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Learning from the 2023 National Postdoctoral Association Conference

The largest national conference and networking event dedicated to postdoctoral communities in the United States – the National Postdoctoral Association Conference – took place in Philadelphia, PA on 21-22 April 2023.

Here is a report consisting of the collected learnings from the conference by two members of the Postdoc Society of Argonne, Claire Chang (2023 President) and Joshua Christopher (2022 Vice-President) who attended the event in person.


Embrace nonlinearity in your postdoc life and know how to acquire funding

by Claire Chang


NPA 2023 keynote speakers – Dr. Sudip Parikh and Dr. Dawn Bonnell, gave motivational remarks about navigating their careers as minority scientists with unconventional science careers.

Dr. Sudip Parikh, the CEO of the AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals works with specialists from diverse, particularly nonscientific, backgrounds.  As an active part of the government’s scientific advocacy group, he shared his experience communicating with both scientists and non-scientists about research, policy, and business. He emphasized that there are no alternative careers because we need all of the PhD graduates in basic research, applied research, clinical research, policy, industry, philanthropy, finance, academia, politics, diplomacy, and teaching.

Dr. Dawn Bonnell is a professor of engineering and applied science and, the senior Vice Provost for Research at the University of Pennsylvania. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. She discussed her nonlinear career path as a single mother which began with a later-than-conventional start in college and a rather “adventurous” research stint in Germany with her children. She advised postdocs to follow their interests and identify current scientific trends to zero in on the niche they can pursue in their professional paths.

Dr. Lisa Nielsen’s “How to Strategize your Future Grant Funding” course was one of the most valuable seminars for me because it discussed the necessity and techniques of grant writing. She recommended postdoctoral researchers focus on specific projects that are both beneficial and realistic to complete within the grant schedule.  She also provided a list with a reasonable schedule and underlined the importance of timing. She recommends the writers to think like a critic/grant reviewer and encourages writers to use the – “say it, then write it” technique, to improve the clarity of the grant.

In addition to these valuable insights from experienced experts, I got in touch with postdocs in other national laboratories who are enthusiastic about collaboration events. We are currently planning several multi-national lab events. The first national lab postdoc society collaboration was conducted in September with ORNL and LANL (Read about the event in our blog). The second collaboration event is currently in the works with LBNL. Stay tuned for the information in PSA newsletter and blog post!

Keynote Lecture by Dr. Dawn Bonnell

Lessons learnt for Postdoc Society of Argonne and how to leverage the postdoc experience in an industry job

by Joshua Christopher


Many of the sessions I attended were centered around creating strong, diverse, and adaptable postdoctoral associations (PDA). In one such session, Dr. Mariana Cains and Dr. Soudeh Kamali discussed developing PDA programming specific to the needs of the postdocs at your organization. Specifically, the focus was on how easy it is for a PDA to be run by a few highly motivated people, and how the PDA gets shaped to their needs and interests. However, the PDA’s activities are not necessarily matched to the needs and interests of the broader postdoc community at the organization. To combat this effect, the speakers advocated for continuous thoughtful evaluation of and outreach to the entire PDA’s constituency. Applying these considerations to the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne’s (PSA) current practices, I see several things we do well, and some areas of improvement. Perhaps one of the greatest assets of the PSA is our ongoing “Forum” series where we host discussions on the difficulties our postdoc community is facing, which help us identify action items. For example, our Forum on Immigration led to engagement with the Argonne administration on the challenges postdocs face with visas and working in the United States. One potential improvement area for the PSA is the lack of engagement we have with postdocs from a few divisions. Understanding why postdocs from those divisions engage less with the PSA, and what we can do to better represent them and fulfill their needs, is an ongoing project that we hope can be addressed by the new “Members-at-Large” program. This program will give better reach to the under-served postdoc populations at Argonne by placing PSA representatives in every division to encourage organic conversations (and feedback) about postdoc needs.

Another focus of the sessions I attended was on professional development. This included developing the tools to get an industry job after your postdoc. For getting an industry job, Dr. Randall Ribaudo and Mr. Larry Petcovic led a discussion on how to optimally convert an industry job advertisement into a cover letter and resume. They emphasized the importance of highlighting more than just the technical skills you have developed. Companies are looking for business skills, which postdocs at Argonne develop as manage their projects and meet their deadlines. Companies also highly value strong communication skills, which postdocs develop through networking, communicating their research with collaborators or at conferenc es, or participating in organizations such as the PSA. The workshop hosted by Dr. Ribaudo and Mr. Petcovic led the participants through a series of activities identifying the critical components of job postings and how to parlay the experiences gained as a postdoc to strengthen job applications.

A poster on the PSA Forum prepared by PSA Officers, Board and Forum Committee. It was presented in-person by Argonne Postdoc Lily Robertson (2021 PSA president) at the conference.

National Postdoc Appreciation Week at Argonne Recap

The 2023 National Postdoc Appreciation Week (September 18th – 22nd ) was a huge success, special thanks to co-chairs (Jessica Jones and Barnali Chowdhury) and the whole planning committee, (Adarsha Balaji, Claire Wei-Ju Chang, Tyra Chenice Douglas, Mark Du, Rakesh Kamath, Pedro Mercado Lozano, Francesco Salucci, Kumar Neeraj, and Chuyuan Zheng).  This year’s celebration featured a range of engaging events, including favorites from years past and a couple of fresh entries. 

Planning committee members and leadership team at the “Lunch with Paul Kearns” event.  From left to right: Lee Zachos, Adarsha Balaji, Kumar Neeraj, Claire Wei-Ju Chang, Barnali Chowdhury, Paul Kearns, Jessica Jones, Tina Henne, and Rakesh Kamath.

Brian Van Acker exhibiting the drones and robots used at Argonne and showing footage of their different applications to Mustafa Unal, Jessica Jones, Paul Kearns, and Lee Zachos.

The week started with an event where postdocs came together and had an informal lunch with laboratory director Paul Kearns.  This gave postdocs a chance to chat with laboratory leadership and share their research with an eager Paul Kearns. Through a concurrent “Technology Showcase”, postdocs (and the entire lab community) also got exposure to some of the amazing robotics used around the lab, including drones that have been used to improve safety through surveying roofs and high-voltage supplies. Postdocs were able to handle and pose with some of the drones, which was a very fun experience.  

Paul Kearns sitting down to lunch with a group of postdocs.

Brian Van Acker exhibiting the drones and robots used at Argonne and showing footage of their different applications.  Foreground: Paul Kearns deep in discussion with a group of postdocs.

Paul Kearns interacting with a group of postdocs over lunch.

Jessica Jones and Barnali Chowdhury posing with drones.

On Tuesday, Sept 19th,  a two-day site-wide scavenger hunt was organized for postdocs to discover the “hidden gems” on the Argonne site with current and historical significance. An interlaboratory elevator pitch competition, organized on Wednesday, saw many postdocs from ANL, ORNL and LANL join in to cheer for their fellow postdocs. This event has been highlighted in a different blogpost. See detail here. About 40 postdocs were also given an opportunity to get their professional headshots taken on Tuesday and Wednesday.  


Pedro Mercado Lozano asking questions to the early career staff panelists Aleena Rafique, Alex Grannan, Ana Suzana, Ashley Bielinski, David Lenz with Chuyuan Zheng (far right) mediating the discussion.

(In-person and virtual) Room full of postdocs discussing their immigration/visa queries with Michelle Leisten.

The immigration panel was held by Michelle Leisten on Friday (Sept 23rd), the immigration services lead at Argonne and proved to be very informative for the postdocs interested in visa transitions and immigration opportunities. The week concluded with a picnic at Argonne Park, where families could attend together. This brought postdocs from divisions across the lab together to network and allowed for some much-needed decompression time.  Multiple postdocs brought their partners and children, and it added dimension outside of the working environment for postdocs to see each other as more than just scientists.    

Picnic pavilion full of postdocs enjoying interacting outside of work at Argonne Park.

Children that were brought to the postdoc picnic running in the grass while parents watched on.

Sixbert Muhoza enjoying the picnic.

Postdocs laughing at toddler antics. Our (Toddler) engagement officer, JacJac Jones, busy engaging postdocs and bringing a smile on their faces after a long week of research

Postdocs enjoying conversation.

Overall, this year’s National Postdoc Appreciation Week activities were a success and brought postdocs from around the lab together in a variety of ways.   

Argonne Postdocs Co-Host Elevator Speech Competition with Oak Ridge National Lab and Los Alamos National Laboratories  

Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos National Laboratories held the first cross-laboratory elevator speech competition!   

The event showcased 30 postdocs from the three participating labs explaining their research in under three minutes.   

  In collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne held its first-ever Cross-Laboratory Elevator Speech Competition on September 20th, 2023. The event featured 30 postdocs from the three participating laboratories describing their research and its potential impact in three minutes, intending to promote collaborations among early career scientists at the national laboratories.     

Postdoctoral scientists presented on a wide variety of topics, ranging from technology for vaccine platforms to machine learning strategies, and innovations in recycling.   

The competition winners were chosen by a panel of judges from Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Los Alamos.   The judges evaluated the participants’ creativity, organization, and ability to convey scientific information to non-experts.  All winners now have a chance to give a research seminar at one of the participating laboratories.    

The Winners are:   

  • Olivia Chavez (LANL), “Bacterial Lipid Nanodiscs: Novel Vaccine Platform”   
  • Michael Dziekan (ANL), “Recycling Domestic Rare Earth Magnets”  
  • Jayasai Rajagopal (ORNL), “Harnessing the Power of High-Performance Computing for Virtual Imaging Trials”    

The inaugural cross-laboratory event served as a spotlight for postdocs across the national laboratories, amplifying complex research in a timely, engaging, and understandable way.   Following the competition’s success, postdocs from each lab continue to look for ways to meet and collaborate in the future.  

This cross-laboratory collaboration was initiated by the Postdoctoral Society Presidents of each lab: Claire Chang (ANL), Indranil Roy (ORNL), and Aaron Christopher Pital (LANL).  It would not have been possible without the Organizing Committee: Adarsha Balaji and Neeraj Kumar from Argonne, Pratishtha Shukla, Laurie Varma, and Tomas Grejtak from Oak Ridge.  Many thanks to the competition judges Thomas R. Watkins, Paige C. Kinsley, and Antonya Jandacek Sanders, and to the three Postdoc Offices for their help and support in making this event a success.  

Thanks to the participating ANL postdocs:   

  • Tupendra Oli     
  • Mustafa Unal  
  • Michael Dziekan  
  • Amit Bashyal   
  • Liu Yang 


Join Us for National Postdoc Appreciation Week!

National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) is right around the corner. 

This annual event will be hosted in-person (and hybrid) from Sept. 18th – Sept. 22nd by NPAW committee of the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne. Please join us to witness the exciting events throughout the next week (all events are free to attend).

The event details and location can be found in the flyer below.