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Implementing and Sustaining a Postdoc Seminar Series
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Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn

 

The University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus Postdoctoral Association (PDA) began its Postdoc Seminar Series in 2010 as a platform for postdocs to practice their oral presentation skills. Our seminar series has proven useful for many purposes. Presenters can practice their formal presentations and receive critical peer feedback prior to presenting at external conferences. The seminar series serves as a networking and community-building opportunity where postdocs can learn about their peers’ research. And presenters gain experience communicating their science to diverse audiences.

 

The series has been organized and run by PDA members since its inception seven years ago: Daisy Dai, PhD (2010-2012), Jessica Finlay-Schultz, PhD (2012-2016), Tulia Bruno, PhD (2012-2014, affiliate campus), Rwik Sen, PhD, and Balachandar Nedumaran, PhD (2016-2017).

 

The seminar series is held annually from September to May on the third Thursday of each month during lunch. Presentation time slots fill up rapidly when the annual call for talks is sent out in August. The PDA takes advantage of the campus listserv to request presenters. If slots remain unfilled, a follow-up email is sent informing postdocs of the open slots. Once the series begins for the year, two emails are sent; the first reminder is sent two weeks before an upcoming presentation, and the second the morning of the presentation. PDA members also post flyers in elevators and throughout buildings.

 

The presentations consist of a 20–minute talk followed by 5-10 minutes of questions. The themes of the talks are traditionally related to research, but talks are not limited only to research projects. For example, one well-attended talk was about financial literacy, and the PDA is always open to other non-traditional themes.

 

The cost to implement and run the seminar series is minimal as few resources are required—just a room, computer, projector, and food. Lunch has always been provided, traditionally pizza, since many postdocs may not have time to get lunch after the event. Pizza is cost effective and offers an easy way to feed many hungry mouths with about $120 nourishing 30-40 people. Promega representatives saw the flyers and reached out to the PDA, generously offering to support the seminar series with food and beverages, starting in 2015. The representatives like to directly support postdocs, as postdocs make ordering decisions and are an underserved campus group. It is also easier for sponsors to pay for food than to provide monetary donations.

 

Over the years, the Postdoc Seminar Series has blossomed. The postdoc reaction has been positive with an overall increase in attendance in each successive year. Since we began tracking attendance in 2012, the attendance has grown from an average of 10 individuals per event to nearly 40! As a result, in 2017, the seminar room used for hosting has been over capacity, and a larger seminar room is now booked for all future events. This is promising as both new and seasoned postdocs attend, finding it educational. Presenters also find it rewarding.

 

The success of the series has been attributed to the once-monthly offering and variety of presentation topics. The campus offers a multitude of workshops and presentations for postdocs; rather than risk poor attendance with weekly presentations, the once-monthly offering has been ideal to maintaining regular attendance. The broad variety in presentations has also influenced the attendance by attracting postdocs from multiple departments and disciplines. The PDA has chosen to keep the series at once-monthly for budgetary reasons and to avoid attendance fatigue.

 

Recently, the Postdoc Seminar Series has been integrated with other PDA opportunities. For example, recipients of travel and workshop awards are required to present what they learned as part of a teaching series. Currently, these presentations are being incorporated into the September 2017-May 2018 schedule. However, if there is increased demand, slots may be added during the summer months. Because of its continued success, we believe this is a truly sustainable postdoc-driven initiative, and we envision it continuing for years to come.

 

Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, PhD, is a research instructor at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus and the president of the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Postdoctoral Association.

 

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