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SKilled, Innovative & Entrepreneurial Scientists

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SKIES (SKilled, Innovative & Entrepreneurial Scientists)

Reporting period: 2021-03-01 to 2022-08-31

The SKIES developed training on innovation, entrepreneurship and open science topics, to close the skills gap between academia and industry and improve the employability of graduate students. This training was targeted to astronomy PhD students and early-career researchers in Germany, Poland, Portugal, South Africa and The Netherlands. The training modules were wdeveloped in a co-creation process involving local trainers from all of the project countries. These trainers were repared to implement the training in their home country during a Train-the-Trainer event. Training opportunities for PhD students in each country were organised with support from the WP leads and coordinator. The training was complemented with a mentoring programme, where students are matched with a suitable mentor. To support the involved higher education institutes after the lifetime of the project, as well as other interested organisations, the educational materials will be consolidated into an open-access mini Online Open Course.

The SKIES goals were:
1. To collaboratively develop, deliver and assess training modules for astronomy PhD students and young researchers to close the open science and entrepreneurship skills gap between employment in academia and beyond.
2. To establish collaborations between academia and innovation and entrepreneurship stakeholders to improve skills intelligence, skills visibility and comparability for better career choices and possibilities of PhD graduates.
3. To develop and implement an assessment framework for the impact of SKIES and disseminate the findings and resources that are developed.
During the whole project duration of March 2021 to August 2022, SKIES reached 9 out of 9 milestones, submitted 16 out of the 16 deliverables and carried out the implementation of all project activities.

The project started with an online kick-off meeting in March 2021 with all the partners. During the first weeks, the Project Board (PB) has been established, including one person from each consortium partner, as well as an Advisory Board (AB) with representatives from astronomy research and higher education, the space sector, innovation and entrepreneurship. Regular meetings are organised with both boards (every 3 months with the PB and 6 months with the AB) and among the Work Package leads (once per two weeks). Internal communication tools have been established to ensure efficient communication and sharing of progress.

Besides, during the first months, a Data Management Plan was developed alongside the ethics guidelines to ensure all (personal) data obtained in WP4 on evaluation and impact assessment will be handled and stored in a secure way. The research tools and strategy for WP4 have also been developed and the impact of the training and mentoring activities has been assessed in the second half of the project. Under WP5 on communication and exploitation, a Communication and Dissemination Plan and strategy were developed with input from all partners as well as guidelines on equity, diversity and inclusion. A visual identity has been created and one of the partners’ websites is used as the central external communication platform. The main project outputs were communicated to various target audiences across several dissemination channels.

The first half of the SKIES project was dedicated to WP2 Course Development and preparing for the implementation of SKIES training courses in each country involved in the project. A minimum of 2 local trainers were selected by each partner and these trainers subsequently performed a local ecosystem scan to assess existing entrepreneurship education, stakeholders and opportunities in their area to complement or collaborate with. The WP leads organised a hybrid Train-the-Trainer event for the local trainers, which took place in the Netherlands and online. In 4 days, the local trainers were taught in an interactive and hands-on way about open science, innovation and entrepreneurship, and how to engage astronomy students with these topics in a training. At the end of the event, they developed a draft roadmap for local implementation in each country and had a list of resources and exercises that could be used.

The second half of the project focused on the final preparations and implementation of the local SKIES training course in each consortium country. 5 workshops were held, reaching a total of 127 PhD students and young researchers. WP2 and WP3 leads supported the local trainers in the further development of the local training course in online meetings. Each country involved in the project had the flexibility to tailor the course content and setup to the local needs and opportunities. Most of the partners reached out to the astronomy PhD students in their country to understand their needs, in order to take these into account in the development of the local programme. Alongside the development of the local programmes, WP3 set up a mentoring programme by doing a needs assessment across the partners and preparing the necessary infrastructures, such as sign-up sheets and a registration process within the website’s CRM system. Participants of the training had the option of taking part in a mentoring programme until the end of the project to continue their professional development.

In the final phase of the SKIES project, the findings were consolidated into an impact assessment report which will be submitted to an open-access journal (see deliverable 4.4). The mOOC was developed based on the SKIES materials and published on the IAU website for anyone to use. In this way, the project will benefit not only the consortium partners, but also reach the wider academic community, HEIs and anyone else interested in incorporating open science, innovation and entrepreneurship into the higher education curriculum. These two project outputs were disseminated widely across the channels and networks of the consortium. The online and offline communication actions reached a total of more than 130.000 people (see deliverable 5.3).
The astronomy PhD students and young PostDocs involved in the SKIES training courses were equipped with transferable and entrepreneurial skills that are relevant for any career in academia and beyond. They also got ample opportunities to network with industry stakeholders to obtain a better understanding of the job market for astronomers. In all of these concepts, a focus was put on using your knowledge and skills for societal benefit. This will strengthen their career choices and contribute to closing the skills gap between research graduates and careers in the private and public sectors. Moreover, the consortium partners worked on integrating this training in their HEIs so that there is a solid foundation for the training of future generations of astronomy students and young researchers. During the course of the project, all of the HEIs developed new partnerships with local (space) industry and companies, or expanded existing ones. Such sustainable partnerships between universities and the entrepreneurial ecosystem around them will help young researchers to transfer to suitable non-academic careers and maintain a high-quality in the entrepreneurial training.

Ultimately, these actions and partnerships that were developed during the SKIES project will positively impact the employability of young researchers, as well as their ability to contribute to the society and economy during their career paths.
SKIES training South Africa - group photo
SKIES training Netherlands - plenary lecture
SKIES training Netherlands - group exercises
SKIES training South Africa - winning business pitch
SKIES training Portugal - ideation session
SKIES training Poland - ideation canvas exercise