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The POSTDOCket, February 2019
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New Insights into the Postdoctoral Experience from a National Survey

by Erin Heckler

In 2016, the University of Chicago Postdoctoral Association Survey Committee and Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs disseminated a national postdoc survey. After conducting internal postdoc surveys and refining questions for over ten years, the committee was motivated to get national data. This was the first national survey of the postdoc experience since the 2004 Sigma Xi “Doctors without Orders” survey.

The national postdoc survey reached a wide swath of the postdoctoral population with over 7,600 postdocs completing the survey. The respondents represented all fifty states and 351 institutions, including those at universities, research centers, and national labs. Contact information was used from institutional websites for postdoc offices and associations and a website and Twitter account was created for this project.

This was both a top-down and grassroots approach to reach as many postdocs as possible, regardless of whether they had centralized institutional support. Postdoc offices and associations can use these data to benchmark their institution and policymakers can use these data to provide insight into the  postdoc experience in the United States.

Demographics and Compensation

The main findings from this survey were recently published in eLife, “United States National Postdoc Survey results and the interaction of gender, career choice and mentor impact.” The first two figures compare and contrast demographics and salary to cost of living. The majority of respondents were in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields while 8.4 percent were in the humanities, psychology, or social science fields. Respondents were almost equally split between United States citizens (49 percent) and international respondents (51 percent); and 53 percent of respondents were women.

The purpose of the national postdoc survey was to give an updated view into the postdoc experience, including representation of international postdocs in the United States.

These results confirmed again the “Supporting the Needs of Postdocs: 2017 National Postdoctoral Association Institutional Policy Report” and the Future of Research recent publication, “Assessing the landscape of US postdoctoral salaries,” that postdoc compensation is often in line with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Research Service Award (NRSA) Stipend scale regardless of location. As a result, a postdoc salary does not take into consideration or adjust for the relative cost of living in certain locations–for example, a postdoc salary does not go as far in Palo Alto as it does in Pittsburgh.

Findings also indicate that the average salary was $1,200.57 higher for male postdocs compared to female postdocs and that the postdoc gender wage gap persists regardless of institution type, partnership/parental status, or race/ethnicity. The pay gap also increases with postdoc age, but not partnership status.

However, field of study has the largest overall effect on salary: engineering, environmental sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences postdocs have significantly higher salaries than those in the humanities, life sciences, medicine, or psychology. Female postdocs edged out male postdocs with a slightly higher salary in the physical sciences.

Career Plan and Mentorship Satisfaction

The committee delved further into two key areas of the postdoc experience: primary career choice and mentorship satisfaction. Academic research is still the primary career choice for the majority of postdocs working in the United States (57.7 percent of respondents). The responses from twenty six other questions were analyzed to determine which factors influenced this choice.

International and male postdocs are more interested in academic research careers than their female or United States citizen counterparts. Significant factors that correspond to academic research as a primary career choice are: mentor support, number of publications as a postdoc, weekly hours worked, conferences attended, and career preparation. Postdocs active on the job market were less likely to have an academic research primary career choice and more likely to have changed their career plan. Overall, changing long-term career plans had the largest and most significant effect on primary career choice.

The postdoc and primary faculty advisor’s mentoring relationship can vary widely, and this relationship has an extensive effect on a postdoc’s career. Therefore, the committee next focused on postdoc satisfaction with mentorship received. The majority (60 percent) of postdocs were either satisfied or very satisfied with the mentorship they receive. Again, the responses from twenty six other questions were analyzed to determine which factors influence mentorship satisfaction. Career preparation, perceived mentor support for the postdoc’s career plan, and frequency of meetings had the largest positive effect on mentorship satisfaction.

Notably, the small percentage of postdocs (26 percent) who reported receiving training in mentorship were also more likely to be satisfied with the mentorship they received. The committee highlights this as a positive intervention that is in place at several institutions and through the National Research Mentoring Network and Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research for STEM fields.

The purpose of the national postdoc survey was to give an updated view into the postdoc experience, including representation of international postdocs in the United States, in the results. The committee uncovered new insights into postdoc primary career plans and what influences mentorship satisfaction. This data may be used to guide policy discussions on the postdoc experience at national and institutional levels.

A workshop on the survey was presented by authors Erica Westerman, Joseph Pierre, and Sean McConnell at the 2016 NPA Annual Meeting. A poster with preliminary results from the survey was presented by McConnell at the 2017 NPA Annual Meeting.  A preliminary report of this data was presented by authors Westerman and Erin Heckler at the 2018 NPA Annual Conference. The study authors McConnell, Pierre, and Westerman were all postdocs at the University of Chicago when this study was conducted and have since moved on in their careers.

Erin Heckler, Ph.D., is director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis and co-chair of the NPA Resource Development Committee.

It’s Time to Expand the Clinical Research Workforce

by Jim Kremidas

A stubborn, acute workforce shortage is threatening the quality of clinical trials in the United States. Without an adequate pipeline of qualified, competent professionals, the clinical trial community will fail to sustain the kind of workforce numbers and conditions necessary for improving the efficiency and quality of medical discovery. Among many downsides, failure translates into the workforce continuing to miss out on exciting new talents represented by postdoctoral scholars. It’s long past time for the healthcare industry as a whole to better publicize and demonstrate the full spectrum of interesting and impactful opportunities that exist for postdocs across the clinical research enterprise.

Growing the clinical research workforce

The stakes are high and the consequences clear. High turnover. Quality and performance variance. Growing demand for more skilled, competent professionals. The clinical trial industry struggles with these and other issues, at the root of which is a lack of awareness of clinical research as a career option in the healthcare and life sciences communities, and lack of clarity regarding professional standards and expectations.

Organizations employing clinical research professionals of all types agree—the first step in creating a diverse and sustainable talent pool is to ensure that healthcare and life sciences students recognize that clinical research exists as a career path in the first place.

In response to this critical challenge, in 2018 the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) formed a new coalition of stakeholders with a vested interest in growing the clinical research workforce.

Partners in Workforce Advancement

The ACRP “Partners in Workforce Advancement” (PWA) initiative provides a unique opportunity for organizations to partner with ACRP and support initiatives focused on creating a sustainable workforce for the future. The flagship initiative will be development and implementation of an industry-wide “Awareness of Clinical Research as a Career Option” campaign targeting healthcare professionals and students.

Joining the PWA gives organizations a unique, high-profile opportunity to serve as industry thought leaders and innovators in driving and promoting best practices in the area of workforce planning, development, and assessment.

PWA representatives (one per contributing organization) meet in person twice each year and periodically via teleconference. One of the two face-to-face gatherings coincides with the ACRP annual conference held each April.

Standards for training

Meanwhile, in addition to tackling the awareness challenge, it is important to properly onboard new entrants to the complex and challenging clinical trial industry. For example, the ad hoc manner in which industry hires and trains clinical research coordinators (CRCs) is failing to improve quality in clinical research conduct, as clearly evidenced by the persistence of negative United States Food and Drug Administration and global regulatory agency findings. Possibly worse, it fails those at the front lines of clinical research by leaving them without consensus guidance on what is expected from them in terms of knowledge, skills, and attributes necessary to perform their jobs effectively, and how they can grow in their careers.

In response, ACRP spearheaded the design and dissemination of Core Competency Guidelines for CRCs. These provide CRCs with the support they need while improving operational quality and trial outcomes for all stakeholders in the clinical research enterprise. Developed by a task force of diverse industry representatives, the guidelines directly map to version 2.0 of the Harmonized Core Competency Framework developed by the Joint Task Force (JTF) for Clinical Trial Competency (more info).

It is important for all of us to do a better job of both attracting and training researchers desperately needed to bolster the workforce at a time when clinical trials are more important than ever.

Through extensive vetting—along with review and comments from ACRP’s Workforce Innovation Steering Committee (WISC) — the guidelines were developed to provide the most wide-ranging set of competencies required by the broadest set of CRCs working across different types of clinical studies (investigational products, therapeutic areas, and indications). In essence, ACRP and partner organizations have attempted to create a robust library of competency guidelines from which individual organizations can select and choose those that are most relevant for the job roles and levels within their companies.

In all cases, efforts were made to translate the exact JTF competency statements into meaningful, practical, and measurable statements (including a combination of knowledge assessments and other behavioral descriptors).

Through such efforts as those described here, ACRP is driving home the message to all stakeholder in the enterprise that people are the foundation of clinical trials, both in terms of participation and conduct. It is important for all of us to do a better job of both attracting and training researchers desperately needed to bolster the workforce at a time when clinical trials are more important than ever.

Jim Kremidas is executive director of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

National Postdoctoral Association Annual Conference to be held April 12-14 in Orlando, FL

By Tullia Bruno

The NPA Annual Conference is the largest national conference and networking event dedicated to the postdoctoral community. The NPA is excited to announce that the 17 Annual Conference will be held this year in Orlando, FL from April 12-14, 2019 at the Rosen Centre Hotel. Conference attendees normally include postdoctoral scholars, administrators, faculty, and representatives from disciplinary societies, industry and corporations. All of these individuals are offered the opportunity to gather and enhance their professional development and leadership skills, and the 2019 Annual Conference is no exception.

Conference Program and Speakers

The current conference program can be found here. This exciting program includes several concurrent sessions on pertinent topics for postdocs, PDOs, PDAs, and communities. In addition to these concurrent sessions, the keynote address this year will be by Bahija Jallal, Ph.D. Jallal is CEO of Immunocore, a leading T Cell Receptor (TCR) biotechnology company. Previously, she was president of MedImmune, the global biologics research and development unit of AstraZeneca. She also was executive vice president of AstraZeneca and was a member of its senior executive team reporting to the CEO.  

Jallal is an excellent choice for a keynote speaker as she encompasses many of the values that are important to the NPA and its members. Jallal is a member of the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Association of Science. She is also the president of the Association for Women in Science. She was named the 2017 Woman of the Year by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.

Two dynamite plenary speakers will also be presenting at the Annual Conference, Joshua Weiss, Ph.D., and Angela Byars-Winston, Ph.D. Similar to the keynote speaker, both plenary speakers offer important perspectives for our community that will enhance the Annual Conference.

Weiss is the co-founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project. He is also the director and creator of the masters of science degree in leadership and negotiation at Bay Path University. Weiss has spoken and published on negotiation, mediation, and systemic approaches to dealing with conflict. In his current capacity, he conducts research, consults with many different types of organizations, delivers negotiation and mediation trainings and courses, and engages in negotiation and mediation at the organizational, corporate, government, and international levels.

Byars-Winston is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine. She is the director of research and evaluation in the UW Center for Women’s Health Research, faculty affiliate of the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research, and associate director of the UW Collaborative Center for Health Equity. Her research examines cultural influences on academic and career development, especially for racial and ethnic minorities and women in the sciences, engineering, and medicine with the aim of broadening their participation in STEM fields.

An NPA Career Fair and other events

To supplement the regular annual networking events, including social events and a networking poster session, there is an inaugural NPA Career Fair happening on Sunday, April 14 from 12:30–3:00 p.m. at the Rosen Center Hotel, Ballroom C. It is open to all graduate students and postdocs looking for their next career position. For all Annual Conference attendees, registration to the Career Fair is included in the conference registration price. For those graduate students and postdocs wishing to attend just the Career Fair, registration is only $35 and this price includes a career focused workshop in the morning. Register online here for just the Career Fair. A full list of attending employers will be available soon. 

In addition to networking and professional development, there will be plenty of opportunities for fun at the Annual Conference!

In addition to networking and professional development, there will be plenty of opportunities for fun at the Annual Conference! The Rosen Centre Hotel offers a number of amenities, including an Olympic-size tropical outdoor swimming pool, nine restaurants and lounges, and The Spa at Rosen Centre which contains treatment suites, a full-service hair salon, health club and fitness center. Further, there are discounted tickets to many Orlando attractions offered online to meeting registrants.

Make your arrangements soon to join us in Orlando!  Registration for the conference is available online until March 29. Conference registration will be available on-site for a higher rate. The conference hotel rate of $149/night at the Rosen Centre is available until March 19. Book your hotel now! This rate is good for three days pre and post conference for those that want to come early or stay late. See you in Orlando!

Tullia Bruno, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh Hillman Cancer Center and is the strategic planning chair on the Board of Directors of the NPA.

NPA News and Committee Corner

The Committees of the Membership, along with the International and Diversity Officers, are at the core of the NPA. They work to develop events and resources that support the postdoctoral community, and their work would not be possible without volunteers. Volunteering with an NPA committee is a great way to gain professional experience at the national level, while giving back to the postdoctoral community. Here are some highlights of what committees and officers have been up to and how you can get involved.

Advocacy Committee

The Advocacy Committee is very busy updating content on the upcoming update to the NPA website. We will be providing NPA members an updated Guide to Advocacy, as well as updated information on relevant postdoc issues such as benefits, stipend, mental health & wellness.

Diversity Officers

While there have been momentous strides in diversity efforts institutionally and through national communities, there is still work to be done to maximize inclusive policies in recruiting, and retaining, and facilitating career transitions for diverse postdoc scholars.

The Diversity Officers are planning to build upon prior work by developing diversity-focused webinars to help facilitate institutional policies and best practices to foster community and inclusion for diverse postdoctoral scholars. If you have ideas or would like to get involved, we welcome volunteers!

We are also continuing our Amplifying Voices campaign as a national platform for postdoctoral fellows to share aspects of their postdoctoral training experiences and their professional passions. The NPA Diversity Officers have been sharing quotes from our Amplifying Voices virtual interview and those quotes have been getting reshared by other trainees via social media.  We are continuing to accept new submissions and we'd be happy to welcome volunteers to help us curate our Amplify campaign on Twitter!

International Officers

The International task force has developed a task force of volunteers. We had our first call to discuss updating the international resources for the upcoming update to the NPA website. We assigned members to edit and revise different sections, and have started on collaborations to build these materials for the website launch.

In the interim, we also published an article in The POSTDOCket to introduce the two new International Officers; and an article on fellowships applicable to international postdocs. We reviewed abstracts submitted to the NPA Annual Conference for workshops with an international postdoc focus, and we represented NPA at the Sigma Xi Conference.

Meetings Committee

The meetings committee has been busy finalizing details for the NPA Annual Conference that will be held this year in Orlando, FL from April 12-14, 2019 at the Rosen Centre Hotel. Registration will remain open until March 29. Attending the conference is a great way to network with postdocs and institutional representatives from around the nation. The conference agenda has been published and can be found here! We hope to see you at the conference!

Outreach Committee

The Outreach Committee has begun planning for Volunteer Appreciation Week 2019, which takes place April 13-21 this year. We also are beginning to organize for the National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week of 2019. In addition, we are working to provide input into the upcoming update to the NPA website.

The POSTDOCket Committee

The POSTOCket Committee onboarded several new associate editors and has been working to edit and update pages for the upcoming update to the NPA website.

Resource Development Committee

The Resource Development Committee selected top webinar topics from a social media poll:

  • Building Professional Relationships / Exploring Careers and Developing a Plan (a tie!)
  • Informational Interviews
  • Navigating Conflict.

We would like to thank everyone who took the poll and submitted ideas. We appreciate your feedback! Registration opens 2–3 weeks before the webinar date and is announced via email.

Here are the upcoming myPostdoc webinars for postdoc personal and professional development:

Women in STEM webinar, 1:00 p.m. ET on March 6

Colleen Zaccard, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow and Northwestern University Postdoc Forum Chicago Women in STEM Initiative chair; Valerie Fako Miller, Ph.D., assistant director of postdoctoral affairs at the University of Chicago.

To celebrate International Women's Day, the March myPostdoc webinar will focus on Women in STEM initiatives. Zaccard is leading a regional initiative to "facilitate an accelerated path to gender parity by building an inclusive local STEM Community." These efforts include building a mentorship network for Chicago Women in STEM and an International Women's Day event on March 8. Zaccard will discuss how she founded her path to advocacy as a postdoc and founding this regional initiative. Miller will continue the discussion on Women in STEM efforts and ways that postdocs can start or join efforts to promote gender equity locally.

Building Professional Relationships webinar, 1:00 p.m. ET on May 1

Erica Gobrogge, Ph.D., postdoc affairs specialist, Van Andel Research Institute

Building and maintaining professional relationships is critical to success as a scientist — from landing a job to establishing collaborations. This webinar will focus on effective strategies for developing professional relationships and networking.

Past webinars are available to members in the myPostdoc monthly archive.

NPA in the Community

2019 NPA Board Officers Announced

The NPA Board of Directors has appointed officers for 2019: chair, Tracy Costello, Ph.D.; vice chair, Stephanie Eberle, M.Ed.; treasurer, Josh Henkin, Ph.D.; and oversight officer, Barbara Natalizio, Ph.D. As treasurer, Henkin will serve as chair of the Finance Committee, and as oversight officer, Natalizio will serve as chair of the Oversight Committee. These four positions, along with the NPA's executive director, comprise the Executive Committee.

Governance Committee chairs were also appointed: Shakira Nelson, Ph.D., will serve as the Development Committee chair, and Tullia Bruno, Ph.D., will serve as the Strategic Planning chair.

NPA 2019 Annual Conference

The NPA Annual Conference is the largest meeting and networking event in the postdoctoral community. The 2019 Annual Conference will be held at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, FL from April 12 - 14. To view event details and register for the conference please visit the Annual Conference page.

myPDO Monthly: Mentoring: Training, Mentoring and Coaching Postdocs

Thank you to new and renewing Sustaining Members of the NPA!

Sustaining Members are a vital part of the NPA. Sustaining Members represent a range of professional societies, postdoc associations, postdoc offices, and other organizations that serve the postdoctoral community. Students, postdocs, faculty, and staff at NPA Sustaining Member institutions are eligible to join the NPA, at no cost, as Affiliate Members. Check to see if your institution is an NPA Sustaining Member.

Thank you renewed members for your continued support!
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • East Carolina University
  • Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • The Methodist Hospital Research Institute
  • Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences
  • Universities Space Research Association
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Miami
  • University of North Texas Health Science Center
  • University of Oklahoma
  • UT Southwestern Medical Center
  • Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Associate Editor

Thank you!
  • Kayla Herbell