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.



About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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