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!
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.