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2016 Annual Meeting - Friday Sessions
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Friday, March 4

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Please note the following intended audience abbreviations: IP - individual postdoctoral scholar; PDA - postdoctoral association; PDO - postdoctoral office; ASSOC – association & societies; ALL - for everyone.

Creating a National Postdoctoral Survey: A Way of Seeing an "Invisible" Population

Intended Audience: ALL


PRESENTERS: Sean McConnell, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Chicago; Joseph Pierre, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago; Erica Westerman, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago


MODERATOR: Nancy B. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor and Dean and Director of Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Chicago


Despite recent policy focus on trainees, and the establishment of groups focused on training, data on postdoctoral researchers remain sparse. There is even a striking lack of agreement on how many postdoctoral researchers there currently are. This paucity of information leads to major challenges for policy-makers. Working at the institutional level, we sought to create a survey, generated by postdocs, to address such knowledge gaps and learn the major issues facing postdocs. This survey has been made available to Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) members to facilitate collection of pilot survey data. We are also making this survey available to other institutions in order to promote data collection among postdocs at a national scale. Insights gained from widespread participation in a national postdoctoral survey will be instrumental in shaping future policy decisions affecting postdocs and the entire research enterprise. The goals of this session are (1) to identify how postdocs and postdoc associations can play an essential role in disseminating a national survey promoting shared interests, (2) to explore data analysis strategies designed to make the most of this rich data being generated, and (3) to examine the role of survey data in making policy decisions. In addition, we discuss lessons learned from over a decade of institutional postdoctoral survey results that helped form the foundation for this new survey.


The Chicken or the Egg... or Catch-22

Intended Audience: IP


PRESENTERS: Christine Holmes, M.B.A., Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, Cornell University; Susi Varvayanis, M.S., Senior Director BEST Program, Cornell University


The old conundrum: I’m interested in a job in industry, but don’t know how to get the skills needed while I’m in an academic institution. How do I show prospective employers I have management experience when I have never been a manager? What does it even entail to work in industry? I don’t know much about regulatory affairs, early discovery, downstream processing, or manufacturing. I don’t even know where to start looking for the job titles that might be appropriate to my research experiences. What do industry employers look for? What does ”3-5 years of industry experience” mean, and do I qualify? How do I get experience when I have no experience?


Employers seek specific so-called “soft skills” beyond solid technical skills in people they hire: reliability, strong ethics, teamwork, good communication and leadership. They are looking for self-confident, problem-solving, self-initiators who can clearly express the value they will add to the organization. It is important that you can translate your experiences into a language that will get their attention. Can you synthesize a lot of information to sift out what is most important to the bottom line? Are you willing to tackle a project you have no background in and recruit others to get it done? Do you have a “can-do” attitude?


In this session we will bust some common myths, help you refocus your skills to think of them from an industry perspective, and share resources available to help you get further training while completing your postdoc productively. Lastly we’ll provide some concrete examples of how to recraft your résumé to appeal to an industry human resources gatekeeper.


Design and Implementation of Individual Development Plans and Mentoring Committees for Postdoctoral Scholars

Sponsored by the American Chemical Society

Intended Audience: PDA, PDO


PRESENTERS: Timothy A. Burkhart, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Lawson Health Research Institute, Adjunct Professor, Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Surgery, Western University; Mihaela Harmos, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Services Coordinator, School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Western University


Despite an established postdoctoral program at our institution, there still remain several concerns with our approach to training. The culture of postdoctoral training has become antiquated, as many faculty still believe that postdocs are predominantly a research workforce who are directed to an academic career. In addition, the postdoctoral cohort is the only academic group on campus that does not have a formal mentoring process in place; thus the supervisor is the sole source of oversight and support. Finally, postdocs do not have access to career skills development, which address both academic and non-academic career pathways. Therefore, we have developed a postdoctoral training program, with the following objectives: (1) to provide postdoctoral scholars with extensive mentoring; and (2) provide academic and nonacademic career training specific to postdoctoral needs. At the beginning of the postdoctoral scholars’ appointment they are now required to complete an individual development plan in consultation with their supervisor. Here, the postdoc informs the supervisor of their career ambitions in addition to developing a strategy to effectively train the postdoc throughout their tenure. This is accomplished by establishing goals in the areas of transferable professional development, career specific professional development, research skill development, and the option of customized competencies. For each of these, one or more goals are developed along with a strategy to meet each goal (including required training), and the expected outcome. The postdoctoral scholar is now also required to establish a mentoring committee, within the first three months of their appointment. This consists of two additional members who can be faculty, institute scientists, or from industry. Initially, the associate deans in each faculty will act as temporary mentors until the full committee is formed. An initial meeting is required so that the independent development plan can be discussed with and approved by the mentors. A formal meeting is required at six months and then yearly, to discuss progress, hurdles, and amendment of the desired goals. The implementation of this program provides additional oversight, will improve postdoctoral productivity and satisfaction with their training, and will better prepare them for the variety of competitive job markets. Furthermore, this will assist our institution in attracting the best postdocs thus improving our research profile.


How to Successfully Create or Revive a PDA in a University: Case Study Based on the Creation of the Yale Postdoctoral Association

Intended Audience: IP, PDA, PDO


PRESENTERS: Florian Carle, Ph.D., Co-chair and founding member of the Yale Postdoctoral Association, Yale University; Jens Jaeger, Ph.D., Liaison with the Office of Career Strategy, founding member of the Yale Postdoctoral Association, Yale University


The year 2015 marked an important turn in the more inclusive vision that Yale has for its postdoctoral associates and fellows. Previously, the Office for Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) was responsible for postdoctoral career development programming, individual career advisement, and organizing social events in tandem with the Postdoctoral Advisory Committee (PAC) at Yale. In early 2015, the university decided to extend career development services that had previously been offered only to undergraduate and graduate students, to the postdoctoral community. These services included access to the Office of Career Strategy and the Center for Teaching and Learning. The OPA consequently restructured its organization to avoid redundancies in career counseling offerings, leading to the dissolution of the PAC. Despite having gained access to better career development resources at the university, the postdoctoral body discovered that it had lost a valuable socialization and community building component with the PAC dissolution. Feedback provided by a large number of randomly surveyed Yale postdocs indicated that they felt underrepresented in the new structural arrangement.


Based on the establishment of the Yale Postdoctoral Association (YPA) in April 2015 and its successful launch in September, this workshop will highlight the most effective strategies in creating and launching a PDA at an institution of higher learning, draw attention to the pitfalls to avoid, offer suggestions for resuscitating a quiescent PDA, and outline ideas for expanding membership appeal to postdocs from a wide variety of disciplines. The co-existence of the proposed PDA with the designated OPA at the institution will also be a pivotal feature of this discussion, with guidelines for delineating respective organizational roles and avoiding overlap.


This workshop will be particularly useful to fledgling PDAs, postdocs who wish to create a new or revive an outdated PDA, and postdoc groups interested in increasing the visibility of their PDAs. It is designed to be an interactive discussion with the audience based on the YPA example.


Immigration Considerations for Postdocs

Intended Audience: IP


PRESENTER: Amanda Thompson, Esq., Law Office of Amanda Thompson


The lives of international postdocs are filled with transitions, many of which have implications for their U.S. immigration status. There are complex rules that impact movement between visa classifications, between employers, and relating to the pursuit of permanent residence. Students and postdocs often lack a full understanding of the relationship between a decision about a job offer, their current and future immigration status, and their career. This presentation seeks to provide explanations of the common issues that postdocs and students face as they transition from school to professionals within their chosen careers.


Thriving in Science: A Peer Support Model for Postdoc Communities...Because Just Surviving isn't Enough

Intended Audience: IP, PDA


PRESENTERS: Filipp Frank, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, Berkeley; Sara Wichner, B.S., doctoral candidate, University of California, Berkeley; Diane M. Wiener, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, Berkeley


Thriving in Science is a campus-wide, professional development initiative that is intended to provide graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with the resources and support to make the most of their academic training. We seek to empower graduate students and postdocs to become more engaged, resilient, and creative scientists by directly addressing the real-world, often personal, challenges that are encountered in the course of a career in scientific research, for example, overcoming and learning from failure, understanding burnout, creating a positive and supportive lab culture, to name a few. The premise of the program is that scientists can improve their chances for success in their careers by working together to address many of these challenges that limit him/her. Thriving in Science supports graduate students and postdocs by (1) hosting monthly seminars with experts both inside and outside of science including areas such as, business, education, management, and psychology, to provide data-driven discussions, resources, strategies to address many of these more subjective and emotional aspects that a scientist will face in his/her career, and (2) fostering and promoting small peer support groups that meet twice per month to serve as a network for both career and personal development through which to find solutions to many of these issues. Throughout the first year of the program, we collected survey data from the Thriving in Science community that showed that our participants were more engaged, resilient, and satisfied with their academic experience, relative to a control group of peers that did not participate. We will present these data and detail some of the program logistics so that other postdoctoral communities may benefit from our experience and emulate the program on their campuses. We will demonstrate and encourage participation of the audience in small peer support group mentoring. Through this workshop, we intend to showcase our program and advocate for its implementation at other institutions.


Adventure is Out There: A Simple Intervention Program to Keep Postdocs Motivated for Career Success

Intended Audience: PDA, PDO


PRESENTERS: Deirdre Brekken, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs, UT Southwestern; Natalie Lundsteen, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Career Development, UT Southwestern


After reviewing data from an annual survey of our postdoctoral population, we found that postdocs reported a dramatic decrease in confidence about attaining their desired career path in the “middle” of their postdoctoral training (generally between three and four years of postdoctoral experience). We created a simple intervention mechanism designed to bring postdocs together for lunch with staff from the Offices of Postdoctoral Affairs and Graduate Career Development. Over 10 lunchtimes in summer 2015 we met with close to 100 postdocs and provided a “check-in” for resources, support, and a bit of a reality check. During the lunchtime sessions, which were voluntary, we provided concrete career development resources as well as opportunity for discussion. This allowed postdocs to share questions and concerns in a confidential, informal setting. We surveyed participants' confidence levels both before and after the lunchtime sessions. Join us to learn more about how we implemented this easy intervention and tracked improvement in our postdocs’ career confidence.


Creating Peer Writing Groups for Faculty Applications

Intended Audience: IP, PDA


PRESENTERS: Ramkumar T. Annamalai, Ph.D., Research Fellow, University of Michigan; Amirhossein Ghasemi, Ph.D., Research Fellow, University of Michigan; Kathleen McEnnis, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Michigan


MODERATOR: Kirsti Ashworth, Ph.D., Research Fellow, University of Michigan


Many postdocs are interested in pursuing an academic career, but have little experience and guidance on how to create the necessary application package. Postdocs need a support system including both their peers and mentors to succeed at presenting themselves as a strong candidates for entry level academic career positions. A particular challenge is writing a cohesive and compelling research statement to include in an academic application package as this can vary drastically among research disciplines.


The postdocs in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan (U-M) have created an application writing group for postdocs pursuing an academic career. Small group writing circles were established among professional peers to provide both feedback on writing and also create accountability. Members benefited from the opportunity to exchange rubrics and receive critique from the group. Volunteered faculty mentors were matched to the small groups to offer input on the writing.


In this workshop, participants will learn about the program that has been introduced at U-M, and learn ways to establish a similar scheme at their own institution. Participants will work through issues such as organizing small groups and reckoning with the diversity of styles of research statements relevant to basic sciences and engineering. This workshop will be an introduction to the culture of academia and diversity inherent to successful professional collaborations.


Improving Email Communication

Intended Audience: ALL


PRESENTERS: Kristen K. Mighty, Ph.D., M.P.H., Senior Program Coordinator, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Northwestern University; Jana E. Stone, Ph.D., Director, Office of Postdoctoral Services, Georgia Institute of Technology


Email newsletters are one of the most common and effective means by which information can be summarized, combined and distributed to a large target audience. However, it’s easy to lose your audience’s attention if these communications are overloaded with information or sent too often. This session will introduce platforms and tools available to assemble and distribute electronic newsletters/campaigns. Participants will learn how to assess the effectiveness of communications using open rate and web page view analytics. Presenters and participants will share how analytics can been used to continue to improve communication with the target audience over time.


Postdocs as Fulbright Scholar Grantees

Intended Audience: IP


PRESENTER: Caitlin McNamara, M.A., Recruitment and Marketing Officer, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Institute of International Education


From its beginnings in 1946-1947, the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, sponsored by the United States Department of State, was designed to attract applicants and award grants to individuals who were seasoned researchers and academics. For the first 60 years of its existence, the program typically required at least five years’ experience following the award of the terminal degree. However, over the last decade, the profile of desired program participants has changed. The Fulbright Scholar Program continues to underscore the necessity for qualified applicants, but what constitutes appropriate experience and preparation for teaching and research overseas has refocused.


A set of binational and regional exchange opportunities, the Fulbright Scholar Program reflects the interests of the hosting countries and their educational establishments. As seen in the annual catalog of awards, numerous opportunities now exist that are either specific to postdoctoral scholars or are open to a wide range of applicants, including early career. Of the 575 awards featured in the competition for academic year 2016-2017, 414 awards welcomed postdoctoral and early career applicants.


The purpose of the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program workshop at the NPA meeting is to inform attendees about the wide range of opportunities in the Fulbright Program while making specific reference to awards of interest to the membership. These awards may be dedicated to a specific academic discipline or constructed to include many specializations. Most awards encourage the applicant to identify the host institution, while others may be hosted at specific universities, laboratories, ministries or other non-profit venues in the host country.


The workshop will clarify how to locate and read awards and how to prepare a competitive application. A thoughtful, well prepared and focused application is the best way to make a convincing case to peer

reviewers in the United States and abroad. Fulbright supports both experience and resume building. Questions will be sought as the presenter works to address the specific needs of individuals.


Strategies for Multi-Institutional Cooperation for Postdoctoral Career Advancement

Intended Audience: PDO


PRESENTERS: Amber Cox, M.S.W., Associate Director, Committee on Institutional Cooperation; Peter Hitchcock, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean, Graduate School, University of Michigan; Laurie E. Risner, Ph.D., Kennedy Center Administrator, University of Chicago


MODERATOR: Nancy B. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor and Dean and Director of Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Chicago


In the biomedical workforce, where lab culture often adopts an apprenticeship model, the absence of supportive mentoring practices may have a significant impact on training environments and career trajectories of STEM trainees. These deficiencies are especially impactful on aspiring scientists from underrepresented (UR) populations who may be acutely sensitive to training environments that do not provide adequate mentored support, leading to fewer UR postdocs entering the professoriate as well as lower success rates in their obtaining NIH funding, etc. Educators and scientists have recognized the need for enhanced supportive mentoring, professional skill development, and especially, grantsmanship training. Unfortunately, with constricting institutional budgets and increased pressure on faculty time, it is often difficult for individual institutions to muster the resources and instructional talent to provide adequate training in all the areas needed to launch an academic career.


During this workshop, participants will learn how (1) to leverage their individual resources, (2) to build multi-institutional cooperatives, (3) to create interinstitutional mentoring and grantsmanship training teams, to the career benefit of postdocs and junior faculty, and (4) to change institutional culture by training senior faculty coaches.


You Are More Than Your CV: Presenting Yourself Outside the Lab

Intended Audience: IP


PRESENTER: Mary M. Mitchell, President, The Mitchell Organization


Nearly every major hiring decision involves face-to-face interaction. And the interview process is often as much social as formal. This workshop will both heighten your awareness and give you the confidence to present yourself effectively outside your lab. Topics include: Interview skills, business etiquette, appropriate dress, and how to make the most of business/social events.