ITMO: ITMO University to Host Second PI School by SCAMT

ITMO’s will once again hold a summer school for young scholars who want to found and develop their own laboratories. This year, the event is organized in partnership with the Russian-based oil and gas company Tatneft. Future PIs and experts will gather at the company’s corporate university in Almetyevsk to discuss how to start a career in science and where to find academic and industry partners. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming event.

A principal investigator or PI is an individual who not simply heads a laboratory but conducts a wide range of tasks, from posing scientific objectives, generating hypotheses, and leading cutting-edge research to dealing with administrative matters, including team recruitment and management, cooperation with industry, and educational curatorship.

“We’ve been holding winter and summer schools for Bachelor’s and Master’s students for several years now and only a few years ago we started to think about organizing an event like for PhD students, too. Before that, they could only participate in conferences and advance in the academic field but the PI School became their chance to work on industrial projects, network with other scientists, and learn how to create and manage their own laboratories,” stresses Polina Khapaeva, the director for development at SCAMT Institute.

SCAMT Institute organizes the school for the second time. , the school received 150 applications, out of which 40 researchers from 30 Russian regions were selected to attend a week-long course at ITMO.

“We have a community of graduates who still remain in touch, help each other, and meet at various specialized events. Some of them will be teaching students of the Master’s program, while others will be our school experts this year,” adds Polina Khapaeva.

The school will take place in Almetyevsk from June 27 to July 3. The co-organizers of the event are Almetyevsk State Oil Institute and the Tatneft company.

“Almetyevsk will soon become home to a unique campus of the Higher School of Oil due to its size and facilities, which will bring together education, industry, and science represented by Almetyevsk State Oil Institute, TatNIPIneft, and institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). The top priority of the Higher School of Oil is science. We believe that it’s scientific research that will help us take off globally. The campus needs people who will be able to lead its research activities, and we, in turn, will provide the conditions necessary for their professional and personal growth. In particular, the construction of new and comfortable houses on campus is already in progress,” notes Alexander Dyakonov, the rector of Almetyevsk State Oil Institute.

The best graduates will have the chance to found their laboratories in a novel world-class biotech center currently developed within Almetyevsk State Oil Institute and try their hand at creating a joint Master’s program between the institute, Tatneft, and ITMO University.

“Our ambitions go straight in line with the idea behind the PI School, that is, to train heads of next-gen laboratories who will be able to work at the forefront of science, develop effective communication, promptly put together teams, look for funding, and negotiate with industrial partners. We expect that this project will help us prepare the first group of lab leaders who will then find new PIs to fulfill the company’s tasks and always be on the scientific frontier,” says Andrey Glazkov, the head of Tatneft’s HR Department.

How to apply
The school is designed for PhD graduates who defended their thesis not earlier than in 2016 and current PhD students in their final years of studies who have a background in natural sciences: biotechnology, physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, or IT. The main criteria, however, will be the candidates’ motivation to establish their own laboratories in Russia.

The call for applications is open till May 10. To join the school, prospective students should fill out an application form on the and submit their CV and letter of motivation (in Russian). A CV must include information about the candidate’s education (their specialization, university, year of graduation, and degree), work experience, scientific interests, publications, certificates of participation in academic conferences, etc.

In their letter of motivation, prospective students should explain why they want to join the school, how it will help them in the future, and what makes them stand out among other candidates. The organizers encourage participants to submit video applications, which will be considered in the first place. Those who plan to take part in the contest to create and receive support for their future laboratories should also briefly describe the concept of their project.

The list of selected participants will be announced in late May. The participation, including a transfer from Kazan, Bugulma, Nizhnekamsk, or Ufa to Almetyevsk, and accommodation is free of charge.

Learning process
After the selection, participants will be asked to fill out the so-called self-determination maps and answer four sets of questions about themselves and their laboratories (current or potential). These questions will be related to science and education, as well as cooperation with industry and management. Participants may be asked to comment on what makes their work unique, whether they’re eager to design educational programs, who they’d like to collaborate with, etc. The organizers will refer to candidates’ maps to learn more about each participant and adapt the school’s program for their needs. At the same time, the school’s experts will provide feedback before and during the course, thus allowing researchers to adjust their initial plans and use them to create their roadmaps.

This year, the school will invite not only local experts but also specialists from Moscow, Kaliningrad, Irkutsk, and Kazan to deliver lectures and workshops for students. There will also be staff members from RAS branches and representatives of the Tatneft company. Within a week, participants will have classes in four tracks: science, management, industry, and education. During these classes, they will learn how to identify prospects in various scientific fields, manage projects and publications, develop Master’s programs, form teams, and attract investments. What’s more, the organizers will hold a few sessions during which researchers will be separated into small groups to discuss their cases with experts.

On the last day of classes, participants will defend their roadmaps in front of the expert board. Aspiring PIs who will present exciting new research and a clear plan on how they will launch and develop their world-class laboratories will have the chance to participate in the contest, which will let them implement their projects at the institute’s biotech center. Contestants will have mentors by their side who will help them polish their ideas so that they could then present them to representatives of the center and the Tatneft company.