What participants say

Nietzsche Lam, Neurobiology of language, Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University

"As a PhD student in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Donders Institute, I participated in the PCDI Postdoc Retreat STEM 2015 because I wanted to get to know myself better, and make an informed choice for my career path. I’d been leaning on moving into Industry and was excited to listen and learn from people who were in the field.

In the past year I had heard a couple of informative talks from PCDI members, so I decided to attend this retreat to see what else I could learn (and I’m glad I did). When I arrived at the retreat, it became clear why we would be here for three days. The surroundings for calm and tranquil, the food was great, and the environment very supportive. You were able to press the ‘pause button’ on your life, say ‘no’ to everything, and just focus on yourself. 

The lectures were insightful and inspiring, and this balanced out well with the workshops where we learned more about our skills, abilities and weaknesses. It was comforting to be amongst other talented individuals who were also figuring out their careers. We motivated each other, and created a good support network.

I really enjoyed the workshop with Louise Mennen , where I learned about different communication styles and how to effectively give constructive feedback. Bud Bickes gave a workshop which made me more aware of my transferable skills, which will be important during interviews. David Iannuzzi gave my favourite lecture – starting your own company. I’d be tossing this idea around, and after his talk, I became much more eager to give it a try.

After the retreat I discussed some ideas with friends for a startup maybe we’ll doing something. Now, I also dedicate time to improve my profile and look for jobs. The retreat has made me more certain about my career path and taught me to be confident and courageous, to grab at new opportunities.

One of the most valuable things I took home was to use my network – it really works. If you’re wondering what to do next, and want to make a good investment in your future, then I’d recommend this retreat!" 


Jordi Cabanas Danes, Department of Physics and Astronomy, VU University Amsterdam

"As a postdoc in biophysics at the VU University Amsterdam, I joined the PCDI Retreat 2014 STEM because it seemed to offer the perfect environment, the means and the time to help me reflect on my professional development. When I first looked at the program, I was very impressed with how broad it was. It included personal development workshops, lectures by professionals not only in academic environments but also in industry and other organizations, and speed dates with professionals in those areas.

Even though I already imagined that the retreat was going to definitely fulfill my expectations, it was not until I arrived when I saw what else makes it special: The atmosphere. Having similar doubts and worries, and having shared similar experiences with other participants, created a perfect place to listen and be listened to.

In particular, I liked the workshops focusing on core qualities and efficient communication. They both gave me a better view on how others perceive me and on how I can tune my communication style to achieve more efficient conversations. Additionally, I really enjoyed the lecture by Caroline van Leenders and how she managed to put together the skills she obtained in very different steps of her career to become the best professional for her current function. Finally, I really appreciated that the professionals in the speed dates were all very open and honest about their positions.

After the retreat, I realized that a professional career is not based in opportunities arising by chance but one needs to take the lead of his/her own career to make the opportunities of interest arise. In this regard, the retreat helped me build a personal action plan to transform my career thoughts into actions"

Denise van der Meer - Engelhart, Biomechnical Engineering, University of Twente

"As a PhD student in the department of Biomechanical Engineering at the University of Twente, I participated in the PCDI STEM Retreat of 2014. As my PhD contract was almost due, I thought this would be a good opportunity to start thinking about my future career. Some of my former colleagues advised me to go to the PCDI Retreat, because they found it very useful themselves and various career opportunities would present themselves, both inside and outside academia. 

Arriving at the retreat, a warm welcome was given to me by the organizers, which made me feel comfortable. The atmosphere at the retreat was really open and honest and it was nice to find out that almost all participants were struggling with the same questions as me. The most interesting part of the retreat were the lectures from all speakers inside and outside academia, and their career choices. It made me think about following my heart and not always listen to what people expect of me. It also made me realize that with a PhD you have obtained a lot of skills (not only related to the research topic), which can be applied in a very broad field of careers.

The second day, I enjoyed the workshop about body language, especially the first impression you leave when meeting people. It is good to be aware of how you come across. I thought about that often after the retreat. In the speeddate session I learned that it is easy to connect to people and talk about their work and atmosphere at the company. I remembered some good questions for job interviews.

After the retreat I was very enthousiastic about my future career. I started networking immediately, and started applying for jobs a couple of months later. In the meantime I have found a new job, as a lecturer at the Hogeschool Rotterdam, starting April 2015. This also motivates me to finish my PhD"



Wolter de Graaf, Biomedical Engineering, Eindhoven University of Technology

"As a postdoc in Biomedical Engineering I participated in the PCDI Postdoc Retreat STEM 2013 because I was in doubt whether I would like to develop my career in industry or academia. Listening to the stories of other people about their career path, their drives to follow one path and not the other seemed to me highly interesting to make up my own mind. And it did! A number of talented speakers with very different but interesting stories were invited. Lively discussions allowed everybody to ask questions and get honest answers. In between talks and other program parts like lunches and workshops, the participants learnt from each other about their background and reasons to join. 

Next to the talks and presentations a number of workshops were there to improve some skills regarding the way you see yourself and how to know what you want, but also about how to present that to others. For some of us, including myself, there were some real eye-openers in a workshop on non-verbal behavior. This three day retreat made sure that normal work activities were  abandoned to focus completely on finding out what you would like for yourself.

After the retreat I travelled home with two other participants and by far the hours long train ride was not enough to contemplate on all the new insights we gained. My personal conclusion from these days were that too much planning of a career will not work and that opportunities will come. Important is then to know which of them to grab and also not to be afraid of career changes into non-standard directions."



Stephanie Domptai, Institute for agricultural policy and market research, University of Giessen, Germany 

"At first, I couldn't really understand why so many presenters had been invited just to talk about their curricula and life/career development at the PCDI Postdoc Retreat STEM 2013. In the end, however, I think that it is from those very interventions from people like you and I that I learned the three most important messages from my point of view: that basically, you have to be true to yourself and know yourself to make the decisions that are right for you. Second, that there is nothing wrong with following the flow as long as you get what you want and need and enjoy it. And third, there is no need to be afraid to try out things outside academia, as long as you don't wait to long for your decisions.

I really enjoyed the retreat and its nice atmosphere and fantastic foods and met many very interesting people with completely different backgrounds, all friendly and looking for answers to the same questions I was. I particularly liked the communication workshop which I attended, where I found out which communication style I prefer and how I may improve my communication with others, which is something very important for my current as a scientific coordinator. I hope to use this insight to increase the pleasure and efficiency of working together with the team.

After the retreat, I talked about some of the workshops and we intend to organise one of the workshops in our working group for my colleagues. I still need to take some time to think about myself and make some decisions, but it seems to me that I know a bit better which questions I should ask myself now. I am also more positive and calm, as the retreat could remind me that there is more than one suitable path for me. I hope to set up my priorities soon and we'll see in 2 years time where that has taken me!"


Thijs Koorman, Utrecht University 

"Hi, my name is Thijs and I’m a finishing PhD student in the Developmental Biology department in Utrecht. The main reason why I signed up for the Life Science 2015 PCDI retreat was that I wanted to know my current position in the job market. Although I would like to stay in an academic environment, I was curious how PhD’s generally end up when they decide to go on a different career path. In the beginning I was a bit doubtful to be honest, because I did not know what I had to expect and if it would pay off the three days investment it had to take. Luckily, in the end it turned out to be a great, meaningful and educational experience in a nice environment, a good atmosphere, and with even nicer participants.

The program was quite diverse, and because you are able to choose between concurrent workshops and courses throughout the three days gives you the opportunity to tailor it to your needs. The plenary speakers were from renowned institutes, high level and again of a good mixture of backgrounds. I was quite surprised how honest and open the speakers were and learned a lot from them, not only about the field they worked in but more why and how they made choices in their career. The final day we had a useful forum discussion with speakers from different fields in which we discussed all the known “stigmas”.

After the retreat I felt motivated, and surprisingly also calmer, for the next step in my career and have a better idea of what I want and what my skills are. I realized that having a PhD is just the beginning of a great career ahead and if you have goals or dreams, do not hesitate and pursue them. If you are still in doubt on what you want I would highly recommend taking part in this retreat."


Afrouz Yousefi, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University 

"As a Postdoc researcher at Utrecht University I participated in the PCDI Postdoc Retreat 2015 because I wanted to know more about career opportunities for young scientists outside Academia. I heard about the retreat from a friend and after checking their website I found the program diverse and interesting which led me to sign up for it. 

The first thing I noticed when the course started was the warm welcome by the organizers. This helped break the ice and created a friendly atmosphere. The lectures were very inspiring. There were people invited from different areas sharing their experience and personal stories. I found it nice to meet and discuss with peers with similar situations and questions.

The workshops that I took part in, encouraged and guided me to learn about my qualities better and use this in communicating effectively with the others. As a result, I had the time to reflect on my own abilities and organize better how to use them at their best. One of the sections which was very dynamic was the forum discussion in presence of panel guests from different sectors. For me, the Meet & Greet session was a good opportunity to ask questions from people who are currently employed by the industry and see what are the paths that they have taken.

In this retreat I learnt about different career possibilities in various sectors. It also made it possible for me to reflect on my qualifications far from the busy daily schedule at work and also to think about which career path might better suit me. Afterwards, I used this new knowledge to update my CV and prepare better for future networking sessions and job interviews"