Big Data is good for physicists and physicists are a good fit for Big Data

A packed audience and a rich variety of questions pre-loaded on the Q&A app used to engage also with the Alumni connected from outside CERN: this was the beginning of the second seminar of the “Moving out of Academia” series organised by the Office of Alumni Relations at CERN.

The five panellists and the moderator of the "Moving out of Academia to....Big Data" event for CERN Alumni. From left to right: Davide Gerbaudo, RIkard Sanbdstrom, Imai Jen-La Plante, Boris Mangano, Fatima Soomro, Andrew Purcell (Moderator).


The “Moving out of Academia to Big Data” event brought together more than 150 alumni or soon-to-be alumni who are considering moving out of academia but want to keep working with  Big Data as they have been doing during their academic experience.


The five speakers presented their own career moves as examples of successful transitions. They described their typical day at work and discussed how to prepare for interviews, how to translate their CV into something that works well in the world of big data and what kind of challenges a “newcomer” should expect from this sector. The discussion was enriched by the contributions from the panellists’ guests, all from companies working with Big Data, they were able to clarify what skills they look for, share practical tips which work well and which aspects of a CV are most regarded as key in the private sector.


Indeed, researchers seem to be very well equipped when they decide to make their career evolve towards the field of Big Data. Scientists, in particular those who have been at CERN, are used to working in teams, are up to challenges and complex problems solving, and have mastered data analysis tools. On the other hand, it was also clear from the discussion that some companies might prefer to hire people who are proficient in some specific data handling tools, whereas others look more for the right soft skills, enthusiasm and overall profile and allow time for the specific training that they might need. So, the key is to understand fully what a given company is looking for before applying for the job. Since a successful transition process must be very specific, it might be useful to learn some of the core tools before going for the interview; you may find yourself in competition with other applicants with knowledge of the data stack used by the company and who can be operational the day after they are hired. Give yourself that edge and invest time in learning those tools too.


The CV is important as it is the way to get an interview. Some of the speakers reported that they had sent over 50 CVs before receiving a positive answer, and this positive answer had come only after they had clarified for themselves what type of job they wanted and which type of company they would want to work for. And the landscape has changed for physicists as up to a few years ago they were basically the only ones dealing with Big Data but today the academic world offers dedicated diplomas and higher education in this field.


Speakers also pointed out the importance of networking, a process that should start as soon as one starts considering a career transition. Obviously, the CERN Alumni Network plays a key role there as the 3600 members share their job and training opportunities, news and updates, tips and advice.


The feedback received was extremely positive and a huge applause thanked the speakers all of whom actively engaged during the networking sessions with members of the audience. Why not carry on the conversation on All the presentations are available on the Indico page, where you will also be able to find the recording in a few days.


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