Erik Werner

Erik took a short-term position after his doctorate to support the formation of a consortium. Currently he works as Project Manager for the Medical Research Council's Clinical Sciences Centre.

"I was awarded my doctorate at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and the Free University Berlin (Germany). My research project was in biophysics and involved crystal structures of biological macromolecules.

"Previously I studied chemistry in Germany. I first came across molecular genetics and protein chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, as an exchange student.

"I now work in research management as the project manager of the European Union’s 6th Framework Programme Integrated Project, ‘EURATools’. I support the scientific co-ordination of the project with seventeen partner institutes in eight countries. My main activities include reporting, event organisation, networking, integration and communication.

"I took a short-term position after my doctorate to support the formation of a consortium. The 6th Framework Programme had just started to support the co-ordination of large scale projects financially, and I supported group leaders with the preparation of project proposals. One was awarded a grant, which is how I made the decision to continue with research management rather than pursuing a scientific career.

"The institute employed me as group leader responsible for extramural funding within the finance department. I helped to prepare the proposal for the project I now manage.

"My broad scientific education helps me to be a competent communication partner within the research project. However, the specific research I did for my doctorate thesis is of limited importance to my work. More important is my development from being a student to a (somewhat) independent researcher. This has enabled me to think in a structured manner, plan and execute a project, question and verify the outcome, solve unexpected problems, write scientific documents (publications, thesis and later grant proposals), disseminate and present the results. The interdisciplinary character of my education has helped me to think ‘outside the box’ and has formed the basis for a network of colleagues. My doctorate helps to ensure that I am taken seriously by high-ranking scientists.

"It seems that not many researchers have a clear vision for their future life and their scientific career when they begin their doctorate. More important than the specific field is the quality of support and leadership skills of the supervisor and the working environment, including the training possibilities, the reputation of the institution (which creates important contacts and opens doors later), the people, the research infrastructure and the support services.

"For me it is important to remain flexible and open to all kinds of different things. Many useful qualifications, even if they are not always essential, contribute greatly to one’s development into a highly-skilled professional with wide areas of expertise.

"I gained a lot by attending non-scientific courses on career development, time management, administrative and financial skills, and a management course. In addition, networking with people with different areas of expertise has always proved invaluable. Nobody will ever know everything, so having the capacity to find the best person to help you out with a problem cannot be underestimated."