Wine, Cheese & Science Event – Now Accepting Applications

The University of Pennsylvania Biomedical Postdoctoral Council presents:

Do you enjoy TED style talks? Are you interested in developing skills in communicating science in an engaging, accessible way? Apply to present a brief TED style talk on the scientific topic of your choice. Finalists will receive expert coaching and will present their talks at a wine and cheese event to be held 9/10/15 from 3:30-6 pm. The best talk selected by the audience will receive a prize. We are now accepting applications through 8/10/15 at Applicants must be BPP affiliated postdocs, and must be available to present their talk on 9/10/15, 3:30-6 pm. The deadline is coming up, so submit your entry soon!


Biomedical Postdoctoral Council Newsletter, Summer 2015 (Volume 4, Issue 3)

The Summer issue of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council Newsletter is here! Inside, find news relevant to Penn postdocs, including:

  • The latest Pint of Science event in Philadelphia
  • The postdoctoral reappointment process at Penn
  • How the Association for Women in Science works on behalf of women in the sciences
  • A glimpse into life sciences consulting careers with LEK
  • Info on upcoming events including the inaugural Science Writing Competition for Penn postdocs, monthly postdoc lunch, and postdoc welcome sessions.

Access the PDF here: BPC_Vol_4_Issue_3

BPC Newsletter Cover

UPenn BPC Science Writing Contest


Biomedical research is about innovation, creative problem solving, and complex ideas. Findings in biomedical research can have important implications for human disease and health. However, sometimes these complex ideas can get lost in translation. How do we convey recent developments in biomedical research to a sophisticated lay audience?

Your task: Writing for a sophisticated lay audience, describe a recent finding in biomedical research that’s relevant and interesting in today’s world. The article should describe not only the new finding, but its background, and what makes it important for human health. Articles will be judged on scientific accuracy and citation of appropriate research, as well as an attention-grabbing title and engaging style that a lay reader can appreciate. Entries are limited to no more than 8,000 characters including spaces and must cite at least one scientific journal article. Entries are limited to UPenn-affiliated Biomedical Postdoctoral Program (BPP) biomedical postdocs. See detailed entry instructions below.

BPC Science Writing Contest Rules:

  • Respond to the prompt above; describe a recent finding in biomedical research, its background, and what makes it important for human health.
  • Entry must be no more than 8,000 characters including spaces, and not including Title and References.
  • Must include Title.
  • Must include at least one scientific journal article citation in a References section.
  • Entrants must be a current Penn Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) postdoctoral fellow with valid UPenn-affiliated (e.g. Med, CHOP, Vet, Wistar, Monell) email address.
  • Entries will be judged on scientific accuracy, citation of appropriate research, engaging title, and article content (coherent storyline, addresses background and limitations, describes relevance to human health). Articles should describe scientific research; they should not be opinion pieces or focus on topics such as science policy, career issues, etc.

Entry Instructions:

  • Entries are due September 1, 2015, 11 p.m. EST.
  • Entries should be submitted at the following link:
  • If you have questions, please email BPC dot Newsletters at gmail dot com.


  • 1st Prize: $200
  • 2nd Prize: $50
  • 3rd Prize: $50
  • Winning entries will be featured in a Special Issue of the BPC Newsletter, and winners will be recognized at the UPenn Biomedical Research Symposium in October 2015.

For examples of scientific writing geared toward the sophisticated lay reader, take a look at the links below.


Tending the Body’s Microbial Garden. By Carl Zimmer.

Evolution Right Under Our Noses. By Carl Zimmer.

Diet and Nutrition is More Complex Than a Simple Sugar. By Bethany Brookshire.

Ebola and the Vast Viral Universe. By Natalie Angier.

Melatonin alterations in Huntington’s disease help explain trouble with sleep. By Leora Fox.

Brief Report: Penn Science Policy Group – “Training The Biomedical Work Force: Natural Selection Or Pyramid Scheme?”

(BPC Newsletter Brief Reports are quick, up to the minute summaries of happenings on campus relevant to the postdoc community.)

By Tom Bebee, Ph.D.

Last night’s Penn Science Policy Group (PSPG) presented the topic “Training the biomedical work force: natural selection or pyramid scheme?” In response to changes in biotech and academic funding during the 1990s, there has been a steady increase in the number of STEM doctoral students (~30% increase). This growth has led to an increased number of STEM, and specifically life science, postdocs in the US (~40% increase). Unfortunately, academic tenure track positions for this growing population of postdocs has not grown at the same rate, and the same can be said for the biotech industry where new hiring and growth has plateaued. As only ~20% of postdocs will secure a tenure track position, and with the current academic funding cuts, the question is not can we continue on the current trajectory but rather how can we adjust the training model in STEM. Several proposed changes are outlined here: (1) Instituting a 5 year maximum tenure for postdocs while increasing postdoc salaries. This will reduce the number of available positions but will select for the most talented postdocs. Along these lines are a proposed funding mechanism for “super-postdocs,” paid at a higher salary that extends beyond the 5 year time-frame. This has already been initiated in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (although only 50 positions for ~40,000 postdocs). (2) Reducing the number of graduate students admitted to doctoral programs, thus reducing the number of PhDs generated. (3) Implementing earlier education and career/mentoring efforts at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels with emphasis on career paths outside of academics and industry. This would require mentorship teams encompassing other mentors outside of the academic setting. (4) Redirecting some of the NIH/NSF funding away from R level funds toward more training level grants (i.e. T, F, and K awards). This could reduce number of trainee spots by “regulating” the available funding for trainees. (5) Increasing the NIH/NSF budget to accommodate more new faculty and retain trained “postdocs” to bridge the gap to independent faculty positions.
What is clear about the current situation regarding the surplus of STEM, and specifically life science postdocs, is that effective change will require a consensus and directed efforts at the national, university, and individual laboratory level. Moreover, the change will not be immediate and will require time for any of these proposed efforts to alter the landscape of the academic PhD training programs.

For more info, see or follow @UPennSciencePol.

Penn Represented at the 2015 National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) Meeting

By Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D. LiisaHa2 @

“Remain positive, remain relentless; the future is in your hands.” It was with these words that Dr. E. Albert Reece welcomed nearly four hundred attendees to the 13th Annual Meeting of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). The NPA, established in 2003, aims to advocate for postdocs, develop resources to support postdoctoral training, and to build community. The NPA works with federal agencies, such as the NIH and NSF, to enhance postdoctoral training, and has laid out Recommended Practices (1) that have been adopted by dozens of institutions nationwide. The annual meeting, that took place in Baltimore from March 13-15, served as a platform for discussing policies relevant to postdoctoral fellows. It was also a “celebration of community,” emphasized Belinda Huang, Ph.D., Executive Director of the NPA. The University of Pennsylvania was represented at the conference by five Penn and one CHOP biomedical postdocs, plus Mary Anne Timmins and Morgan Hiles from the Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) office, David Taylor from Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at CHOP, technology licensing officer Carole Burns, Ph.D., and our BPP Associate Dean, Susan Weiss, Ph.D.. The Penn team attended a plethora of workshops and panels, and presented posters on postdoctoral initiatives at Penn.

NPA Keynote Address. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

NPA Keynote Address. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

The 2015 meeting kicked off with a Keynote Address by Rosina Bierbaum, Ph.D. Her speech, titled “From the Lab to the White House and Back: Bridging the Science – Policy Gap,” focused on the difficult dance between scientists and policymakers. She encouraged researchers to be “civic scientists” and emphasized that “science that is not shared is not used.” She also reflected on the need for scientists to communicate their ideas effectively, stating that in terms of policy, “if the science can’t be understood, it’s not really there.”

On the workshop level, there was significant focus on improving the postdoc experience for minorities and women in science. One workshop discussed efforts that have been made at a number of institutions to create a structured support system and mentoring for minority postdocs. They encouraged “proactive, purposeful” mentoring. Another workshop addressed challenges facing women as postdocs, including family formation and the “leaky pipeline,” isolation, appropriate professional development, and finding adequate mentoring and support. Workshop members broke into small groups to discuss these issues and offer insight on how they might be improved. Other workshops offered practical career skills for postdocs. For instance, one workshop walked postdocs through the process of salary negotiations, giving them practical tips and simulated practice. Postdoc and Penn Center For Innovation (PCI) Fellow, Vladimir Popov, and PCI Licensing Officer, Carole Burns, presented an interactive workshop on careers in technology commercialization, with emphasis on tech transfer and intellectual property.

NPA Plenary Session. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

NPA Plenary Session. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

“Innovation in Action” sessions focused on distilling the chatter into usable bits, using an interactive format and solution sharing. The “Future of Research” session encouraged postdocs to brainstorm solutions for problems in training, transparency, connectivity, funding mechanisms, and competitiveness. Breaking into four groups, postdocs thought, talked, and littered the conference room walls with colorful Post-It notes scribbled with their ideas on how postdocs might tackle these challenges.

NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: Liisa Hantsoo

A poster session allowed postdoctoral programs from across the U.S. to highlight the work that they do to improve the postdoctoral experience on their own campuses. From Penn, Terry Cathopoulis, Ph.D. and Amita Bansal, Ph.D. presented “Researchers Hosting Vendors: A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement,” that described Penn BPC’s fundraising via vendor shows, and Adam Walker, Ph.D. and Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D. presented “The Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium – A Template for Collaborative Organization of a Scientific Meeting for and by University Postdocs,” focusing on Penn’s annual BPC symposium featuring postdoctoral research. From CHOP, Paulette McRae, Ph.D., presented “Fostering Careers Beyond the Bench: The Evolution of the CHOP Administration Fellowship.” The posters were well received, and sparked conversations with representatives of other postdoctoral associations across the country who were interested in modeling Penn’s experiences to build events at their own institutions.

Penn postdocs present at the NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: BPC Staff

Penn postdocs present at the NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: BPC Staff

Penn postdocs present at the NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: BPC Staff

Penn postdocs present at the NPA Poster Session. Image Credit: BPC Staff

The annual meeting closed with a Town Hall, in which findings of the 2014 NPA Institutional Policy Report (2) and the National Academy of Sciences’ “The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited” (3) were discussed. Topics included postdoctoral compensation, benefits, length of postdoctoral training, and career trajectories, among others. While the findings showed some progress in recent years, much more is needed.

NPA Town Hall Meeting. Image Credit: Jessica Polka

NPA Town Hall Meeting. Image Credit: Jessica Polka

Terry Cathopoulis, Ph.D., BPC Fundraising Committee Co-Chair and one of Penn’s poster presenters, said of his experience, “’Postdocs and postdoctoral office administrators alike were genuinely interested in adopting [Penn BPC’s] vendor show fund-raising model. It was rewarding to be able to share this to the benefit of other postdoctoral bodies and contribute to a greater sense of inter-institutional community. I’m already receiving emails from people I met at the poster session that are looking to enact vendor show on their own campuses.” Adam Walker, Ph.D., BPC Co-Chair, described the NPA meeting was “an invigorating experience – in complete contrast to the sometimes stressful environment of a scientific conference, the NPA meeting presented opportunities to swap ideas openly, discuss and brainstorm ways to improve the postdoc experience.” He added that he would recommend this meeting to “postdocs who appreciate that the postdoctoral experience is more than just about working in the lab, and who are seeking additional ways to extend their professional training.” Penn’s attendees agreed that the workshops devoted to advancing individual professional skill sets were also useful.

Following the NPA meeting, the BPC representatives plan on using the knowledge gained to instigate new programs at Penn in conjunction with the Biomedical Postdoctoral Program office. These include further investigating ways to advocate for improved postdoc conditions, formulating a directed mentoring program, and other career development training opportunities.

The NPA meeting is held each spring; next year’s will be in Michigan. Registration will open in early 2016 at If you are interested in representing Penn at future NPA Meetings, please contact the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC). In addition, as the University of Pennsylvania is a sustaining member of the NPA, BPP-represented postdocs are eligible for free NPA affiliate membership. Members gain access to numerous career development resources and can help shape future policy development. Affiliate membership is available at






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