Forget me not; our plant and microbial alumni

Beginning life as an old, rather out of date database of a few names, our alumni network has been given a new lease of life by a project to reinvigorate our relationship with our alumni.

The project is managed by our Alumni Officer, Sally Hines and through her work the network now consists a growing network people that have previously worked or studied at the John Innes Centre, or its previous incarnations.

We sat down with Sally to find out what’s next for the John Innes Centre alumni network, who we’d like to hear from and how you can get back in touch with your friends and former colleagues.

“There has been an intention to have an alumni network at the John Innes Centre for several years, but it finally launched, very quietly, in February 2020.

Back then, we had around 80 people in an old database. This was as our starting point. Through 2020 we worked behind the scenes to develop a plan for finding and engaging with alumni around the world. We launched the new network, building webpages, sending out emails and newsletters and encouraging people to join on social media.

But the real growth in numbers has come from existing staff speaking to their friends and colleagues who have gone elsewhere, and sharing via word of mouth. This plus some social media activity and we’re now up to almost 400 signed up members.

We’re not stopping there though, there are plenty more alumni out there, we just need to find them.

Anyone that has worked or studied at John Innes Centre is welcome to join the network, this includes visiting workers or those that have trained with us in other countries. It is really easy to join up – just fill out an online form, or drop us an email.

By joining you’ll be able to opt into receiving the Alumni newsletter, a quarterly bulletin of updates and shared stories, plus we’ll invite you to events, share your news, and connect you with other alumni and our current staff and students.

Membership gives you a direct connection to the institute, through this you can get involved with activities like career sessions, find out what’s going on, hear about our research breakthroughs and share your stories. We love to hear what our alumni have been up to and we are keen to share our knowledge with you, and your stories with the network and with our current staff.

On our alumni web pages, available to everyone, there is a growing collection of alumni stories and a map that shows where everyone in the network is now based.

By joining the network you also support the future of John Innes Centre, we use your data (with your consent) to update our funders and to ensure that we showcase the value of the training, research and opportunities here in Norwich. We also hope to be able to connect you with our current staff and students to instigate new research projects, initiatives and collaborations.

Starting a new alumni network just before a pandemic has been challenging, it has limited the amount of interaction we have been able to do so far. We’ve not been able to arrange meet-ups or invite members of the network to events on site.

However, one of the great bonuses of the pandemic has been the virtual Friday Seminars. With assistance from Sarah Tolland and Naomi Wang we have been able to invite our members to join the seminars which has been really well received.

Friday Seminars and the Rec Centre are often high on the list of things fondly remembered by our alumni, being able to open up at least one of these to more people has been really exciting.

We were also able to involve the network in an Oral History project, funded by the John Innes Foundation. We received some brilliant responses to our call for recollections, memories and stories from the John Innes, and were even able to turn one about cricket teas and PhDs into a blog that we shared with everyone.

The network’s members includes diverse people, working in a wide range of careers based right around the globe.

Taking a looking into the different roles represented, many of our alumni continue in academic research, but a large number have moved into non-research roles including considerable numbers working in the fields of science communication, Government and policy, education and into role across industry.

This data is really useful because it allows us to demonstrate the impact of John Innes Centre training and research both nationally and internationally, but also allows our alumni to keep up to date with what is happening at the John Innes Centre. When we hear about the successes and achievements, new jobs and milestones we feel proud of all the amazing things that our alumni are doing.

Recently, we have begun to reconnect with alumni through a new series of lunchtime career sessions; one-hour, informal virtual sessions open to all staff and students on the Norwich Research Park, themed to focus on different career areas and the diversity of career paths.

The first event was themed on science communication, and the next is focusing on science support roles. We have plans for sessions in the coming months on government, policy and education role, which we’d encourage our alumni to join.

We continue to develop different ways to connect with our alumni, and we hope in the future to be able to bring people together at events both on site in Norwich, or further afield in regions where we have clusters of past staff and students.

We’d love to host an ‘Alumni Day’ at some point in the future, but for the moment we’re focussing on expanding virtual events like the lunchtime careers sessions, and our next aim is to set up an informal mentoring group.”

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