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Strategic Volunteering to Build Needed Career Skills
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Andrew Bankston


My research career began when I was 16 years old, when I was accepted into a summer internship program at the University of New Orleans. Over the course of the next 15 years, I have continuously worked in a lab, up until the end of my time as a postdoctoral scholar. Having grown up within academia, I found it hard to imagine any other life for myself. However, as I approached the end of graduate school, I began to wonder if an academic career was truly the way I wanted to go.


I came into my postdoc position with the plan to give it the maximal effort that I would if I was certain of an academic career, but I also decided to use that time to explore other careers. Luckily, the now-retired associate dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies at the University of Louisville, Thomas Geoghegan, PhD, introduced me to the NPA. I joined the Outreach and Resource Development Committees, because it seemed like a good way to build a network and easily find career exploration resources.


I was immediately involved in social media management for the NPA, and I soon appreciated the importance of social media in career development. I quickly expanded my network and gained an “ear to the ground” that made me more aware of current trends in multiple career tracks that I was exploring. I found that I was most engaged by conversations regarding student and postdoc training and development, which encouraged me to become involved in more activities related to trainee development. To begin gaining experience in this realm, with Barbara Natalizio, PhD, and Chantelle Ferland, PhD, I took on projects with the Resource Development Committee to develop toolkits for organizing postdoc symposia and career planning for graduate students.


Eventually I became chair of the Outreach Committee for two years before joining the Board of Directors in 2017. Joining the NPA leadership was a great boost to my network. It also gave me insight into management of a large nonprofit organization. I added experience in membership campaigns and finding sponsorships for meetings. Both activities have improved my ability to sell an idea—including myself! I also learned skills in project and team management through NPA leadership. Many local activities reinforced these skills. I chose every activity to meet my goals for skill development.


My conversion of volunteer experience into career options is not unique. If you volunteer strategically and show productivity, you can gain the right skills to qualify you for the career that you want. The NPA has trained over 200 leaders, many of whom used their experience in the NPA to successfully transition into careers within and outside of academia.


There are great volunteer opportunities available in the NPA. The Outreach Committee continues to expand participation in National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) and manage social media for the NPA. The Resource Development Committee runs the NPA’s new myPostdoc Monthly webinar series, creates new resources for the postdoc community, and designs infographics for current resources. The Meetings Committee organizes the ever-growing NPA Annual Conference. The Advocacy Committee keeps the NPA informed on issues relevant to the postdoc community and creates guides for advocacy by postdocs and policy recommendations for institutions. The Diversity and International Officers and their taskforces continue to expand the variety of resources to support greater diversity and for international postdocs, including new diversity webinars. The POSTDOCket Committee publishes a monthly newsletter for the NPA community.


I leveraged my experiences volunteering with the NPA—both network and skill building—to get my current position. Take advantage of the many opportunities to build professional skills in the NPA, you never know where it might lead you.


Andrew Bankston, PhD, is a member of the NPA Board of Directors. He did his postdoc at the University of Louisville Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center. Currently, Andrew is the program manager for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.