Penn Celebrates 2014 National Postdoc Appreciation Week
By Amy Ghiretti, Ph.D., Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D., and Simone Temporal, Ph.D.
Ghiretti @ mail.med.upenn.edu, LiisaHa2 @ mail.med.upenn.edu, m.simone.temporal @ gmail.com
September 15 – 19 marked National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW), now in its fifth year. NPAW was originally created by the National Postdoc Association (NPA), and is meant to raise awareness of postdocs and the work that they do in research labs across the United States. According to the NPA, last year 108 institutions in the U.S. and Canada officially celebrated NPAW, organizing events to recognize postdoctoral researchers (1) (http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/meetings-and-events-4/appreciation). The official NPA numbers are not yet in for this year’s events, but we caught up with Mary Anne Timmins from Penn’s Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) and David Taylor of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to get the inside details on this year’s NPAW at Penn. Penn and CHOP organized NPAW events together, for the benefit of postdoctoral researchers across both institutions.
Timmins and Taylor begin thinking about next year’s NPAW as soon as the current year’s NPAW draws to a close. When we met with them, just after NPAW, they were already brainstorming about how to make next year’s NPAW even better. Taylor shared that this has been the “biggest year yet” for NPAW at Penn, with more events than in past years. This included panels, workshops, and receptions. Timmins said that their goal, as they plan NPAW, is to try to “reach the largest number of postdocs possible;” to provide programming that fits a variety of interests. This year’s NPAW panels had a strong bent toward industry related careers, as this is something that postdocs are not often exposed to in their own labs. Certain panels, like those featuring scientists from Johnson & Johnson or SciPhD, focused on practical information that postdocs should know about the nuances of applying for industry jobs. Defining your career path, making use of resources, and effective communication were all themes echoed throughout the NPAW programming. If you missed Penn’s NPAW events, we’ve recapped some of the highlights below:
Monday, September 15th
Event: New Perspectives for Success in Science
Speaker: Carole Burns, PhD
Dr. Burns, a Neuroscience PhD and registered patent agent with the Penn Center for Innovation, opened NPA Week with a talk that focused on shaping your own career. Burns emphasized 1) defining one’s values (salary, location, family time, passion for science, etc.), 2) defining what success means to you (e.g. scientific recognition, social impact, clinical significance), 3) performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to identify your strengths and weaknesses, 4) preliminary job searches to identify skills you lack for the position you want, 5) identifying exit strategies in case your planned career does not pan out, and 6) exploring career options with informational interviews, mentors, or conferences. Her recommendation is to have not one, but two “exit strategies” in case your primary career objective does not work out. She emphasized the importance of reviewing one’s skills in light of all three career options, and taking the time now (before actually beginning a job search) to seek out opportunities to fill in any gaps in your experience.
Tuesday, September 16th
Event: Preparing for Careers in Industry
Speakers: Randall Ribaudo, Ph.D. – Co-Founder, SciPhD, President and CEO, Human Workflows LLC, Larry Petcovic, MS, Co-Founder, SciPhD, Founder, 3rd Order Communications LLC
This panel provided building blocks for searching for industry jobs, starting with an understanding of the different types of industry jobs that are out there (e.g. big pharma, small startups, patent firms, or consulting firms, to name a few). According to the panelists it is important that one fits a job description not only from a scientific perspective (i.e. do you know the science they want you to know?), but from a business/social perspective as well (i.e. can you lead a group, or work independently as needed?). The panelists emphasized that success in industry is a combination of one’s scientific, business, and social identity.
Wednesday, September 17th
Event: Johnson & Johnson
Speaker: Sheri Moores, Ph.D., Kate Sasser, Ph.D.
This panel included scientists from Johnson & Johnson, who outlined their career paths and described their current positions. Dr. Sheri Moores works in drug discovery, the first step of the clinical process, at Johnson & Johnson. Moores wears three hats in her job at Johnson & Johnson – a program leader, a people manager, and a scientist, so her job is ideal for those who like to have different responsibilities and do something different each day. One of her main responsibilities is to identify what is called the “critical path”- the experiments that need to be performed to progress a project from discovery to clinical trials, get the resources to stay on that path, be an expert on all the data that is synthesized, and supervise/review the work of others. Originally interested in anthropology, Moores became interested in biology in college, went on to grad school, got her PhD, and then did a postdoc. She expressed that networking is key to building connections in industry and this can be critical when applying for jobs. Dr. Kate Sasser works in the translational group, bridging drug discovery and clinical trials. She came to the job via a clinical path; left to choose between a traditional postdoc and a consulting position with a large company, Sasser took the consulting job and has progressed from there. Moores and Sasser shared these personal stories, then compared academia and industry. In brief, many of the same principles apply to both academia and industry, so the panelists emphasized that you should never feel like you’re limited to one or the other.
Wednesday, September 17th
Event: BPP Ice Cream Social
One of the more popular NPAW events, postdocs consumed six gallons of ice cream and six pounds of toppings!
Friday, September 19th
Event: Strategically Speaking: Building Fluency for Confident Communication – A Preview
Speaker: Mallory Fix, Language Connect
This event focused on practicing communication in a practical, in-the-moment way, giving participants immediate practice and feedback. The goal was to build skills in communication, not just about science, but beyond. It also served as a preview of future small-group, more intensive workshops that Mallory Fix may do at Penn in the future.
Friday, September 19th
Event: Postdoc Happy Hour!
BPC Social Committee Co-Chair Ana Misic, Ph.D. said that around 90 postdocs attended the happy hour, hosted in the top floor of BRB and overlooking the city. The event included beer, snacks, and a chance for postdocs to unwind after a busy week.
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