2018 is off to an excellent start, and to keep you up to date on the postdoc life at Penn we are sending you the most recent edition of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council Newsletter. Check out the full current issue at https://goo.gl/mV6YYi.
Articles in the issue:
- New Year, New Editors —— Introducing the new editors in chief
- Pluses and Minuses – Balancing the checkbook —— a commentary on the tax changes and the impact on postdocs at Penn
Recaps on the 2017 events by the BPC —— Thanksgiving Lunch 2017 and A Conversation on Diversity in Stem: Key Terms and Concepts
- Hello from the Other Side of Grad School —— perspective on transitioning to becoming a postdoc, and life in Philadelphia
- BPC Committee Spotlight —— Community Service Outreach
Dondra Bailey, PhD.
A Diversity in STEM panel discussion was held on Friday, December 8, 2017 in BRB Auditorium. The panel discussion was led by graduate student Hannah Shoenhard. Ms. Shoenhard defined diversity and presented statistics about diversity nationwide and at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine for both graduate and postdoctoral fellows.
This lead to a panel discussion that included Eve Higginbotham, SM, MD, Vice Dean of Inclusion and Diversity, PSOM, Arnaldo J. Diaz, PhD, Assistant Dean of Research Training Programs, and Dondra Bailey, PhD, IRACDA PennPORT Postdoctoral Fellow and also Diversity Committee Co- chair for the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC). The panel discussed key concepts about implicit bias, microagressions and shared their career paths. After the panel discussion, there was a reception where the panel interacted with members of the audience including Penn faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to discuss the importance of diversity in STEM, continuing this conversation and follow-up to organize future programming and initiatives. Organizers were from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), Graduate-Led Initiatives and Activities (NGGLIA) and Biomedical Graduate Student Association (BGSA).
Photo credit: Alice Dallstream and Felicia Davatolhagh
Reuben Das, PhD.
A long-standing event sponsored by the Biomedical Postdoctoral Lunch is the annual Thanksgiving Potluck. The event is targeted mostly toward those postdocs who are away from their families during the holiday season. The majority of the postdocs are foreigners who do not celebrate Thanksgiving in their home countries (with the exception of Canadians). Amita Bansal, current BPC co-President and a former co-chair of the BPC Foreign Nationals Committee, suggested that this year, the postdocs could celebrate the 2017 Thanksgiving in the true American style.
At previous Thanksgiving potlucks, most postdocs would bring delicious homemade dishes that are popular in their own countries, but would be very different from the typical American Thanksgiving meal. To create a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the BPC revamped the annual Thanksgiving potluck: we sponsored a Thanksgiving lunch on 19th December 2017, at the 14th floor lounge of BRB. Three different committees – Diversity, Foreign Nationals, and Social teamed up to organize this event along with BPP staff Donna Crawley. There was a big turnout with over 150 postdocs attending the lunch. Dondra Bailey, Diversity committee co-Chair, was instrumental in leading a bingo game – the two lucky winners received gift cards. The Social co-Chairs Maxime Jaquet and Rueben Das worked with Donna behind the scenes to make the event a huge success. Everyone had a wonderful time socializing and making new friends. For those who missed the event we have some pictures. https://www.facebook.com/UPENNBPC/photos/pcb.809969542516370/809969522516372/?type=3&theater
Photo Credit: Reuben Das.
Natoya Peart, PhD.
On November 29, 2017, an email from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research alerted the postdoctoral community at Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM Postdoctoral Community) to some changes coming to our paycheck. Effective January 1st, all non-NRSA postdocs would have their stipends subject to FICA withholding and automatic deduction of our federal taxes. I for one, welcome the withholding of the federal taxes as I have dreaded the estimated tax payments. With those quarterly payments whose due dates were so easy to miss, I wondered, “Was I miscalculating the amount due? Did I even really have to make this payment?” (A few of my fellow postdocs do not).
Personally, I am a fan of withholding because I like having a refund. But coming to Penn, I was shocked when I received my first paycheck. It was a lot more than I expected and when I checked my paystub – I saanw that federal taxes were not withheld. I will admit to not knowing much about the US taxes besides that it must be paid. So I was confused why there was no federal taxes being deducted (a little forewarning would have been nice). Upon consulting a senior postdoc in my lab I learned that UPenn did not withhold Federal Taxes on Postdoc stipends*, and following a google search that led me to an old link on the BPC page (https://www.med.upenn.edu/bpc/tax-issues.html**) I learned that Penn policy was such that for my postdoc category Federal taxes were not withheld, but I was still responsible. So with this began my new life, learning to budget in anticipation of paying taxes.
This was perhaps the life for many postdocs at Penn, but we are in for a change. With the new changes which redefine postdoc stipends as wages, federal taxes will now be withheld, which I can live with. This money was never mine in the first place. However, the change was the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act).
Penn was generous and to mitigate the suddenness of the change and to help alleviate the burden that this change places on the strained stipend, Penn offered a one-time stipend supplement of $2500 to the affected non-NRSA postdocs. This was initially disclosed at the Town Hall for the Penn Medicine post-docs held on Thursday, December 14, at 1:00 PM in the John Morgan Building, Reunion Auditorium. It was attended by the beleaguered postdocs, and with the presence of one tenured faculty member in the audience we learned more about the implications of the changes for not only the postdoc take home pay, but also for the PI’s grant that supported our research.
I am told I am trainee, which justifies the stipend that we are paid as we acquire more experience. But suddenly, our stipends have been redefined and now can is considered wages (which are compensatory in nature) so we are contributing to FICA. But for some, the questions are, What is FICA? What does it mean that my stipend “wage” is compensatory – since we can debate whether this compensation reflects how and how much I work? And more importantly, what does this mean for our take home pay? Will there be additional changes afoot? Will postdocs qualify for Penn retirement plans (the answer is yes, we can enroll in the Supplemental Retirement Annuity (SRA) Plan: https://www.hr.upenn.edu/PennHR/benefits-pay/retirement-news-detail/2018/01/02/non-nrsa-post-docs-eligible-for-sra-plan)? Will postdocs (especially foreign postdocs) reap the FICA benefit in the long run? Has the postdoc track/option (if you don’t qualify for an NRSA grant) gotten less attractive? What are your thoughts? And as a final reminder, check your paycheck and set a plan for your fiscal future.
* Some postdoctoral fellows/researchers do have federal taxes withheld automatically, usually postdoctoral researchers holding a H1B visa and some J1 visa holders.
** Recently updated, but as of January 17, 2018 does not reflect the new FICA changes nor the automatic withholding.
A Reflection on being a new postdoc at Penn
Ariel Ketcherside, PhD.
“Any anxiety or depression?” asks my new physician.
“Nope!” I grin at her, stupidly.
She raises an eyebrow.
“I’m not a grad student anymore,” I explain. “Life is pretty great.”
She takes notes.
It’s true. I’ve been in Philly for about three months, and virtually every aspect of my life has changed. Call it blind optimism or academic acumen, I have thrown myself head first into this postdoc thing.
I hail from Texas and Arizona, land of tacos and expansive parking lots where you get to play the game of “What will melt in my car today?” We say “y’all” and our favorite fruit is the jalapeño. So I don’t quite understand the point of a cheesesteak and I was damn sure the apocalypse was upon us when the Eagles won the NFC championship. But cultural differences aside, I am thrilled and overwhelmed by the environment and opportunities for postdocs here. Here are a few of my reflections and tips for other newbies like me:
- The Biomedical Postdoc office has a resource for just about everything. Mary Anne Timmins is a saint and has your best interest at heart so, at the risk of inundating her schedule, go see her if you have any concerns.
- Join the Biomedical Postdoc Council (BPC). If you’re anything like me, in undergrad you had time for things called “extracurricular activities”, which were replaced in grad school with late nights in the lab. But now you’re somewhat of a human again, and especially if you’re new to the city, you’ll want a sense of community. Go make friends. Get involved.
- Penn excels at structure, which, when you’re not fighting a protocol that gets in the way of your science, is good for you. At your one-year anniversary, you’ll put together an Individual Development Plan with your advisor. I love plans almost as much as I love spreadsheets and whiteboards, and this plan will be your guiding beacon throughout your tenure as a postdoc. You’re a postdoc now, but you won’t be forever. Sadly, I have seen postdocs get complacent in their new-found comfort, while the years and funding slip away. Make the most of this golden era where you don’t have to TA and you finally maybe make what all your non-grad school friends made out of college. Make a plan, and a backup plan, and a timeline for those plans. Check in with yourself periodically to make sure you’re on track.
- Make sure you have a good mentor. My greatest joy in my new office is the level with which my mentors are engaged in my work, concerned about our data, involved in my analyses and ideas, as well as my professional development and wellbeing. This is not always the case, so if you don’t have someone who does these things for you and with you, go find someone. Collaborate. Go to journal clubs. Engage in discussions about your data with people who are not directly in your lab.
- In this ridiculous cold, the scarf actually works better when you wrap it around the outside of your jacket’s hood. It helps squish the hood in around your face, instead of bulking up under your hood and making you look like a top-heavy Randy from A Christmas Story (a Christmas classic to introduce you to American Christmas).
- If there’s something you’re unhappy with, like the lack of a postdoc discount for SEPTA passes or the gym, join the Advocacy Committee of BPC, where you can work on fixing it.
- If you have your own thoughts about life as a postdoc, science in the community, or anything else you think would be of interest to your colleagues, send it to your friendly Newsletter Editors in Chief and we’ll work on getting it published.
- Finally, the consensus among all those who have offered their opinion for best cheesesteak is Dalessandro’s. I can confirm that the line was long and the steak was good, but would have been better if the cheese were queso instead of “whiz”.
Sean McLory, PhD.
The mission of the Outreach Committee of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council is to engage BPC postdocs with the Philadelphia community. Particularly, we want the incredible passion and scientific expertise that BPC postdocs possess to inspire budding young scientists in the area into future careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Currently, the Outreach Committee partners with two local institutions: the Walnut Street branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Moder Patshala community center. Both locations provide after school services to local K-12 students, including tutoring and enrichment activities. BPC postdocs have been contributing by organizing hands-on science demonstrations.
Typical science demos consist of one or two BPC postdocs working with 10-15 students ranging from fourth to tenth grade. Previous science demos have included making Alka Seltzer rockets, extracting chlorophyll from plants, and finding bacteria in the environment. Learning about biology, chemistry and physics can be great fun. Postdocs have drawn inspiration in designing demos from the internet as well as their own research. Any activity that allows the kids to get their hands dirty and learn about science is great – and the Outreach Committee is always looking for new ideas.
Running a demonstration can be a great opportunity for BPC postdocs. As trainees in large medical centers, most of us have few opportunities to gain teaching experience. A science demo, no matter how simple, requires preparation to communicate the scientific concepts to students who are much earlier in their scientific training. BPC postdocs who volunteer to run a demo will have a nice service item to add to their CV and demonstrate their commitment to scientific education.
The Outreach Committee still has openings for volunteers May 22nd, 4:30-5:30, at Moder Patshala, and May 29th, 4:00-5:00, at the Walnut Street Library. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact email@example.com. The Outreach Committee also is interested in having postdocs participate in the Philadelphia Science Festival, April 21st-April 26th. Please visit the PSF website, http://www.philasciencefestival.org, to learn about their planned activities and volunteer opportunities. If you are a postdoc interested in participating in the PSF, please contact the Outreach Committee, again at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council would like to especially thank Brian Fuglestad and Amanda Boggs for their service as chairs of the Community Service committee over the past year.
Hello and welcome to 2018! This year, you have two new co-editors in chief for your newsletter, ready to hear from you. We’ll start off by introducing ourselves.
Natoya Peart got her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Texas MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School at Houston. She now works under Dr. Russ Carstens in Department of Medicine – Renal. There she studies alternative splicing in epithelial cells using molecular biology and biochemistry. Outside of the lab you will likely find her buried in a good book.
Ariel Ketcherside got her PhD in Neuroscience in 2017 from the University of Texas at Dallas. She now works under Dr. Reagan Wetherill at the Center for Studies of Addiction at 3535 Market Street. Her research incorporates neuroimaging, molecular biology, genetics, and computational modelling to characterize the intersection of emotion and reward in reward-related disorders. Outside of work, she is dog lover and taco enthusiast.
We look forward to a vibrant year, and hope you will look forward to future issues!
- February 2018
- March 2017
- January 2017
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- October 2015
- September 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- January 2015
- November 2014
- October 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- July 2013
- April 2013
- August 2012
- June 2012
- April 2012
- November 2011
- September 2011
- BPC News Letter Volume1, Issue 1, September 2011
- BPC News Letter Volume1, Issue 2, November 2011
- BPC News Letter Volume1, Issue 5, June 2012
- BPC Newsletter Fall 2014
- BPC Newsletter Issue 3
- BPC Newsletter Issue 4
- BPC Newsletter Volume 2, Issue 1, April 2013
- BPC Newsletter Volume 8, Issue 1, February 2018
- BPC Newsletter Volume1, Issue 6, August 2012
- BPC Newsletter: Volume 2 / Issue 2 / July 2013
- BPC Newsletter: Volume 2 / Issue 3 / October 2013
- BPC Newsletter: Volume 3 / Issue 1 / January 2014
- BPC Newsletter: Volume 3 / Issue 2 / April 2014
- Fall 2015
- Spring 2015
- Summer 2014
- Summer 2015
- Winter 2015
- Winter 2016