A Penn Postdoc and BPC Co-President: Farewell, Doreen.
Doreen Becker, Ph.D. interviewed by Nehal R. Solanki Patel
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.