Skolar Award 2017 winner Johan Seijsing shares his story.

Taking a leap of faith, making it through insecurity, facing nervouseness, rehearsing, rehearsing… Skolar Award winner from 2017 Johan Seijsing shares his experience.

johan

"Last year I applied  for the research pitching competition Skolar Award. A few weeks after I sent in my application I was called up from a foreign number.

My instinctive feeling when getting these types of calls is to get to know what they are selling and end the call fast! Going out from the lunch room I barely heard what the lady on the other end of the line was saying. After a while it dawned on me that I had been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the Skolar Award!

My first reaction was worry and anxiety: this would give me even more work to do. And standing in front of thousands of people? What had I got myself into?After thinking about it for a while I soon realized this was a really good opportunity and I should go all in!

Getting my pitch on

A month before the final pitch we had a kick-off and got instructions for preparing our pitches. Now was the time to make the slides of the pitch. A week later we had a coaching session over Skype and the coaches of Skolar gave us recommendations on the pitch. Another week later the final presentation was sent over. Yet a week later we had the pitching training, information, media training and dress rehearsal in Helsinki.

The dress rehearsal did not go very well.I did not finish on time and felt unsure what to say. I had not rehearsed my manuscript enough. By this time, I had realized that memorizing a script was not my thing. Good I didn’t try to become an actor!

On top of that I felt a bit uncomfortable with a regular microphone in my hand. I have never really learnt to handle one properly. With this realization I removed a slide from the pitch, rewrote the manuscript slightly and rehearsed. Over and over again. It seemed to work well.

The grand finale

Arriving at Slush on the day of the pitch I see lights, lasers and a lot of people. I’m feeling quite OK walking around at the conference, but as soon as I enter the backstage area the air is thick with nervousness. However, there is a really good supportive vibe among the participants and Skolar Award coaches.

Time goes fast. Soon the microphone headsets are on and the show starts. There are high fives and hugs in the backstage area. I have a crippling tingling feeling in my arms and try to jump up and down to get my blood pressure up.Martti is the first one to go on stage.

I’m the second. To keep the energy up I’m running out the first half of the catwalk and then walk onto the round stage. To my surprise the first slide isn’t showing. I’m looking backwards towards the backstage area to see if they’re going to change it, and when I try to switch they are doing it at the same time in the backstage, which results in that I skip the first slide and need to go back. Not a great start, but after that I went on autopilot. The questions were answered. The pitch was done!

And the winner is...

Back in the backstage area there was a sense of excitement among everyone. ​“How was it?!” “Who is out now?” Being back there was a great relief.

After having seen all the pitches at the dress rehearsal I didn’t have much hope, but now that the pitch went really well maybe there was a tiny chance after all. Finally, the name of the winner was called out and it was me!?

For the next hour I felt a bit like a flipper ball bouncing around. Back on stage, short interview, flowers, gigantic check, photos, back backstage, longer interview, more photos, out behind backstage, more photos, finally some time to eat and relax, calling up family and friends, new interview and off to have dinner with the other participants!

Life as the winner

The Skolar Award grant came just in time! When I won the competition I only had one month left on my scholarships. While I find it fairly easy, or at least possible, to get grants for projects I find it really hard to get grants for salaries. The Skolar Award grant fills a large gap and allows postdocs to perform their own independent research.

I'm working on the development of protein-based antimicrobials for treatment of antibiotic resistant infections. Within this field I’m developing tools to engineer antimicrobial proteins, investigating ways to prime our own immune system to attack bacteria, discovering new bacteria-killing enzymes, creating infection protective coatings for implants, increasing the therapeutic window of drugs etc.

Right now we are in a phase when it is time to publish many of our achievements. For me as a scientist, the next step is to get one of the larger establishment grants to be able to finally found my own group.

What Skolar Award gave me

To sum things up. During Skolar Award I got to do a lot of new things; like thoroughly craft and practice my pitch. I have held a lot of presentations in academic settings, like in-house at the university or at conferences, but this was really taking it one step further in many regards. The Skolar coaches were very supportive and there was a nice friendly atmosphere among the participants. I would really recommend other postdocs to take the chance to apply! The experience will be very different from your ordinary work day!"

What you should know as an applicant

Skolar Award is a research pitching competition for postdoctoral researchers at the beginning stages of their career. The finals are held at Slush, the biggest startup event in the Nordics on the 5th of December, 2018. The Skolar coaches are professional communications experts from Skolar Award host organisation Kaskas Media.

Application is open from 15th May until 17th September 2018. Read more.

Text: Johan Seijsing