BPC Newsletter January 2017

Welcome back readers and welcome to 2017! We start this year off with articles on:

This edition of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council Newsletter focuses on postdoc life at Penn; from community Gardening ,  recipes to make your own bitters,  to resources on how to manage stress as a postdoc.

These topics include:




We hope that the ideas and resources that we present are helpful to the postdoctoral community both here at Penn and across the U.S. Please click the link below to access the issue.


Nehal R. Solanki Patel, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Biomedical Postdoctoral Council Newsletter

BPC Newsletter Spring 2017  Issue:

You can access the PDF here: https://goo.gl/NoSxbF

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A Look Back: The Fifteenth Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium

By Natoya Peart, Ph.D, Correspondence: npeart@mail.med.upenn.edu

Photos provided by Dr. Benjamin Cieply, Ph.D.

The 1st of November in 2016 was a cooler than usual fall day, with an overcast sky. It was my first day as a postdoctoral fellow at the university of Pennsylvania and it also happened to be the day of the fifteenth annual Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium. The Symposium was held at the Smilow Center for Translational Research and featured a program comprised of competitive platform and poster sessions. The 2016 symposium featured work done by postdoctoral scientists from the Wistar Institute, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and from schools within the University of Pennsylvania, including the Perelman School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Engineering, and the School of Veterinary Medicine. The symposium chairs Dr. Benjamin Cieply and Dr. Glenna Brewster in collaboration with Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC) Symposium Committee and the Biomedical Editors Committee, reviewed eighty-two abstracts of which eight were selected for platform talks, and one for the Sanjeev Kumar Memorial Lecture. The Sanjeev Kumar Memorial Lecture given in memory of Dr. Kumar, a former postdoctoral fellow at University of Pennsylvania by Dr. Reeti Behera on the “role of Klotho in age-related melanoma progression and resistance therapy”.

      Both Dr. Cieply and Dr. Brewster highlighted the crucial role of the committee members and the BPP office in planning the event. Moreover, Dr. Cieply shared that appointing individual members of the committee specific roles ensured that responsibilities in planning the symposium were not overwhelming. In particular he suggested that for future symposiums the practice of appointing specific roles to the members of the BPC Symposium Committee will be continued. Drs. Brewster and Cieply noted that overall goals of the symposium were in line with goals of previous years, showcasing the research of the postdocs, encouraging discourse, and possible collaborations among them, their colleagues, and faculty.

      Overall, the symposium was a success with the keynote address being given by renowned molecular biologist Dr. Richard Morimoto of Northwestern University. The Biomedical Postdoctoral Fellows were invited to submit nominations for the Keynote speaker, and Dr. Morimoto was invited to give the keynote address based his “broadly applicable research interests, great success in both academia and industry, outstanding presentation skills and passion for training and career progression of scientists.” Dr. Cieply noted that Dr. Morimoto was a “great choice”. His passion for science and mentorship was evident during talk. His interaction with the postdoctoral researchers during the lunch session was full of useful advice for junior scientists.

         Following the keynote address, the awards were given for the first and second place in the platform session. Seventy poster sessions were judged and top three posters were picked based on their novelty, talent, and scientific significance. In addition to the awards for the poster and platform session, an award was issued to acknowledge the role of the mentor in the biomedical postdoctoral career.


       The symposium closed out with a reception allowing the participants to socialize over food and wine, but despite the success of the event there were a few disappointments. In particular, it was noted that there was a drop in attendance at the second platform session post-lunch, which could be planned better in 2017 by rearranging the schedule and promoting the event more.

Correspondence: npeart@mail.med.upenn.edu

Talking Science 101: Saying All of the Science with None of The Jargon

By Chris Edwards, Ph.D.   Correspondence: credwards@gmail.com

Have you ever been asked how the body grows blood cells, how stars form, or what roams the ocean depths? Importantly, can you explain to laypeople how scientists address these questions? Importantly, can you explain to laypeople how scientists address these questions? With such knowledge, the public could understand the benefits of science and recognize the threats presented by pseudoscience. Unfortunately, many people comprehend neither the language nor methods of science and scientists generally receive little guidance in how to explain these concepts to them. Even worse, this lack of communications training excludes researchers from many non-academic careers and makes conversing with funding sources challenging. Thus, young scientists must learn to communicate their research in plain language and one opportunity to do this in Philadelphia is Start Talking Science (STS). STS is a science outreach program created in 2014 by Drexel University professor and physicist Dr. Christina Love. It consists of a science communications training workshop followed by a poster session where scientists present their work to the public. To participate, science, technology, engineering, and math researchers submit a non-technical research summary. If accepted, they then submit a poster free of jargon that is designed for a lay audience. Participants next attend a two-hour workshop where they and communications coaches work in small groups to critique each other’s posters and determine how to best explain their research. Finally, revised posters are presented at the public poster session. I participated in the third STS program in 2016, submitting the summary in May, drafting the poster in July, and attending the workshop in August. While participating in this program, it became rapidly obvious that the communications strategy employed in it would have to differ from what I learned in graduate school. Writing in the research world is technical and results-oriented; the reader is assumed to be a fellow expert. Scientific jargon, however, is an obstacle for laypeople. “The language that we use is the intimidating part,” noted University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) biomedical graduate student and STS participant Katherine Palozola. “If you start with definitions and explaining the jargon to them and use that as your building block, then I think you’ll be surprised how easily people pick up on the ideas and can follow you.”

c-edwards-1       Emphasis can also be placed on the background, research question, and methods rather than the complex technical results. In my poster for example, which concerned alternative splicing in developing red blood cells, I focused on explaining what blood cells do, what genes and gene transcripts are, and how we acquire blood cells and gene transcripts from laboratory animals. A pair of heat maps concluded the poster to show what actual data looks like and to illustrate what we learned.

      The workshop critiques covered clarity of concept, poster organization and aesthetics, and how much emphasis to give to the background, methods, and results. Importantly, the presenters’ and coaches’ expertise were extremely varied; nobody was an expert in anyone else’s field. My group, for example, which was comprised of three presenters and two coaches, included a computer scientist, an astronomer, a physicist, a communications expert, and myself, a molecular biologist. We could thus judge one another’s posters from a non-expert perspective and the resulting advice was very beneficial. As Katherine recalled, “there was two sides to it [my poster] and I ended up inverting them because of the comments I received at that session. It turned out to be much more clear, and I [had originally] thought I had a really clear poster.”c-edwards-2

        The poster session was held on the evening of September 27th, 2016 at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. 24 posters were presented and over one hundred individuals attended. While many presenters represented UPenn, others hailed from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, Temple University, Thomas Jefferson University, Haverford College, the University of Delaware, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Topics in biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy, oceanography, and computer science were covered, and there was a heavy focus on biomedical research. Interactions with attendees were quite varied, with some progressing through the whole poster and others focusing on the background or methods. Perhaps most rewarding were the conversations on topics that were related to, but not directly addressed, by the poster. For example, one of my figures illustrated the different blood cells that arise from stem cells, prompting one attendee to inquire about the nature of stem cells. Another figure explaining gene transcript splicing prompted a conversation about how the proteins that splice RNA are themselves created from RNAs. Both young and adult science-enthusiasts benefitted from this event. “I thought it was a great opportunity for people in the community of all ages to learn about science…” noted Abigail Behrends, communications coordinator for the UPenn Institute for Regenerative Medicine and co-presenter with Katherine.

“I don’t think they [laypeople] have the opportunity often to do anything other than google. To actually talk to a human being I think is an important interaction, an important way to learn.”

      “We had a five-year-old come to our poster, who was the most interesting person to talk to the entire night!” Finally, for scientists in attendance and those presenting, the diversity of topics gave them a chance to leave their comfort zone and explore new fields. As attendee and Drexel University neutrino physicist Dr. Yung-Ruey Yen noted, “it was actually more interesting to see the stuff outside of the usual physical sciences.. to see what’s going on in biology.”

       The benefits of the poster session and communications coaching were numerous. Presenters learned to strip their research down to the basic concepts and explain it without jargon. Attendees learned about actual research occurring around Philadelphia and got to inquire about whatever topics were on their minds. Researchers were reminded that science extends beyond their niches. Most important of all, it was an opportunity for laypeople to interact with actual scientists. As Katherine noted, “I don’t think they [laypeople] have the opportunity often to do anything other than google. To actually talk to a human being I think is an important interaction, an important way to learn.” Scientists and laypeople will have additional chances to interact during future STS events.

20160927_195948-sts-posterFor more information, visit:


www.facebook.com/starttalkingscience sts-2016-flyer



Correspondence: credwards@gmail.com


A Community Garden at Penn: Greener Postdocs are Happier Postdocs


By T. Cathopoulis, Ph.D. Correspondence: terca@mail.med.upenn.edu

A Biomedical Postdoctoral council (BPC) project put forth by the Environmental Action Committee initiation to go greener. The idea was to find a space on campus that could be used for community members to garden in the hopes of offsetting their food costs as well as positively impacting the environment. This is the initiative’s first year and we put up a small pilot garden just outside Clinical Research Building (CRB) to see if the area was conducive to growing the types of crops people might be interested in. As a test, and out of personal interest, I tried a number of chili pepper varieties (cayenne, goat, fish, habanero, and moruga scorpian) as I figured sub-tropical species might be the most difficult. We were surprised at how successful we were, yields overcame expectations by wide margins. We were able to successfully maintain stocks of several common kitchen herbs (chives, parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and oregano). We also successfully grew tomatoes, but the squirrels on campus proved to be adversarial. In the future, certain crops will require caging and BPC is actively looking for volunteers, green thumb or not. img_2149

A least successful crop type was melon. Two varieties were attempted and neither flourished. I believe the area has proven itself though and perhaps a more adept hand could see them grow successfully. For next year, we hope to install more permanent fixtures, such as planting beds, and to try other crops. I’d really like to try a potato planter as they can be constructed vertically and would be an efficient use of space. Email me to get involved in making our community greener.

Correspondence: terca@mail.med.upenn.edu

A Penn Postdoc and BPC Co-President: Farewell, Doreen.

Doreen Becker, Ph.D. interviewed by Nehal R. Solanki Patel

  1. How long have you worked at Penn as a postdoc? What was it like to work as a postdoc here at Penn?

I joined Penn as a postdoctoral researcher in mid-April 2014 after I finished my Ph.D. in Bern, Switzerland. Before my arrival I heard a lot about Philadelphia, Americans and their work ethic. It turned out that all this information was mostly wrong, but I did not know that back then so I had mixed feelings leaving Europe and moving over “The Big Pond”. However, the more I experienced Penn and Philadelphia the more I liked it here. My postdoc position offered me the opportunity to not only broaden my existing skills, but also helped me to acquire new skills needed for my professional development.portrait-1

  1. Do you think Penn is a good place to be for postdocs? Why?

Absolutely! Penn not only offers great research infrastructure, but also many seminars, workshops and professional groups to connect with fellow postdocs and researchers. During my postdoc appointment, I was able to learn about careers alternative to the academic track. With the office of Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) Penn has dedicated people that care about professional and personal training of Penn’s postdoctoral researchers. Furthermore, the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), one of the first volunteer postdoctoral associations in the USA, provides a community for postdocs and offers additional resources. Being involved in the BPC and working closely together with the BPP made me realize that Penn offers great opportunities for its postdoctoral fellows.

  1. You have been extremely involved in the Biomedical Postdoc Association as a co-president—how long were you a co-president for BPC, how did you get involved, and what was your experience like?

As I already mentioned, I moved here from Europe. I did not know anyone and I thought it was a good idea to go to seminars and other events that other postdocs would attend too. A lot of those events were organized by the BPC. I met people that also were new to Penn and postdocs already involved in the BPC. Shortly after that Amita, co-chair of the Foreign National Committee back then and newly elect co-president now, was looking for a co-chair and I joined the Foreign National Committee. With my growing involvement in the BPC I wanted to have a leadership role and was elected co-president in December 2015. Through BPC I met my friends and colleagues, I enhanced my communication, presentation and managing skills. But most of all, I found something rewarding besides my research.

  1. What types of activities did the BPC host and what were your favorite events?

During my almost 3 years at Penn BPC has hosted numerous events, seminars and workshops, too many to mention them all here. I have great memories of a social event during my first Holidays here in 2014, where postdocs, national and international, met and watched an American Christmas movie together. I enjoyed the “Science, Wine & Cheese” event, where postdocs competed in presenting their research in a TED-style talk and the Yards brewery tour. One of my clear favorites is the annual Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium that BPC and BPP organize. It is great to learn about the research that your fellow postdocs do and present your own work. Also enjoyable (and delicious) are the potlucks, where people share their most favorite dish. Bottom line is that there is an event/seminar/workshop for everyone’s taste from Happy Hours to professional development. Organized by the Social, Seminar, Diversity and/or Career, Enhancement & Training Committee, BPC offers a large variety of activities for the postdoc community.

  1. Did getting involved in BPC events help with the so-called “work-life balance” for you?

Yes, I met some of my dearest friends during BPC (and BPP) events. A lot of them have already transitioned to their next position and we still are in contact and meet outside of the BPC. Especially the social events give you the chance to leave the lab and meet people of your community. As mentioned above, being involved with the BPC was also very rewarding.

  1. What advice would you give to new postdocs or applicants?

I really would recommend applicants to first do their research on the lab they want to apply to and on the PI they want to work for. New postdocs should get to know the opportunities that are offered to them by Penn (Workshops, Career Services, BPC etc.) as soon as possible. Your research is important, but you should not miss out on the full Penn postdoc experience. Keep in mind that your postdoc position might not offer you all the professional and personal training that might need for your next career step.

  1. Where are you off to next and do you think postdoc-ing at Penn helped you get where you wanted to be?

I will end my postdoc position in January 2017 and will return to my home country, where I found a research assistant position at a university. My postdoc experience at Penn helped me in different ways to get that position. First, academic institutes in Europe value research experience in the US. Being able to get that experience at an academic institution with a highly respected reputation like Penn was a huge advantage. Second, being involved in the BPC let me stand out among other applicants and was a big topic during all my interviews. Third, Career Services helped me to structure my CV and practice my skype interview. And last but not least, I was able to use multiple skills that I learned during my years at Penn and in numerous workshops. All in all, my postdoc experience at Penn prepared me for my next career step.

Correspondence: dobecker@vet.upenn.edu for the content before she leaves us. Contact NehalS@mail.med.upenn.edu if you have an interesting story to tell or share your postdoc experience while at Penn.


  • First Friday’s of the Month: Postdoc Happy Hour 5-7 PM at Harvest. Look for a sign on the table and bring your non-postdoc friends to mingle with or postdocs.
  • Nerd Nite is Wednesday, Feb 1st, 7:30 PM at Frankford Hall. Cover is $5.
  • Welcome session that will take place January 28th in Anatomy Chemistry Room 349 from 1-2pm
  • Herbalist Workshop: Seasonal Depression and Anxiety. Those who are interested please submit $10 at the BPP office before 12 noon on Jan 19th 2017. See Rueben Das’s article on P.19 for more information.
  • A free Sunday tour to Pennsylvania Academy of fine arts (PAFA) to see the exhibit “World War I and American Art”. Date to be announced. Email the BPC if you are interested in joining us.flyer-welcome-session

Workplace Wisdom: Mind full or Mindful?

By Nehal R. Solanki Patel Correspondence: NehalS@mail.med.upenn.edu

Are you stressed at work? Is workplace politics bothering you? Boss thinks of you as a data-generating robot and can’t handle the pressure anymore? Workplace can be filled with stress, drama-queens, egos, and negative emotions that challenge a productive and happy work atmosphere. Both employees and employers have recently adopted mindfulness to help in transformation of work environment to help with stress that effect in unimaginable ways.

            I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for our work environment to be positive and a happy place. The overwhelming sense of urgency to publish so we can progress our career in a timely manner­­–causes undue stress, and manifests itself in unproductive and unhealthy work environment. I am not saying squander away the vacation time; more often it will be a temporary fix. To add more to the pressure, it is very easy for us to be surrounded competitive fellow postdocs, who may or may not want you to succeed. Apparently, it is not just the lack of funding that drives postdocs away from academia; their expectation being that the cut-throat, competitive, and sometimes petty nature of academic labs may never resurface in an industrial setting. Although, one can say that grass is always greener on the other side. Whatever the decision— endure, tolerate, or escape — the situation will probably become a life turning point or you may end up with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the time you land your dream job. But wait; there may be a solution.

           Steeped in ancient eastern philosophies, the practice of meditation–involves focusing our attention on our thoughts, emotions, breathing or sensations around us for a few minutes in a day. For instance, Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Google, and Procter and Gamble (P&G) have instituted meditation breaks for employees to explore the practice of silence, composure, and mindfulness. Internal research has shown an increased productivity and enhanced positive work place environment. Unfortunately, this practice is not common in scientific institutions; however, more recently, there is an upsurge in research and publications confirming the benefits of meditation in personal and professional lives. After an intense graduate-school training and starting ambitious post-doctoral fellowships, we often get burnt-out and forget to pause and breathe. Especially for postdocs who work long hours without any breaks, mindfulness and meditation might be a blessing in disguise. To our benefit, this practice is made even easier with apps such as headspace, simple habits, etc.; plug-in your headphones and transfer to a quiet space for a few minutes, while developing your western blot, perhaps?

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-5-04-43-pm         For the benefits of meditation for postdocs working in a highly competitive environment, meditation can help in developing self-awareness, drop-fixed mindsets, help pick up social cues that you may miss when confronted with a difficult co-worker. Meditation teaches to step back from complex situations and address when you have had time to re-think with a calm mind. In my own personal experience­– I am able to pause before responding in tense situations, and I am able to humor it, which helps in moving past the issue relatively quickly. Being “purposefully aware” of the current moment means you can notice what you are doing, thinking or feeling. In short, being more present consciously and being in the moment. This practice over-time helps reduce stress, especially, when mind begins to drift to thoughts of what needs to done tomorrow or may even reduce the anxiety associated with “publish or perish” philosophy our scientific community is based on.


Here are a few tips that may help:

  1. When commuting to or from work, be present. Resist the urge to create to-do lists on the train or with Siri’s assistance while driving. Find a quiet place for 5 minutes before you start work, and simply breathe. When your mind starts thinking about the zillion items on your to-do list, stop that thought and focus on breathing.
  1. Start off the right way: Make a to-do list, but keep it simple. I have the tendency to create long to-do lists that makes me more anxious than necessary. After your list has made its way to the paper, focus on one task at a time.
  1. Throughout the workday: Avoid distractions and especially do not loose focus. Be present. Don’t worry about the next thing on your list. Resist the urge to write personal emails or chat. Especially avoid gossip and politely divert your colleagues looking to gossip with you by saying “Sorry, the task at hand needs focus, and I am afraid I will make mistakes—can we perhaps discuss this at a later time”. I am particularly strong on the gossip business: it is not only counter-productive, but also creates negative emotions at workplace.
  1. Ending the workday: When it is time to go home, don’t panic too much about the one item left on your to-do list. Leave work at work. This way you can focus on what to cook for dinner, or the immediate needs of your family.

Feel free to email me if you want a list of retreat centers around Philadelphia area.

Correspondence: NehalS@mail.med.upenn.edu