What former participants say


Rosanne Hertzberger, SILS/ UvA

"I signed up for the PCDI Postdoc Retreat Life Sciences when I was in my last year of my PhD studies in microbiology at the UvA / NIZO Food Research in 2013. Main reason to sign up was that I hoped that it would help me reflect on career opportunities. I admit that I was doubting whether it would be worth the time. Three days is quite a big investment, especially when you are in the final stages of your PhD.It turned out to be well worth it. 

One of the most attractive sides of this program, is that it takes you literally out of your academic comfort zone and asks you to focus on important questions that you would otherwise not spend so much time on. Being surrounded by other scholars in similar positions helps in that process. Some useful tools were offered during the workshops, for instance on work planning and on how to present yourself in your cv. In general, the program had several “take home messages” that I actually really took home and still cherish.

Especially the personal stories of some very successful people in industry, academia and government provided useful lessons: even their paths appear be full of ups and downs, uncertainties, failure and coincidences. This helped me to be more confident and persistent and it helped me to have a clearer vision on my professional life.."


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"



Tara Arbab, SILS/ UvA

"I signed up for the PCDI Postdoc Retreat Life Sciences 2013 towards the final stages of my PhD. Although I was pretty certain I wanted to remain in science, I primarily wanted to know what working outside of academia is like. In that regard the retreat was very useful, as industry and other organizations are well-represented. I  learned a lot from the speakers’ personal stories, which exemplified different career paths in- and outside of academia, and what exactly your possibilities as a scientist are. 

What I had not expected, however, is that the retreat also really helped me organize and prioritize my own thoughts to gain a better perspective of what I want for myself, and how best to get there. For this I benefited a great deal from the workshops, as well as simply having the time and space to discuss and interact with like-minded people in a conducive atmosphere. I walked away with a much clearer picture of my future, and therefore would greatly recommend this experience to anyone!"


Ana Rodrigues, Tissue Regeneration, University of Twente

"As a PhD candidate at University of Twente I participated in the PCDI Retreat 2014 in order to have some time to focus and think about my future career path. I needed some time off from my daily routine to get a more clear view of my options and tastes for my future professional path. I heard from a colleague who participated in a previous retreat that the retreat was completely worth to go not only for the interesting program but also for the environment and the discussions with other colleagues with the same doubts and thoughts.

My first impression of the retreat was the relaxed and open-minded atmosphere along with the feeling of 'we are all in the same boat'. The program gave us the opportunity to listen not only the career but also the private life perspective of successful professionals from different areas. For me it was very valuable to understand there are so many different options for a future career and to see that also the mistakes are part of the path to success.

The retreat gave me a new mindset to face the steps I still have to face and I would surely recommend young scientists to take part in this retreat."



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!"



Bram Verhaagen, Department of Science and Technology, University of Twente

"In 2012 I took part in the PCDI Postdoc Retreat for STEM after an information email sent around in the university. I had just finished my PhD and got a one-year extension of my project. While it was already clear to me that I liked the applied part of research and that I preferred to continue in industry rather than academics, I went to the postdoc retreat to get a clearer overview of the options and career paths available in industry as well as academia, and to follow some workshops for personal development.

For me the talks from people from industry were most interesting, specifically those about start-up companies. For most speakers, there was not always an outlined career plan, but people took ‘trains that passed by’. For me, one of those trains was just passing as I had the opportunity to co-create a spin-off company but I was still doubting about this possibility. However sometimes you just have to take that train and see where it goes – there are often new trains leaving from where this one stops. After the retreat I decided to take this train and so far this has turned out well, as we have just received a start-up grant for our spin-off company.

I enjoyed the unrushed atmosphere at the retreat, as well as the talks with the other participants, who often had the same questions or doubts as I did. Being at the retreat helped me to take my mind off the actual research and just focus on my career, and I got a clearer idea of my current position and possible future directions, and all that in a great environment"