surprised by the inclusive, secure, and open environment that allowed us to open up and talk from our own personal experiences and situations. I particularly enjoyed how whenever any of us had a question for the coaches, they would redirect it to all of us. That way we would not just get a digested answer, but instead we were given the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and together come up with a response.

Most importantly, the course increased my awareness of the broad spectrum of transferable skills PostDocs are equipped with, of potential fallacies I may come across when making decisions in my career and it made me realise that a vast range of work possibilities exist outside of academia. It has been a mind-blowing experience.

In which sense did CaDYS help you/your career?

CaDYS was very helpful by bringing about the question of the core values: why do you do what you do? And where can you find that l outside of academia as well? For instance diversity, time flexibility, and having influence/decision making are, for me, highly relevant. So, I eventually found a company where I am now employed, where all of those values are fulfilled.

Expectations before CaDYS? 

I thought stress management strategies would be part of the curriculum. And although it did indeed remove some of my stress I felt in regards to my career, it didn’t go the way I planned. One of the things that helped me in this sense was sharing my experience and realizing that the other PostDocs in the course felt the need for useful tools for career management as did I.

Are the things you learned from the ProDYS course also applicable outside the lab? 

I find that the skills I learned in ProDYS are transferable in many life situations. For instance, the communication strategies we learned and practised during the workshop are something I have been applying privately and in my new position as a Bioinformatics Scientist. Since taking part in the course, I’ve been handling interpersonal conflicts that I never thought I would be able to solve. As the strategies we learnt are easily practicable and applicable, because we tried and tested them by role-playing in the course, I found it easy to implement them when needed. The same can be said from the planning/structuring –goals– and time management modules. By the time I took the ProDYS course I was about to finish my contract as a PostDoc. Thanks to the course, I was capable of setting realistic goals for myself, and  defining actions that allowed me to complete my PostDoc with a satisfactory feeling of achievement.

Most important takeaway points from the ProDYS course?

I think for me the most impactful aspect was conflict handling. How to go about issues, how to improve communication, and show empathy and understanding for what the other person feels and needs. I have found it really works…it’s almost like a kind of magic! I come to fully appreciate the relevance of active listening, being present, empathise, and understand that visible actions are sometimes triggered by invisible feelings that are in turn driven by hidden needs. I now understand the value of genuinely asking, as well as meeting the other person on a more profound level; a level beyond the superficial conflicting position towards a level of understanding and trust where people can meet and come to a creative solution together. All these methods have really changed the way I handle myself; both professionally and personally.

What were the most striking features of the courses? 

For both courses, I was astonished by the seamless organization and smooth transition between single/partner/joint sessions. And naturally, I loved their interactivity, the opportunity to test tools, role playing, and use our own examples to practice…

What did you like best about the digital format? 

The incredibly good organization and proper structure and that there were timers in place to help us keep track of time and focus on achieving/finishing our tasks, especially when doing team-work or partner discussions.

How would you rate the experience/quality of the workshops?

I am very happy. They both have meant a lot to me. Actually, I have applied the learnings of the workshops since day one, not only to my professional life but to my private life as well.

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