- Career Center
|The POSTDOCket, August 2019|
Call for Lab Life Photo Essay
Hey postdocs! We want to see the community.
Do you wear a lucky research shirt? Do you pray to a proverbial PCR god? Or maybe you only write your lab meeting notes with a black pen? Do you host an annual event for the lab (a dinner, a hike, game night?) If so, The POSTDOCket wants would like you to show these scholarly superstitions, traditions, or habits.
We are looking for photo/visual submissions from the postdoctoral scholar community to show us any scholarly traditions, rituals, or superstitions, either individually or as a research group/department. Send us photos of a tradition or superstition with a short accompanying caption describing it – e.g., why do you observe this tradition/superstition, when did it start, etc. No matter how mundane or strange, we would love to see it!
Select submissions will be published in an upcoming edition of The POSTDOCket as a photoessay. Submissions should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line "Photoessay submission.” The submission deadline for entries is August 31, 2019.
As postdocs, our experiences may be widely different across the board – but as humans we all have traditions and superstitions that may be unique, but ultimately unite us all!
Employment-Based Immigration—The Extraordinary Ability Category
by Rakesh Chatrikhi and Sudha Krishnamurthy
Postdoctoral scholars are a unique and integral component of the academic infrastructure, but often face a number of challenges. Today, about fifty percent of all postdocs in the United States are foreign nationals, who often experience additional struggles, such as language barriers and having to adapt to a new lifestyle. One additional important factor that governs international postdocs and defines their career choice is their immigration status.
Most of the international postdocs use either a J-1 or an H-1B visa for their training in the United States. The J-1 visa is for the researchers who are entering the United States on the Exchange Visitor non-immigrant category. The H-1B visa is a professional work visa used by many researchers and other professionals. These visa categories limit the number of years a postdoc can work in the United States—five years for J-1 and six years for H-1B—and are strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer. Therefore, to continue working or advance their career in the United States, international postdocs often consider applying for permanent residency (i.e. green card).
Extraordinary Ability EB-1 Preference:
The preferred immigration option for most postdocs who wish to obtain their permanent residency is employment-based immigration—first preference (EB-1). Two categories are relevant to the postdoctoral community:
Both categories require the applicant to prove that they are amongst the top researchers in their field. The difference between the two categories is that EB-1A allows an individual to sponsor their own case, whereas EB-1B does not allow an individual to self-petition and needs support from an employer (e.g. a research institution or university).
EB-2 National Interest Waiver is another viable immigration option, but is due to the number of applicants, the process is backlogged for people born in China or India, who therefore have a substantial wait before they can apply for a green card using this option.
Both EB-1 and EB-2 holders are considered to be highly skilled workers. United States Federal regulations define “extraordinary ability” as a level of expertise evidencing that the individual is one of a small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of a particular field. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lists ten criteria for demonstrating extraordinary ability, out of which an applicant has to meet at least three. In short, these are:
In addition, the applicant must be at the top of their field of endeavor during the final merits determination. The USCIS studies all the evidence of how the applicant’s work has impacted and been adopted by the field as a whole to come to a decision.
At the moment, there is a petition, approved by the House of Representatives, that uncouples the retention of highly skilled specialized workers in the United States from their country of origin. However, there are a considerable number of items that would need to happen before this petition is passed and implemented. Therefore the EB-1A and EB-1B categories currently give postdocs of Chinese or Indian origin the best chance to obtain a green card in a relatively short time.
Preparing Oneself for Success:
It takes a significant amount of time to build a strong profile to meet the above criteria and prepare the necessary documents. Therefore, it is crucial for international postdocs to start early if they are interested in obtaining a permanent residency—especially if the postdoc is from China or India. There are no thresholds defined for each of the ten criteria listed above. Each case the USCIS receives is unique and the application is considered in its entirety. This is necessary, as every postdoc has a unique portfolio. However, there are a few steps that every postdoc can take early in their career to build a strong profile and a compelling case:
The evidence from an applicant is considered in its entirety for final merits determination. Hence, every contribution a postdoc makes to the field of study is vital. It is also essential to keep clear documentary evidence of any work or contribution a postdoc wants to showcase.
Early preparation is the key to creating a successful application. The authors hope that the steps described above will promote awareness among international postdocs (especially postdocs from China or India) who desire to obtain permanent residency in the United States. It is also important to note that working with an immigration counsel is pivotal when preparing applications for permanent residency
Rakesh Chatrikhi, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and serves on the editorial team for The POSTDOCket.
Sudha Krishnamurthy, BDS, PhD, is the director of the Office of Postdoctoral and Graduate Student Affairs at Gladstone Institutes and serves as one of the International Officers for the NPA.
Celebrate Postdocs with 2019 Elsevier National Postdoc Appreciation Week Awards
By Chanelle Case Borden and Dolonchapa Chakraborty
Far too often we hear that postdocs feel overlooked and under-valued at their institutions. National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) fulfills the mission of the NPA to improve the postdoctoral experience by recognizing the significant contributions postdocs make to research and discovery. During this week-long celebration, institutions around the world host events and activities that raise awareness of postdoctoral contributions and/or highlight the value that postdocs bring to their institutions. Last year, over 400 events occurred at roughly 100 institutions across the United States and Europe.
The 10th annual NPAW takes place worldwide from September 16–20, 2019. We hope that educational and research institutions will join the NPA in celebrating this remarkable group of individuals that makes up a high percentage of the research workforce. If a recently established PDO office or a PDA needs ideas for events, the NPA has an NPAW toolkit which contains ideas for events, flyers, and other marketing materials to get you started. If you plan on hosting an event, we would love to hear about it! Organizations can submit their events online by visiting the NPAW web page.
To highlight the hard work that goes into putting events together, this year, we are pleased to announce the 2019 Elsevier NPAW Awards. A total of eight awards will be given for the following categories: best new event, best PDA-led event, most collaborative event, and most creative event. The winners of "most collaborative" will receive $500 each, while winners in the other three categories will be awarded $250 prizes. In order to be considered, applicants must submit promotional materials and attendance verification along with the nomination. The deadline to submit nominations is Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at 11:59 pm. To learn more, please visit the NPAW awards page.
NPAW is an excellent opportunity to promote the postdoc community. We hope that institutions and organizations will join the celebration and show their appreciation for this wonderful group. We ask that everyone submit their events online and share it via social media using the hashtag #NPAW2019. We hope to continue increasing awareness of postdoc contributions and assisting others in future planning. Any questions about NPAW or the Elsevier NPAW Awards may be directed to email@example.com.
Chanelle Case Borden, PhD, joined the Center for Cancer Training as an administrative postdoctoral fellow in 2016, becoming a scientific program specialist in 2018. Case Borden also founded the volunteer science outreach organization, NCI Scientists in the Community, where she partners with schools across Montgomery County to bring the excitement of biomedical science to the classroom.
Dolonchapa Chakraborty, PhD, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Langone. She believes in three things: viruses are (and will) take over the world; postdocs are superheroes without capes; and living a great life is our first job. Chakraborty and Case Borden are co-chairs of the NPA Outreach Committee.
NPA Accepting Nominations for the 2020 Mentor Award & Distinguished Service Award
By Aaron Reifler and Lalitha Kurada
Postdoctoral fellows rely on the guidance and direction of a principal investigator or faculty mentor, and there is a strong positive correlation between good mentorship and a successful career. While faculty are frequently asked to wear many hats, the role of mentor can be one of the most challenging. It requires not only the ability to assess the needs of a trainee, but also the willingness and time to provide resources to meet those needs. Exceptional mentorship has an iterative effect, not only benefitting one person, but future generations of researchers in academia and beyond.
Most exceptional mentors do not mentor for the sake of recognition and fame, but rather for the satisfaction of passing on a love for a career and endeavor that frequently dominates available time and effort. Despite the importance of good mentoring, it is not generally lauded to the degree as are scientific breakthroughs and grant awards. Thanks to generous support from Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc., the NPA is able to recognize one faculty member or advisor who has engaged in exceptional mentoring of postdoctoral scholars as exhibited by the following criteria:
The recipient of the NPA Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc. Mentor Award will receive a plaque, an honorarium of $500, complimentary registration to the 2020 Annual Meeting, and a $1,000 travel stipend. The award will be presented at the 18th NPA Annual Conference, March 27-29, 2020.
Chances are good that if you have made it this far, you might have encountered an exceptional mentor. If you would like to nominate that exceptional mentor, please proceed to this link.The deadline for submission is Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Last year’s recipient was Ed Krug, PhD, associate dean, Postdoctoral Affairs, Medical University of South Carolina. You can read more about Krug’s nomination, which included recommendations and stories from seven individual postdocs, and highlighted his dedication to postdocs in each of the criteria outlined above.
Aaron Reifler, PhD and Lalitha Kirada, PhD are members of the NPA Meetings Committee.
Mentoring: Good for Careers, Good for Research… Good for Life!
By Victoria Rafalski and Sudha Krishnamurthy
Every scientist can name at least one mentor who encouraged them to pursue a career in science. Indeed, one could argue that mentoring sustains the entire scientific enterprise. Mentors not only help train the next generation of researchers and thought leaders, but they simultaneously transform their mentees into the next generation of mentors. At the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, both the leadership and the postdoctoral scholars appreciate the value and necessity of quality mentoring. We also recognize that mentoring takes many forms beyond the traditional professor-trainee relationship. Here, we outline the range of mentoring-focused practices that Gladstone has implemented.
The Value of a Mentoring Task Force
In 2012, Gladstone established a mentoring task force to bring together scientific staff members (faculty, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students) and administration members to promote and improve mentoring within the institution. By adapting recommendations from the NIH, the mentoring task force set forth a list of mentoring standards that mentors and trainees are encouraged to follow from the outset of their relationship. These standards may be revisited regularly or at least yearly during the annual performance feedback review required of all Gladstone employees, including postdocs.
In 2017, the mentoring task force organized a faculty-wide endorsement of the concept of a second mentor to guide postdocs in their careers. These “career mentors” are faculty members with whom postdocs can meet regularly to discuss career development and professional growth. Gladstone offers a number of opportunities to help postdocs find a career mentor including periodic lunches, social networking events, and scientific talks by different faculty members. To help postdocs expand their network of mentors beyond academia, Gladstone also hosts career development programs, career panels, and symposia with alumni from non-academic careers. The mentoring task force has also supported the 360 degree feedback system as a mechanism for continually improving mentoring at Gladstone.
Postdoc Contributions to Promoting Mentoring
Important strides in promoting mentoring have also come from the postdocs themselves. The Gladstone Postdoc Advisory Committee (GPAC), a committee of postdocs interested in optimizing the postdoc experience, launched the investigator-trainee lunch, in which a Gladstone investigator (Gladstone’s term for a professor) has lunch with a small group of postdocs and graduate students. During this lunch, the Investigator shares their perspective and advice on everything from lab dynamics to applying for faculty positions. At these lunches, the trainees are often matched with Investigators outside of their research field to broaden the range of potential mentors they can choose from.
The GPAC also provides ten dollar gift cards for postdocs who would like to take their mentor out for coffee. By understanding the value of peer-to-peer mentoring, GPAC has established a postdoc buddy system that matches each new postdoc to a senior postdoc buddy who can answer questions about life at Gladstone and within the San Francisco Bay Area. Experiencing a positive mentor-mentee relationship aids mentees in developing their own positive mentorship style.
An Opportunity for Formal Mentorship Training
Gladstone provides postdocs with opportunities for more formal mentorship training. Every 18 months, Gladstone sponsors 15 trainees to participate in a scientific leadership and management skills course, an intensive two-day workshop that covers topics relevant to mentoring such as motivating, managing conflict, recruiting, and navigating difficult conversations.
Additionally, Gladstone postdocs can improve their mentoring skills through the TRAIN-UP introduction to mentoring program, a series of workshops from the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development that aims to equip postdocs with the skills needed to successfully hire, train, and mentor other trainees in a diverse work setting. A yearly opportunity for postdocs to get hands-on mentorship experience comes through a Gladstone program called promoting underrepresented minorities advancing in the sciences (PUMAS). Already in its sixth year, PUMAS, which is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, has sponsored 39 interns and given 32 postdocs the opportunity to serve as mentors.
Mentor-mentee relationships can be as simple as a one-hour discussion over coffee or these relationships can span decades. They can form “organically” or can be more formally arranged, and each mentoring relationship can serve a different purpose. While not all postdocs take advantage of career mentors, anecdotal evidence suggests that those with career mentors benefit from extra guidance, additional sponsorship, and more impactful letters of recommendation for scholarship and job applications from these mentors. At the Gladstone Institutes, awareness of the importance of mentorship in science has sparked numerous initiatives to increase mentoring opportunities and mentoring skills, while spurring a healthy sense of urgency for trainees to seek out mentors in all forms who will help manage their careers and their professional development.
Victoria Rafalski, PhD, is a scientist at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and an active member of the Gladstone Institutes mentoring task force.
Sudha Krishnamurthy, BDS, PhD, is the director of the Gladstone Institutes Office of Postdoctoral and Graduate Student Affairs and serves as one of the NPA’s International Officers.
NIH Loan Repayment Programs: Helping Researchers Stay in the Career that they Love
By Omar McCrimmon
The NIH LRPs are designed to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. How do they do that? By repaying eligible student loan debt!
By the time many researchers have completed their education and training, they have amassed on average $160,000 in student loan debt. The burden of the debt pushes many researchers to a crossroads where they question their ability to stay in an academic research career that they truly love, versus the choice to leave for a more lucrative career in the private sector. The NIH LRPs can help relieve some of this financial decision-making pressure.
Increase NIH LRP maximum
In previous years, that maximum NIH LRP award amount was $35,000 per year (depending on debt level), but beginning in September 2019, NIH is excited to announce that the maximum award amount will increase to $50,000 annually ($100,000 over a two-year contract). Nearly 1,400 scientists benefit from the $68 million NIH investment each year through the extramural LRPs. On average, nearly fifty percent of all new LRP applications are funded, and these awards are competitively renewable (for a one- or two-year period). This means that if a researcher continues to conduct research that NIH Institutions and Centers (IC) consider to be mission-critical, they can continue to reapply for and receive an LRP award until all of their educational debt is paid off!
Interested in applying? Take a look at the LRP website to review a list of the five (5) current LRP, gain a better understanding of LRP requirements (for example, the applicant must conduct research at a domestic, nonprofit institution for an average of 20 hours/week, etc.), and NIH IC research priorities so that you can ensure your application will be reviewed and considered by the right NIH IC.
Benefits of receiving an LRP
Besides paying off student loans, there are other benefits of receiving an LRP. For example, we recently surveyed LRP recipients that indicated that not only did receiving an LRP provide protected research time so that they can fully engage in research without the need to ‘moonlight’ to make more money, it also gave them the added “you can do it” boost they needed early in their careers.
Further, a recent internal study indicated that individuals who received an LRP award demonstrated consistently higher levels of what we termed as “persistence in research,” meaning that LRP awardees are staying in research careers longer, submitting and receiving more grants and fellowships applications, and publishing at higher rates (two-fold increase) compared to individuals that applied for, but did not receive an LRP award. This is indeed fantastic evidence that the NIH LRPs are fulfilling their goals to retain talented researchers into productive research careers.
New Updates to the Health Disparities Research Extramural LRP
Beginning September 1, 2019 not only is the maximum award amount being increased up to $50,000 per year, NIH is also expanding participation in the Health Disparities Research (HDR-LRP) to all NIH ICs. Previously, all HDR-LRP applications were assigned to and reviewed by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). Applicants will now have the option of selecting one NIH IC for primary review assignment and, if desired, one additional IC for secondary review assignment. Please be reminded, however, that while applicant preference will be taken into account, final review assignments for LRP applications is determined by the Division of Receipt and Referral, Center for Scientific Review.
The LRP application cycle opens annually on September 1 and closes on November 15, 2019. Applicants are strongly encouraged to review each IC Mission and Research Priorities statement and then contact one or more IC scientific LRP liaisons to discuss their research and career interests as it relates to the research and funding priorities of the selected IC. Research and funding priorities can change on a yearly basis, so it is important that applicants contact a liaison – ideally in advance of the opening of the application cycle – to ensure appropriate understanding of IC priorities. You can find the list of NIH IC scientific LRP liaisons here.
For additional assistance, call or email the LRP Information Center at 866-849-4047 (Mon-Fri 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST) or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the NIH Division of Loan Repayment on Twitter and Facebook for more information and cycle updates.
Omar McCrimmon, MA, is a lead communications and outreach specialist at the Division of Loan Repayment, NIH.
Postdocs Interested in Entrepreneurship and a Commercialization Path for Innovation in the Life Sciences can use MassBio to Launch Their Ideas
By Lucie Rochard and the MassBio Innovation Services Team
Today’s postdoctoral scholars are not naïve regarding the financial potential of innovation, but they often lack a clear path towards a career in entrepreneurship. MassBio provides training and programs for postdocs who are curious about entrepreneurship and collaborating with entrepreneurs. Through these programs, postdocs receive updates about opportunities in industry and events that might be of interest, as well as invitations to MassBio sponsored events in Massachusetts and beyond. These programs will help postdocs get connected, access new opportunities, and learn about the full landscape of stakeholders and organizations involved in bringing a drug/product from bench to bedside.
What MassBio is trying to accomplish and why postdocs should be interested
MassBio is the largest nonprofit trade association that provides services and support for leading life science-focused innovators in industry and academia.
In any activity, whether it be the life sciences or any other field, there is strength in numbers. MassBio seeks to build a life sciences community where we all have a voice in defending our work and missions through advocacy/policy activities at the state and federal level. MassBio also improves the ability of scientists to join or work with organizations in the private sector by reducing obstacles to development. For example, MassBio Edge, which was previously called the Purchasing Consortium, allows members to buy supplies in bulk, thus taking advantage of discounts previously available only to larger companies.
MassBio also organizes community building activities such as signature events focused on one topic (Rare Disease Day, Patient Advocacy Summit, State of Possible Conference), forum working groups, and networking events with the goal of fostering connections between members of our community. MassBio represents the entire life sciences ecosystem, including approximately 1,200 members hailing from academic institutions to large companies. Our members believe working together is the most efficient way to ensure new solutions are brought to patients.
MassBio Innovation Services Accelerates Innovation
One department that makes MassBio unique, the Innovation Services (MBIS) department, is leveraging MassBio’s large network to accelerate innovation and advance access to patients. The team consists of five people that built a platform to accelerate innovation; they source, de-risk, partner, and (will soon) fund innovations. They have developed a unique portal into innovation, through which they are able to turn an idea into a product. MBIS connects, convenes, and catalyzes ideas and entrepreneurs within the MassBio structure. Furthermore, these programs and activities are free of charge.
To move an idea or a technology forward towards use in patients, an entrepreneur needs experts, experience, and expertise. They also need constructive feedback from experts. Although resources exist to help scientists access this knowledge, the life sciences ecosystem is highly sophisticated and navigating these available resources is complicated. MBIS is here to support, guide, and advocate for these entrepreneurs. MassBio connects postdocs to mentors to help them avoid mistakes and develop a business strategy through mentoring programs such as Activate (developed in partnership with Harvard Biotech Club and HBS Healthcare group), MassCONNECT, and MassCONNECT PI.
Moving a technology forward also requires partners. On MassBio Pharma Days, large pharma companies visit MassBio offices one at a time so that employees may connect with scientists from academic institutions and small companies. These events showcase companies and the opportunities that exist to work with them, thus positioning them as potential partners for aspiring entrepreneurs. Finally, by working with alternative investors, MassBio is developing new ways to fund ideas and innovation.
Through these activities, MassBio Innovation Services has built a strong network of key opinion leaders and subject matter experts that they leverage to connect people and catalyze and accelerate the development of solutions that benefit patients.
Meet MassBio’s Innovation Services Liaison
Lucie Rochard, PhD, director of innovation Services at MassBio, is the liaison for scientific and entrepreneurial initiatives. She understands the importance of finding a satisfying career path. Like many other early career scientists, Rochard spent time weighing her various career options as a PhD-level scientist. “As a postdoc, I questioned my desire to become a professor and started exploring other possibilities. I created a list of things I loved in academia, that made me want to become a professor and another list of things that I would not miss, found frustrating, or would like to see fixed. Then, I started looking for ways to assemble those elements as much as I could. I was trying to find a way to keep things I loved in academia but focus on problems I wanted solved; things that made me doubt my conviction,” said Rochard. This background allows Rochard to be uniquely attuned to helping other scientists and postdocs.
“I love science,” Rochard said. “I believe in academic research, but I wish it were easier to connect with industry as scientists. It frustrates me to see so many innovations and great ideas stuck in academia because of the lack of a real path, when we should all work hand-in-hand, sharing resources and expertise. Industry has its own strengths and knowledge. Working with others and aiming to develop a drug or product gives you a whole new perspective and access to ideas and technologies you would miss otherwise.
In learning about the stakeholders involved in entrepreneurship, I discovered MassBio. I learned the Innovation Services team was connecting people to make the path to commercialization more efficient by convening the right people in one place. They wanted to expand their team to reach out to academia and develop more programs toward postdocs, students, and professors—perfect timing for me!”
How MassBio Can Help Postdocs
Postdocs who are interested in turning an innovation into a product (drug, medical device, research tool, etc.) and learning about the different stakeholders involved with this process could start by contacting Lucie Rochard at MassBio. MassBio can help interested postdocs find resources specific to their ideas and stage of development, whether in Massachusetts, the rest of the United States, or beyond.
Networking through MassBio can connect a postdoc to a world they are unfamiliar with and allow them to leverage the knowledge of industry leaders, start new collaborations, advance their research, or even launch their own company. Postdocs interested in investment, business development, or entrepreneurship need to start by building their network and establishing their strategy. By helping postdocs develop these skills, MassBio is able to help them enter these career paths.
Not every postdoc has an idea they are ready to share,. but all postdocs are welcome to attend events or become a volunteer. Some opportunities for volunteers include:
Volunteering is a great way to meet industry scientists and leaders, work beside them, and explore new opportunities.
By helping support the academic community and early stage initiatives, MassBio hopes to engage and inspire the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs. MassBio also hope to engage with future professors and change the current dynamic by strengthening the relationship between academia and industry. They want to foster more communication and collaborations for the future. In addition, MassBio partners with postdoctoral associations by building on their network, providing introductions to speakers or mentors, and occasionally through direct sponsorship.
MassBio is also involved with putting on several innovation showcases and pitch competitions. As co-organizers, sponsors, or partners, they unite experts and innovators during product launches, help entrepreneurship initiatives, and bridge the gap between academia and industry. MassBio Innovation Services, through their work, have also developed a unique perspective and knowledge of the life sciences industry that they are happy to share. MBIS regularly accepts invitations to speak at conferences and symposia.
“Don’t lose time trying to reinvent the wheel and identify the right people,” advised Rochard. “Ask for help! MassBio Innovation Services can provide you with the guidance you need, and work with you to identify experts and partners who can help you develop your technology and bring it to the next stage. We have programs for all: you can hide in a corner and listen or join and be part of a team, it’s your choice (and it is free)!”
Lucie Rochard, PhD, is liaison for scientific & entrepreneurial initiatives, Innovation Services, MassBio. Lucie joined MassBio Innovation Services team in 2017 to create and lead the Academic Outreach and Engagement initiatives, to foster connections and collaborations between academia and industry. Prior to joining MassBio, she studied craniofacial development, identifying critical molecular pathways for embryonic patterning, while at Massachusetts General Hospital. Rochard received her doctorate from the University of Rennes, France.
Should Professionalism be a Priority During Academic Training?
By Sherilynn Black
What counts as a successful academic training experience? Many would immediately look to tangible measures, such as the number of publications or fellowships received, and indeed, these are usually very important factors for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars as they go out on the market to pursue a wide range of careers. However, successful training should also include elements of professional behaviors that enhance a student or postdoc’s potential to thrive in an array of professional environments.
As career options continue to broaden and diversify in creativity and scope, students and postdocs need to be trained multi-dimensionally so that they can contribute to professional environments beyond providing discipline-specific knowledge or technical skills. It is also vital that they demonstrate tenets of professionalism, which directly impact the climate of training environments and influence every aspect of the training experience.
Climate of professionalism
A trainee’s ability to effectively work with peers, communicate clearly, treat others with respect, foster a positive work environment, and demonstrate leadership are important skills to develop during their years of training and development. The ways individuals interact with one another are important in shaping the tone and overall climate of training spaces. This will determine who is able to progress towards a chosen career and who will not accomplish their desired career goals. The climate that students and postdocs experience deeply impacts their ideas about professionalism, and is an essential determinant of how they will engage with the training environment that they currently inhabit and will possibly lead in their future careers.
Issues of climate are directly connected to professional conduct, as evidenced by recently published reports on graduate education and harassment in academia by The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). These reports raised critical questions about the training models used in graduate education and the climate in which students and postdocs work to pursue their educational goals. These reports amplified ongoing national conversations around the types of unacceptable behaviors that have historically occurred in training environments, and existing efforts to build training experiences that are fully inclusive and provide equal opportunities for success. Together, these conversations highlight how to best promote excellence, civility, and professionalism in academic spaces.
Share responsibilities in defining the climate of training spaces
Faculty and institutional leaders play a critical role in defining the tone of training environments, and they must consistently model professional conduct and work to correct unacceptable behaviors. Students and postdocs also hold an essential role in this discourse. As future scholars, intellectual influencers, mentors, leaders and policy-makers, students and postdocs are poised to have a significant impact in defining the climate of training spaces and shaping new codes of professional conduct.
The recent NASEM reports make it increasingly evident that a productive, equitable, inclusive, and respectful climate is, in fact, central to the heart of successful training experience. Decoupling these issues from the ability to innovate and achieve the highest levels of academic excellence misses the important opportunity to explore how the natural combination of these issues improves outcomes across the board. For students and postdocs who are considering decisions about the career they would like to pursue and the professional life they want to experience in the future, an exploration of their own experiences with professionalism could be considered in several ways:
Professionalism as a scholar.
Is your work consistently held to the highest, most intellectually rigorous standards? Is each aspect of your work conducted in an ethical and transparent manner? Was care taken to design hypotheses and research questions, develop theories, interpret data, and evaluate scholarly products objectively and without bias? Do you see each item through to completion and keep your work moving forward when your research plan isn’t productive or faces challenges? Do you contribute to the intellectual discourse in your discipline in an open and civil manner?
Professionalism as an academic colleague.
How well do you interact with others? Do you successfully collaborate with your peers and advisors, value their ideas, and treat them with respect? Are you a dependable and reliable collaborator and hold yourself accountable to follow through with tasks and deadlines? Do you challenge yourself to thoughtfully consider the opinions of your peers who have different ideas, backgrounds, and educational experiences? Do you appropriately attribute the work and efforts of others? Do you communicate your expectations clearly and provide feedback effectively? Are you adaptable and receptive to feedback?
Professionalism as a citizen of your institution.
Do you consider how your working style, attitude, and behavior impact others? Do you place value on mentoring and teaching? Do you contribute to the training environment in a positive way, and promote the stated goals and values of your institution? Do you support your peers and colleagues and encourage their success? Do you contribute to fostering a respectful and inclusive environment for research and mentoring?
Professionalism as a future leader.
Do you work to lead in the current professional space that you occupy? Do you consider how your current attitudes and behaviors impact your ability to accomplish future goals and professional opportunities? Do you engage and network in different environments and establish regular and meaningful interactions with different types of people? Do you have mentors, and do you mentor others? Do you thoughtfully, respectfully and calmly engage with others amid a challenge or crisis? Do you strive to be fair in all of your interactions with others?
As students and postdocs expand their ideas of possible future careers and consider how their values may align with the existing academic cultures and training structures, conversations around professional conduct will continue to emerge as deeply important factors that shape the dialogue around what constitutes a successful training experience. When tenets of professionalism are fully embraced as critical aspects of successful student and postdoc training experiences, the entire workforce will benefit from the elevated discourse, improved climate, and more equitable experience for all.
Sherilynn Black, PhD, is the associate vice provost for faculty advancement and an assistant professor of the practice of medical education at Duke University.
Becoming A National Maternal Health Advocate while Pursuing a Postdoc: a Story of Transformation
By Marie McCausland
I am more than JUST a scientist or researcher. I am a women’s reproductive health advocate. I am also a mother who survived life-threatening childbirth complications two years ago. In spite of everything, I am thriving.
I found out I was pregnant during my first week as a postdoctoral scholar. I thought naively that having a baby would only increase the number of people I had to feed in my home and that I could continue working as I had done before. However, I was quite mistaken. Not long after I found out I was pregnant, I began suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). HG is a complication referred to as “severe morning sickness,” but it only resembles morning sickness the way a hurricane resembles an afternoon drizzle. My pregnancy was incredibly difficult. It left me running out of lab meetings to vomit. I also suffered from severe hip pain, which required me to sit while teaching my students, and I endured extreme fatigue from multiple medications. I remember the glee I felt when I finally left the hospital with my son in my arms. I was thinking, “Thank God that’s over. Now I can recover. Now I can be normal.”
Fighting to Live after Childbirth
Only a few hours later, I was back in the emergency room (ER) fighting for my life. What was my condition? It was postpartum preeclampsia. I had every symptom of postpartum preeclampsia: high blood pressure (hypertension) that peaked at 200/115 millimeters of mercury (mmHg; normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg), proteinuria (excess protein in urine), a severe headache, light sensitivity, and upper abdominal pain. I remember how my chest hurt so severely that it became hard to breathe while lying down. I thought, “If I go to sleep, I won’t wake up.”
Despite my classic symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, my ER doctor refused the diagnosis and wanted to send me home. While I was in the ER, my mind constantly flickered to the story of Lauren Bloomstein, who had died from complications due to postpartum preeclampsia, and the photo of Bloomstein with her child. I asked my husband to take a picture of me with my son in the hospital room. I was worried that the photo would be all my son would have remaining of me if I died. Bloomstein’s story gave me strength during my near-death experience. I credit Bloomstein, Bloomstein’s husband, and the authors, Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, for saving my life. Eventually I was transferred out of the ER and treated for my condition, but had I gone home as my doctor suggested, I may not be here today.
Becoming a Women’s Reproductive Health Advocate
I do not suggest for everyone to go through a transformative near-death experience to become an advocate of women’s reproductive health. Nonetheless, it took something that shook me to my very core to steer me on my current path. Knowing that it was storytelling which saved my life, I went on to share my experience publicly wherever possible.
I soon discovered an astounding, astonishing fact: the United States has the highest rate of motherhood morbidity and mortality in the developed world, with rates climbing rather than falling. Over 700 women each year die due to a pregnancy-related condition. More than 60 percent of these deaths are preventable. Also, increased risk of pregnancy-related death is not due to increased age or body mass index (BMI); it is not the fault of a pregnant or postpartum woman. Worse still, black women are dying at three to four times the rate of white women. This fact helped forge the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), a Black women-led group dedicated to “advancing Black maternal health, rights, and justice.” In my mind, I was at the peak of privilege—white, married, and a doctorate holder—and yet, I STILL almost died, like the 50,000 other women each year who endured a near-death experience. How could I not share my story and work to fix this problem? How could I not help my fellow colleagues to survive and thrive during and after their pregnancies?
Sharing a Near-Death Story to Save Lives
I have shared my story on NPR, at the 2018 and 2019 March for Moms, as the keynote speaker for the Champions for Change Summit in 2018, and with the hospital system, which failed me, so that my near-death experience would never happen again to another woman. Today a woman in the hospital system I gave birth at is given the “POST-BIRTH” fact sheet so she knows the warning signs and symptoms to look out for postpartum. Also, when a pregnant or postpartum woman goes to the ER, she is met by a staff trained in postpartum hypertension and is seen by an obstetrician within an hour of arrival to the ER.
Through the postdoctoral association’s Women’s Initiative Committee at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), I helped develop the “Fourth Trimester: Surviving and Thriving after Baby Symposium.” With this symposium, I merged my career with my passion for maternal health advocacy. The symposium’s aim was to demystify the postpartum experience and to provide women and their partners with the tools to not only “survive,” but “thrive” after pregnancy. The information discussed in the symposium targeted the entire CWRU/Cleveland, Ohio community, independent of whether they planned to become pregnant, were pregnant, or had a partner or family member who was pregnant. Topics included my personal story with postpartum preeclampsia, racial disparities in healthcare, legal rights to family and medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), the CWRU specific family leave policies, work/life balance, and perinatal depression. This comprehensive programming was enthusiastically received by an audience full of pregnant women, new moms, and healthcare workers fighting to help women with critical care issues after childbirth. I believe that I made an impact at this gathering. I want to encourage others to do the same.
Finding One’s Passion and One’s Voice
I recently shared my call to action through Mindr, an organization that hosts talks, workshops, classes, and events related to motherhood:
Sometimes when I look at my son and I see him smiling and dancing, I recognize the enormity of what I could have missed if I had died after childbirth. I would have missed everything—my son’s first smile, his first laugh, his first steps, and the first time he called me “mama”. Then the guilt hits me because I realize that I AM alive, and there are 700 women who die each year after giving birth. I often think of those women that died from postpartum complications; I think of Lauren Bloomstein, Kira Johnson, and Shalon Irving.
Find your passion; find your voice. Always remember that you are part of the community you work and live in. With your voice, you can uplift your community.
Marie McCausland, PhD, is a scientist, a mother, and an advocate for women’s reproductive health. McCausland is currently a postdoctoral fellow at CWRU, where she serves as the co-president of the CWRU PDA and co-chair of the Women’s Initiative Committee. McCausland has served as the spokesperson for Merck for Mothers since 2018 and has won both the Mom Congress Advocate of the Year award and the Merck for Mothers 2019 Maternal Health Maverick award.
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