- Career Center
|Amplifying Voices and Building a National Community of Postdocs|
Caleb McKinney and Claire Horner-Devine
The NPA is committed to supporting and amplifying the diverse perspectives and experiences within the postdoctoral community. Our new initiative, Amplifying Voices, aims to provide a national platform to highlight the individual experiences and perspectives of postdoctoral scholars with a focus on amplifying the voices of individuals from groups underrepresented in our community. Community building is important for personal and professional development, and we hope that Amplifying Voices is one step toward increasing community among postdocs by providing a forum where postdocs can have their voices heard and be inspired by one another.
Community creates a sense of belonging
“I think the first time I recognized myself as a scientist was while writing my PhD dissertation. The process of developing [my] hypothesis, experimental design, and critical thinking to carry out my PhD research and the realization of the broader implications of my study made me identify as a scientist.”
Dr. Priyanka Kushwaha, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Arizona
“When institutions acknowledge the significant contribution that postdocs make to the research enterprise, they give us a sense of purpose.”
Dr. Karen Alviar, University Researcher, University of the Philippines Los Banos
“There are many small drawbacks in research, they happen daily. It is important to see them as points for improvement rather than total failure; it keeps motivation high and motivated people come happy to work. It also creates a baseline, where everyone can relate to each other.”
Dr. Marcela Mireles Ramirez, Postdoctoral Appointee, University of Rochester
Being a postdoc can be an exciting time of scientific growth, creativity and independence. It can also be very isolating as postdocs move into new institutions and are often one of a few or perhaps the only postdoc in a research group. So while postdocs have worked hard through their training and are poised to make valuable contributions to their fields, they must also learn to navigate a new institutional culture, and a new career stage, and must do so while developing a new personal community. The literature shows that a sense of belonging is important to individual success. A strong connection to community can counter the isolation that a postdoc may experience and increase their sense of belonging to their institution and field of study; this is especially true for postdocs from groups underrepresented in their fields. Community building also provides a platform to celebrate the individual achievements of postdocs and reinforce the importance of their passionate efforts in research and discovery.
Community broadens professional networks
“Networking is community building, and the community you build will help to guide and support you as you navigate your early career. And the best part? You get to guide and support others in return! My strategies for this basically revolve around trying to develop sincere personal and professional connections with those I meet at conferences, seminars, events, etc. Taking the time to learn something about a person, and to stay in touch periodically is much more valuable than simply shaking a hand and walking away.”
Dr. Ashlee Jahnke, Assistant Research Scientist, Texas A&M University
Social learning theory emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors of others when framing motivations and building self-confidence. This approach can significantly impact career decisions. The postdoctoral community represents various stages of training, experience, and professional trajectories, providing an enriching professional network for informal mentoring relationships. Informal mentoring reinforces support networks and taking the time to explore peer mentoring opportunities can also allow postdocs to learn from each other and shape their scientific and career development. Furthermore, for those wishing to pursue non-academic careers, engaging with postdoc alumni that have gone into these careers can improve technical literacy in that industry and expand access to potential employment opportunities.
Community catalyzes collaboration and drives creativity
“I have always tried to combine people’s talents and expertise in different fields and techniques to accomplish bigger projects. When I work with other people, I always lead by example.... It is very important to have a sense of community and feel that it is not my project, it is our project!”
Dr. Leonardo Ferreira, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCSF
“Biomedical engineering is a unique discipline that in literally in its name combines biology, medicine, and engineering. It is an amazing opportunity for collaboration between, scientist, chemists, medical practitioners, and more. The most successful innovations in this field I have been a part of have been creative solutions development with a community collective of smart minds driven with a common goal. Collaboration is the key not only to innovate but to also build a community that can better understand and translate work from bench to bedside to the world.”
Dr. Amy Kauffman, Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University
Postdocs represent a talented community of diverse experiences and backgrounds. Cultivating camaraderie in such a diverse community presents an enormous value proposition to the scientific workforce. Creative problem solving is a hallmark of innovative research discovery, and stems from diversity of perspective. Heterogeneous communities are more apt at developing creative solutions to the most intricate of inquiries. Strong communities can foster new and strategic collaborations, leveraging diverse skill sets and differences in perspective to produce more innovative outcomes.
The NPA invites current and recent postdocs to share their stories and have their voice heard by our NPA community. Please complete our virtual interview and follow us on social media (@nationalpostdoc) to learn more about others in our community. We will work to make as many submitted voices heard as we can through social media and future POSTDOCket articles. Thank you in advance for allowing your voice to be heard and for sharing a part of your story. We are listening.
Caleb McKinney,PhD, and Claire Horner-Devine, PhD, are the NPA Diversity Officers. McKinney leads the Office of Career Strategy and Professional Development (CSPD) Biomedical Graduate Education (BGE) career center at Georgetown University Medical Center. Horner-Devine is Co-Founder and Co-Director of three national programs designed to accelerate and improve the career advancement of early career women and researchers from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). McKinney and Horner-Devine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.