To the SKIES and Beyond: Developing Entrepreneurial Skills for Astronomy Researchers

1 September 2022

Over the past 18 months, Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship has been engaged in skills training for astronomy PhD students, young researchers and local trainers in collaboration with partners* across 5 countries in Europe and South Africa. The EU-funded project SKIES (SKilled, Innovative and Entrepreneurial Scientists) helped equip around 130 PhD students and young researchers in the field of astronomy with a new set of skills integrating open science, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Innovative thinking and knowledge of open science are assets for any research career. However, given that approximately 10% of astronomy doctoral graduates will remain in academia**, there is a real need to avert a skills gap in order to ensure that graduate students are equipped with the skills they need to successfully enter the workforce. The employment opportunities of graduate students can be enhanced through knowledge of entrepreneurship by bringing a range and depth of expertise beyond traditional academic programmes to employers. Graduates can then utilise this additional expertise in their careers, benefiting both the public and private sectors.  

Helping students prepare for careers within and beyond academia 

The SKIES project kicked off in March 2021 with a local ecosystem scan of the higher education institutions involved to assess existing entrepreneurship education, stakeholders and opportunities in the area to complement or collaborate with. This was followed by a Train the Trainer programme to build the capacity of the teaching staff in each partner country so that they have the knowledge and tools to not only co-create training modules to suit their local context but also to continue the programme beyond the lifetime of the project. 

After the local SKIES trainings in Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Portugal and Poland, most students indicated that they improved their knowledge in open science, entrepreneurship and innovation and consider it relevant to their careers. They especially valued the diversity of topics & speakers, the interactive and hands-on approach as well as how tailored it was to their astronomy background. The students reflected that their next steps are to explore (entrepreneurship) opportunities in and outside academia. The trainings inspired students to learn more about open science, innovation & entrepreneurship. One student specifically mentioned that: 

“The focus on entrepreneurship and business helped me think about career options outside of academia more positively and proactively.”

Overall, the local trainings exceeded expectations and helped the students feel more confident about their skills and are more positive about their futures.    

This training was the seed that made me explore starting my own company and creating the future I want for myself.” 

Beyond SKIES

On top of the local training programmes, the students had opportunities to network with industry stakeholders to obtain a better understanding of the job market for astronomers. They had the option to take part in a mentoring programme to continue their professional development. Local mentor networks including industry professionals were established to support long-term collaborations between academia and innovation and entrepreneurship stakeholders. 

A mini online open course (mOOC) – “A short introduction to entrepreneurship for astronomers” has been developed to support local trainers with future implementations or iterations of the training programmes. It also provides other higher education institutes with extensive resources, tools and additional reading materials to get started on developing their own workshops on open science, innovation and entrepreneurship for astronomy PhD students and young researchers.  

If you are interested in how we can support your organisation with entrepreneurship and innovation programmes, get in touch with Annique de Greef: 

SKIES Project links:  

* IAU E-ROAD based at Leiden University, Stichting dotSPACE, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, University of Cape Town, Polish Astronomical Society, Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço 


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