It’s National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week!

The third week of September is a special week for postdocs. As declared by Congress, it is National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week.

Since 2009, the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) has sponsored this week-long celebration. NPAW grew out of National Postdoc Appreciation Day, which was held on September 24, 2009. In 2010, NPAW culminated with the passage of house resolution 1545 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution, which was passed on September 24, 2010, nationally recognized NPAW. During this time, it is important not only to celebrate the contributions of our postdocs, but also to reflect on the purpose of a postdoctoral appointment.

 As defined by the NPA, a postdoctoral scholar (“postdoc”) is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.  As we’ve discussed in past years, the key parts of this definition are mentoring and professional growth. One shared need in both of these is receiving useful feedback.

During NPAW, I encourage supervisors and mentors of Postdoctoral Appointees and Argonne Scholars not only to give that much needed show of encouragement and appreciation, but also to be specific in doing so. It is important for people early in their careers not only to know that they are doing a good job, but also, why.

To get to the “why”, consider using a feedback model called SBI. I recently learned of this model while observing the Safety Academy For Excellence (SAFE) training and think it’s worth giving a try. In the SBI feedback model, SBI stands for situation, behavior and impact.

Start the conversation by describing the situation you’d like to address in your feedback. For instance, “the report you submitted for the upcoming DOE review,” or “at the group meeting this week.”

Then refer to the behavior you’d like to address. Continuing with the examples, you might say something like:

“The report you submitted for the upcoming DOE review was well organized, well written and hit all the important points. Nice job!”

Or:

“At the group meeting this week, you asked some good questions.”

Finally, communicate the impact of the behavior. This is the “why”. Knowing the why will reinforce good habits and help your postdoc continue to grow professionally.

Your conversations started above might look something like:

“The report you submitted for the upcoming DOE review was well organized, well written and hit all the important points. Nice job! Our Program Manager will be pleased to see the progress we’ve made without having to search for the information. This will reinforce we are on the right path as a team and help us secure funding.”

Or:

“At the group meeting this week, you asked some good questions. We had not considered the approach you suggested. We may have to rethink a few things, and in the long run, this will save us time and money. We’ll be able to get our publications out sooner and may want to think about generating ideas for the next proposal.”

Pats on the back are great, don’t get me wrong. Knowing why you are getting the pat on the back can add greater meaning and boost confidence. Try it out and let us know how it goes!

 

 

Lessons from the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Conference–Your Career Is Your Business!

Lu Ma (XSD), Saurabh Chawdhary (MCS), Li Tang (AMD) and Kalyan Mutyala (NST) at the 2018 NPA Conference in Cleveland, OH.

This past April, four Postdoctoral Appointees from across the Lab attended the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Conference. This yearly event brings together postdocs, postdoctoral program administrators and leaders invested in postdoctoral development to learn the latest in issues that impact postdocs and share ideas to help postdocs achieve career success. We asked each of the Argonne attendees to share what they learned from the conference with the broader Argonne community. This week, Li Tang (AMD) talks about communicating with the “outside world” by learning how to tell your story and using the language of business. She also learned how to be the “boss of her career!”

Li’s Story

I was lucky enough to represent Argonne with three other postdoc fellows to attend NPA 2018 in Cleveland. I planned to take this opportunity to meet with people who care about the development of postdocs and listen to their advice on the mindset, life, skills, pitfalls, and future for postdoctoral career development. There were many useful talks and workshops throughout the 3-day conference, and I am sharing my thoughts in three aspects.

One very interesting workshop was presented in a “musical fairytale” style from Mary Mitchell, President of The Mitchell Organization and Josh Henkin, Career Counselor and Founder of STEM Career Services, revealed all the details we should pay attention to build professional relationships outside academia. The short “elevator pitch” is the starting point to build a good relationship, but the most important thing is having “follow-on” conversations in an organic way. And it is this organic discussion that lets people see your authenticity and glean the features and benefits from you, so they are willing to remain connected to you. This organic discussion cannot be prepared in advance but requires a lot of intelligence and customization to the people involved in the conversation. Personally, I believe these “elevator pitches” and “follow-on” organic discussions need constant awareness, practice, and reflection to the point that you behave very naturally in different settings with various people.

I am also interested in learning essential business strategy and concepts for postdocs leaving academia, as most postdocs immerse themselves in the lab and may lack the business mindset to prepare themselves for the “outside” world. The workshop “Essential Business Skills & Concepts for Postdocs Leaving Academia” by Jenny Rae Le Roux, Managing Director of Management Consulted, and Josh Henkin, CEO of STEM Career Services provided great insight into communicating with a business mindset.

I learned the four basic steps for giving presentations meant to persuade industrial or business leaders to take action:

  1. “Draw” the idea on a board
  2. Propose steps for each desired action
  3. Prioritize important data
  4. Show straightforward graphics instead of overusing text

Two good suggestions to persuade people to take actions are don’t leave room for subjective interpretation, and know your purpose, otherwise you will lose your credentials. In the second part of this workshop, I learned a lot of business terms, such as revenue, cost, profit, depreciation and amortization, bottom-line growth, etc., to prepare myself to speak the language of business. We interacted with each other for practice and I was so impressed on how important it is to emphasize our transferrable skills from academia to industry.

The last workshop I am going to share is to discuss and share thoughts on how to become your own boss of your career. This workshop, “Becoming the Boss of Your Career,” was presented by Brittany Carpenter, Postdoctoral Fellow and Erica Seibrasse, Postdoctoral Affairs Specialist from the Van Andel Institute. The main message I got from this interactive workshop is to make early plan and take initiative. It is you, your own boss, who should take the lead of yourself for your career development. The instructors also simulated the situation of how to discuss, pursue, and think of strategy to work with your boss. Again, the take home message here is, be your own boss of your career.

For more on the lessons Li learned, download the presentations at the NPA Annual Meeting Archive.

Lessons from the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Conference–Key Skills Are Key to Success!

Lu Ma (XSD), Saurabh Chawdhary (MCS), Li Tang (AMD) and Kalyan Mutyala (NST) at the 2018 NPA Conference in Cleveland, OH.

This past April, four Postdoctoral Appointees from across the Lab attended the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Conference. This yearly event brings together postdocs, postdoctoral program administrators and leaders invested in postdoctoral development to learn the latest in issues that impact postdocs and share ideas to help postdocs achieve career success. We asked each of the Argonne attendees to share what they learned from the conference with the broader Argonne community. This week, Kalyan Mutyala (NST) talks about developing key skills such as storytelling and mentoring as you prepare for the next career phase. He also stresses the impact of not having access to good mentors on the postdoc experience.

I was more than excited to attend a conference focused on professional development of postdocs for three reasons. First, to meet fellow postdocs at other institutes, universities and laboratories and learn about their experience. Second, learn about programs being offered at other organizations. Finally, to seek and learn more about the life of a career development professional either as an individual or representing an organization.

NPA started off with a note on importance of “collaboration and cooperation” to provide best training opportunities for postdocs. I was astonished by the amount of information shared in the conference and sheer enthusiasm of people to help. Five key takeaways for me are

  • Identifying key skills: Dr. Rafael E. Luna’s plenary talk emphasized the importance of identifying key skills (story telling for him) and leveraging it to create a career path.
  • Story telling: Dramatizing and explaining in simple English in the form of a story is a critical skill that can be mastered with practice and a great resource to practice is shared in “why and how to tell a science story” session.
  • Networking: One of the most dreaded event for any introverted postdoc is attending a networking event. A musical fairy tale on “how to network and build professional relationships” is the highlight of the conference.
  • Outside academia: Importance of business strategy skills necessary to be successful in careers outside academia is a great resource.
  • PDA/PSA: Strategies for increasing participation in PDA leadership and events followed by poster sessions helped me to understand what other organizations are doing to help postdocs.

One big concern expressed by postdocs again and again during the conference is poor mentorship and being treated poorly by the PIs or Professors. Most of the universities and institutes are trying to develop a program for their postdocs to help them develop professionally and to deal with bad mentors.

Finally, I realized that our lab (Argonne) has great resources for postdocs development and a unique mentorship program.  I urge my fellow postdocs at Argonne to leverage the opportunities here for their professional development.

 

 

Lessons from the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Conference–Know Yourself!

Lu Ma (XSD), Saurabh Chawdhary (MCS), Li Tang (AMD) and Kalyan Mutyala (NST) at the 2018 NPA Conference in Cleveland, OH

This past April, four Postdoctoral Appointees from across the Lab attended the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Conference. This yearly event brings together postdocs, postdoctoral program administrators and leaders invested in postdoctoral development to learn the latest in issues that impact postdocs and share ideas to help postdocs achieve career success. We asked each of the Argonne attendees to share what they learned from the conference with the broader Argonne community. This week, Lu Ma (XSD) talks about knowing yourself as a key step in advancing your career and important issues that postdocs face during periods of transition.

Question and Answer with Lu Ma

What sessions/topics of workshops did you attend?

I attended the following sessions:

  1. Getting involved in National Associations and how it can help you and your institute
  2. Transitioning from the bench to institutional leadership through mentoring and shared governance in higher education
  3. Marketing yourself online
  4. A data-driving approach to understanding U.S. postdocs
  5. Think beyond your skill set and identify your unique value
  6. Becoming the boss of your career

What was the greatest benefit of attending the meeting?

I learned professional skills, talked to different people with different backgrounds and know better about the national association at the meeting. Most of the postdocs who attended the meeting were from the biomedical or cancer research area, which were different from most of the postdocs at Argonne. It’s really a nice experience to talk to them and share different perspectives. Argonne has a very good postdoc society, which provides a lot of opportunities for learning the skills for future career development.

What are some lessons you learned from the workshops that would be beneficial for your fellow postdocs?

The most impressive session for skill development for me at the meeting was the “think beyond your skill set and identify your unique value” session. During this session, the speaker taught a professional method that can help people to identify your unique personality and also how to explain that in an efficient way during the interview. That’s not only a skill that helps you prepare for the interview, but also a good method to know better about yourself.

What are the concerns or issues faced by postdocs at other organizations?

In some universities or institutes, there is no postdoc office there. The postdocs share the same offices for the graduate and undergraduate students. Especially for the international postdocs, the visa is different from the students, but they don’t know who should contact about it and the officers for the students were not family with it.

Did you learn of a program that we should consider starting here?

Yes. Some of the postdoc offices also provide the psychological (counseling) service to help the people to reduce stress and anxiety. The Postdoc period is a transition step, which means that postdocs face more challenges. I think we need a similar program to provide some advice on the stress relief.

Postdoc Program note–Argonne postdocs, see this week’s PSA Newsletter for resources at the Lab relevant to stress management! Thanks, Lu, for sharing what you learned!

 

 

Lessons from the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Conference–Implicit Bias

Lu Ma (XSD), Saurabh Chawdhary (MCS), Li Tang (AMD) and Kalyan Mutyala (NST) at the 2018 NPA Conference in Cleveland, OH.

This past April, four Postdoctoral Appointees from across the Lab attended the 2018 National Postdoctoral Association Conference. This yearly event brings together postdocs, postdoctoral program administrators and leaders invested in postdoctoral development to learn the latest in issues that impact postdocs and share ideas to help postdocs achieve career success. We asked each of the Argonne attendees to share what they learned from the conference with the broader Argonne community. This week, Saurabh Chawdhary (MCS) shares some important lessons, including a timely topic, implicit bias.

Saurabh’s story:

Let me begin by saying that being at this conference was surprisingly enriching. Since this is my first year as postdoc, I did not know much about NPA, postdoc associations or being a postdoc in general. It was beneficial to understand the resources (professional development, outreach, legal help, networking, job-search) available to postdocs.

There were interesting sessions that I attended. A very enlightening session about the role of diversity and implicit bias in research, and in our society at large, and ways to deal with it was given by Dr. J. Marcela Hernandez from Ohio State University. It engaged participants into introspection about how to identify and tackle such biases. Here is an interesting video by The Royal Society that talks about unconscious bias.

A session on global mobility in research was provided helpful information about how to make an international move and position yourself to benefit from it. This can be attractive to those of us wanting to move out another country or just live abroad for some time. Here is a link to more resources in shared drive.

A workshop on using design thinking applied to your career was popular with room overflowing. It is based on the idea about using design process to better achieve any goal, not just a product design. For example, the ‘product’ under consideration can be your career and you can apply three steps of design thinking classified broadly as – (1) Materialize – test, implement (2) Understand – empathize, define and (3) Explore – ideate, prototype. The concept is described briefly in this article and in detail in the Bill Burnett’s book Designing Your Life.

The poster session gave us an opportunity to learn about the activities of PDAs (Postdoctoral Associations) at other institutions. I came to know about an organization called Euraxess, funded by European Commission to recruit researchers around the world. They have a starter research grant suited for postdocs wanting to go in academic research anywhere in Europe. Moreover, NPA website now has a career section where you can register your Resume/CV for prospective employers to see. Overall, I was impressed by the work that NPA is doing to forward the interests of us postdocs.

References:

Video: https://youtu.be/dVp9Z5k0dEE

Shared Drive: www.goo.gl/k2tKuU

Design thinking: https://minutehack.com/opinions/5-ways-to-build-a-better-life-through-design-thinking

Designing Your Life book: https://www.amazon.com/Designing-Your-Life-Well-Lived-Joyful/dp/1101875321