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.

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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