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The POSTDOCket, September 2019
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Call for Lab Life Photo Essay - Deadline Extended!

Hey postdocs! We want to see the community.

Surprised person overhearing group conversation

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 with subject line "Photoessay submission.” The submission deadline for entries is September 30, 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!

Accessing Medical Care in the United States

by Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc.

maze in medical cross

Accessing medical care can appear to be a daunting task. | Alex Taraboletti

Accessing care through the U.S. healthcare system can seem like a daunting, mountainous task.

After all, we fear the unknown. In fact, a 2017 survey shows that only four percent of Americans truly understand the key components of their health insurance and how they impact their out-of-pocket costs. Considering the complexity of accessing health insurance for students, this statistic is undoubtedly even lower for international postdocs.

You start with choosing a plan that suits your medical needs and budget, which would be difficult enough if the plan information were in plain English; unfortunately, it is not. Most people need a glossary to decipher the insurance jargon used to describe plan benefits, limitations and exclusions. Then, once you choose a plan, you face the uncertainty of where and how to access care. Fortunately, when armed with a bit of knowledge and understanding, accessing care seems like less of a mountain and more of a molehill.

The ABCs of Healthcare

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of health insurance coverage, those unfamiliar terms you may have come across when looking at benefit summaries or speaking with healthcare professionals. The most important terms are related to coverage limitations and requirements:

  • Deductible: A specific dollar amount that your health insurance company may require that you pay out-of-pocket each year before your health insurance plan begins to make payments for claims. Not all health insurance plans require a deductible.
  • Out-of-Pocket Maximum (AKA Payment Limit): Out-of-pocket maximums apply to all medical plans. This is the maximum amount you will pay for health care costs in a calendar year. Once you have reached the out-of-pocket maximum, the plan will fully cover most eligible medical expenses for the rest of the plan year.
  • Coinsurance: The amount that you are required to pay for covered medical services after you've satisfied any copayment or deductible required by your health insurance plan. Coinsurance is typically a percentage of the charge for a service rendered by a healthcare provider. For example, if your insurance company covers 80 percent of the allowable charge for a specific service, you may be required to cover the remaining 20 percent as coinsurance.
  • Copayment: A flat charge that your health insurance plan may require you to pay for a specific medical service or supply, also referred to as a "copay." For example, your health insurance plan may require a $20 copayment for an office visit or brand-name prescription drug, after which the insurance company pays the remainder of the charges.

Now we know what is covered by our insurance, but not how. The following terms will clarify the conditions to access medical services:

  • In-Network Provider: A healthcare professional, hospital or pharmacy that has a contractual relationship with your health insurance company. This contractual relationship typically establishes set charges for specific services. An out-of-network provider is a healthcare professional, hospital, or pharmacy that is NOT part of your health plan's network of preferred (in-network) providers. You will generally pay more for services received from out-of-network providers, in part because you may be responsible for out-of-pocket costs that are considered above the “reasonable and customary” fees for your geographic area.
  • Claim: A request by you or your health care provider for the insurance company to pay for medical services.
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Medical Plan: HMO plans offer a wide range of health care services through a network of providers who agree to provide services to members at a pre-negotiated rate. As a member of an HMO, you are required to choose a primary care physician (PCP) who will provide most of your health care and refer you to HMO specialists as needed. Most HMO plans do not feature a deductible (though some do), and charge you flat amounts for services like hospitalization and outpatient surgery. Health care services obtained outside of the HMO plan’s network are typically not covered, though there may be exceptions in the case of an emergency.
  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Medical Plan : A PPO plan allows you to access care through doctors that are in-network as well as out-of-network, but visiting in-network providers ensures that your claims paid at the highest level. You will not be required to coordinate your care through a primary care physician, as you would with an HMO, and you are able to “self-refer” to specialists. PPO plans are often costlier than HMO plans, but offer a greater level of freedom when accessing care.
But How Do I Use My Coverage?

Now that we’ve established what this insurance lingo means, let’s tackle the next hurdle; where and how to access care. The handy chart below can be used as a quick-reference guide if you find yourself wondering where to go for a certain illness, injury, etc.

A Word of Caution

It’s important to remember that your plan’s network greatly impacts to what extent your care is covered or, if enrolled in an HMO plan, whether your care is covered at all. Most insurance companies offer online provider directories that require three pieces of information to perform a search: the type of provider (doctor or facility) you’re looking for, your zip code, and the name of your plan or network. The type of provider and location are simple enough, but plans and networks can be tricky. Insurance companies can offer dozens of plans, leading to an overwhelming drop-down menu full of plan names that look extremely similar. You don’t want to choose a plan that looks “close enough” during the search process, assuming the results will be applicable, only to find out the provider you visited was not in your plan’s network after all. Always be certain you are selecting the appropriate plan and/or network when utilizing an online provider directory, and call the provider ahead of time to make sure they are still in the network; provider directories are not always up-to-date.

International Coverage

Though you may have international travel plans, don’t count on your domestic insurance plan to offer you comprehensive coverage while abroad. Most domestic plans only offer international coverage, if at all, for extreme emergencies - think imminent danger to your life and/or your limbs. Anything less severe and you’re on the hook for the total cost of the care. If you’re looking to travel and want, or need, more comprehensive coverage, you’ll want to purchase an international health plan from a reputable insurance company.

Get What You Pay For

You and/or your university may be paying each month toward your and your family’s health insurance, making routine medical care affordable and offering protection against catastrophic medical expenses. We at GPA feel it is paramount that you understand how your medical plan operates so it works for you as intended, providing peace of mind and financial protection. That way, the next time you want or need to access care, you can have confidence in your coverage and focus on your health. Because at the end of the day, nothing is more important.

About Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc.

Garnett-Powers & Associates (GPA) is a nationally recognized insurance broker specializing in the administration of health insurance for Visiting Scholars and Postdoctoral Scholars throughout the country, and has met the needs of these highly unique populations, and their administrators, for over 20 years.

GPA provides caring guidance through the complicated world of insurance. For more information, please contact us toll free at (877) 559-9922 or visit our website,

NPAW 2019: Core Competencies for Postdocs to Develop to be THE MOST Appreciated

maze in medical cross

The NPA infographic of core competencies for postdoctoral scholars: discipline-specific knowledge, research skill development, communication skills, responsible conduct of research, leadership & management skills, and professionalism.

NPAW 2019: How to be Proactive in Your Mentoring Relationships

Mentor sharing ideas with mentee

Be proactive in your mentoring relationship. Image | LinkedIn Learning

It is no secret that professionals are often groomed by others who have paved the way in their chosen fields. The ability to proactively seek out those mentors which truly provide valuable guidance can be vital in determining a postdocs career path. Being proactive can be as simple as monthly check-in calls, meetings or emails to stay in touch.

For some it can involve asking for a mentor to be assigned by human resources or searching for a second or third Mentor.

“A true mentor does two things: believes in a person and has absolutely no feelings of competition” – Sue Pvetta

The most successful mentoring relationships are those in which the mentee takes initiative and truly drives the mentoring partnership. It is important that the mentee helps determine the pace, route and destination of the partnership. This will allow the mentor to offer insights and counsel that are customized to the mentee's objectives. Moreover, the mentee must realize that the mentor is a guide and not the one responsible for the mentee's actions. The mentor can only open the doors and introduce the mentee to the right situations. The mentee also needs to be proactive in searching for secondary mentors and other opportunities which will allow the growth and development of their own professional network.

"If you want to be a master, study what the masters have done before you. Learn to do what they have done- have the guts to do it – and you will be a master too” – Jos. J. Charbonneau

Listed are some suggestions on how mentees can best take advantage of the mentoring opportunities they are offered:

  • Make time to meet regularly with your mentor(s). Being mentored is an important longterm investment, not just another hassle in your short-term schedule. Be prepared for your meetings and have specific goals and tasks in mind.
  • Learn to ask for help or feedback. Clear communication is the cornerstone on which all other factors sit. It is through constructive and empathetic dialogues that relationships can develop, allowing both parties to bring forward their ideas, enter discussions, and maintain professional development. This helps establish clear and well-defined objectives and makes sure that your objectives are realistic given the circumstances.
  • Be willing to listen and learn. Mutual trust is dependent upon maintaining confidences. Although difficult, the mentee has to be willing to openly accept criticism and feedback, demonstrating strength and the willingness to grow. The mentee needs to be able to accept and learn from the advice and observations.
  • Take advantage of opportunities presented. Part of your professional development should include seminars, speakers, classroom observations, etc. Your mentor may provide guidance on which activities would be most beneficial.
  • Be open and honest. This is vital in getting the guidance and assistance you may need and will offer your mentor the assurance that they also can rely on you. Mentees should be consistent and make sure to follow through on commitments.
  • Be proactive about your needs. Being proactive is much more than just taking the initiative - it's about accepting responsibility for your own behaviors (past, present and future). It is about building partnerships based on principles. Being a proactive protégé includes remembering that you must respect your mentor's time and make the most of it.
  • Be a problem solver. When bringing problems to your mentor, you should have possible solutions in mind to foster the development of your own problem-solving skills. While the mentor can provide ideas and feedback, sometimes no one knows your situation better than you.
  • Be an active partner in your mentoring relationships. Postdocs need to be able to accept advice and criticism but also to know when to reject some advice. While not all of the advice given by a mentor should be followed blindly, the postdoc should genuinely consider the guidance that is given and, if the advice is not followed, be prepared to explain why. Clarifying expectations will ensure that mentees get the help they need and achieve their mentoring goals.
  • No matter what kind of a mentor you have - one who offers little or no help; one who constantly overwhelms you with information; or even a mentor who is an experienced teacher and understands how to work effectively with a postdoc - you will get more out of mentoring if you are proactive in the process.

Acknowledgements: This article was authored by Melissa Muller and updated in 2019 by NPA staff. From the NPA Postdocs Resource Library.

NPAW 2019: Preparing Postdocs for the Future through Mentorship: A Profile of Shannon Manning

by Lisa Boughner

From The POSTDOCket archive
Shannon Manning holding mentor award with Tom Garnett

Tom Garnett, president and CEO of GarnettPowers & Associates, Inc., (right) presents the Mentor Award to Shannon Manning, PhD, MPH, at the NPA Annual Meeting on March 4, 2016.

Shannon Manning, PhD, MPH, a University Foundation professor at Michigan State University, is the 2016 recipient of the NPA Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc. Mentor Award. Manning was drawn to academia through her love of teaching and the ability to pursue in-depth research questions. She began her professional career as a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with a youthful dream of fighting infectious disease outbreaks.

She was initially hesitant about some aspects of an academic career, such as grant writing. However, she discovered she was far more prepared to succeed in academia than she thought. She now routinely ingrains in her mentees the idea that regardless of one’s insecurities, each of them likely already has the abilities needed to passionately pursue their desired career path. And if not, she assists the mentee to acquire the necessary skill set, always working to suggest and plan a path geared towards the individual’s strengths.

As a mentor, Manning emphasizes communication, a balanced assessment of abilities, constructive criticism, and an environment of empowerment—all of which greatly increase the probability of a mentee’s career success. Everyone has strengths and limitations, and it is important to recognize both in a positive balance. Constructive criticism is important, but the delivery can sometimes “make or break” a moment. When we are stressed, sometimes the last thing we need is to have our non-successes, or failures, pointed out by our mentor. Manning recognizes the need for that balanced acknowledgment. She works to create an encouraging environment, where all team members feel they have meaningfully contributed to the group by providing their own perspective, an action which may just lead to the next scientific breakthrough.

Manning is adaptable in mentee management. She understands that people respond to mentor directives in different ways. For example, one person may thrive with specific or hard deadlines, whereas another may respond better to soft deadlines. She acknowledges that space for her mentees is also important, allowing each member to cultivate their professional proficiency. Micromanaging and “in your face” demands are generally not the best methods for promoting success.

She discovered she was far more prepared to succeed in academia than she thought. She now routinely ingrains in her mentees the idea that regardless of one’s insecurities, each of them likely already has the abilities needed to passionately pursue their desired career path.

A collaborative environment is very important. Manning views interactions and communication as keys to developing and maintaining a positive collaborative environment, inclusive to both incoming and existing team members. An open door and willingness to communicate (on both sides) are essential. “I always want to be bothered,” Manning says. She strives to enhance the positive and collaborative environment through regularly scheduled group and individual meetings to nurture the collective dynamic and offer one-on-one interactions. Acceptance of cultural differences is also critical to collaboration. Manning makes an effort to bridge cultural gaps and personal differences within her team. She emphasizes that, no matter our professional level, we all need a willingness to learn, trust in others, and recognize that constructive criticism is intended as encouragement, as all are beneficial to our advancement.

On the academic versus non-academic career path decisions facing her mentees, Manning states that which one is “better” depends on the person and what would make them happy. Positions that seem unappealing on the surface may actually be surprisingly enjoyable and interesting, so it is important to give all opportunities vigilant review and consideration. Success is achieved through balance—prioritizing what is important in both professional day-to-day activities as well as one’s personal life. Manning says, “Other people’s top priority should never become your own, unless you classify it as that. You should have your own priorities.” On maintaining that balance, Manning shares, the ability “to recognize what’s important comes with time and experience, as well as the realization that you’re never, ever going to be caught up. There’s always something to do. It took me a while to learn that, and be comfortable with it.” We are all human, we all make mistakes, and we all live a life outside of research. Manning guides her mentees to enjoy life while pursuing a career that inspires their passion.

Lisa A. Boughner, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar in the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, and a member of the NPA 2016 Meetings Committee. This article was initially published in the Spring, 2016 issue of The POSTDOCket, vol. 14, issue 2.

Promoting Mental Health Wellness in the Postdoctoral Community

stress out student

Mental health wellness of the postdoctoral population are needed. | AAAS

Mental health wellness for postdoctoral and graduate trainees is acknowledged by several universities as an important issue that needs to be addressed 1, 2, 3.

Several studies indicate an increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression among college students. One survey examined the links between positive emotions, resilience, and adaptive strategies for moderating anxiety and depressive symptoms in postdoctoral fellows. Of the 200 postdoctoral fellows evaluated, 13 percent were flourishing, 58 percent were languishing, and 29 percent were depressed5. The authors concluded that “in order to optimize resilience among postdocs, it is important to implement programs that would aim to increase individual use of adaptive coping strategies, decrease use of maladaptive coping strategies and increase experiences of positive emotions”5. In other words, increasing positive emotions through acknowledgement for work well done or promoting feelings of value and inclusion helped combat clinical levels of anxiety and depression. A survey conducted by the University of California, Berkeley aimed at understanding life satisfaction and well-being of trainees identified similar issues. The top concerns for students included career prospects, financial stability, ocial support, and feeling valued/included6.

Provide outlets for physical, mental, and social wellness without placing fees or limiting access to a particular subset of trainee, faculty, or administrative staff. Offering recreational or extracurricular activities provide opportunities to get out of the work environment as well as bond with co-workers or expand your personal network.

Despite these recent efforts, more specific surveys that address the mental health wellness of the postdoctoral population are needed3, 4. A joint effort by the University of Kentucky and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio sought to do just that; gathering more data on the impact of stress, anxiety, and depression on postdoctoral and graduate trainees nationally7. In 2018, this team published a stunning study showing that 39 percent of graduate students suffered moderate to severe depression and 41 percent of graduate students suffered from moderate to severe anxiety8. Data like this is key information in highlighting what is needed to support trainee health and career preparation; however, recent information specific to postdoctoral trainees—particularly international trainees with a unique set of professional demands—is still lacking. Utilizing the data from these surveys, evidence-based interventions to promote mental health wellness among postdoctoral and graduate trainees are crucial as part of a more preventive strategy. Major recommendations include:

  • Release information about your university’s mental health facility, OMBUDs office, and confidential counseling services several times a year! These services provide a safe and confidential mechanism for sharing frustrations and talking through difficult situations. A recurring concern among all of the surveys conducted was that postdoctoral fellows were not aware that these services were available to them.
  • Provide outlets for physical, mental, and social wellness without placing fees or limiting access to a particular subset of trainee, faculty, or administrative staff. Offering recreational or extracurricular activities provide opportunities to get out of the work environment as well as bond with co-workers or expand your personal network.
  • Encourage faculty to explore training opportunities about positive mentorship and advising to increase healthy dialogue between mentors and mentees.
  • Encourage graduate and postdoctoral trainees to take an active role in their own training and learn how to advocate for their needs in a productive manner.
  • Promote further research. Institutional surveys are an important step to identifying the specific needs of trainees and provide a method for obtaining institutional support. Although there will always be stress in the workplace for postdocs, graduate students, faculty and staff, the goal should be to create an environment where people can seek help without stigma. Postdoctoral offices can help facilitate a more receptive environment by providing postdocs with the tools and programs that address their concerns.

From the NPA Postdocs Resource Library.


1. GEWIN, V. Mental health: Under a cloud. Nature, v. 490, n. 7419, p. 299-301, Oct 2012. ISSN 1476-4687.

2. ARNOLD, C. The stressed-out postdoc. Science, v. 345, n. 6196, p. 594, Aug 2014. ISSN 1095-9203.

3. CALLIER, V.; VANDERFORD, N. L. Mission possible: putting trainees at the center of academia's mission. Nat Biotechnol, v. 32, n. 6, p. 593-4, Jun 2014. ISSN 1546-1696.

4. TSAI, J. W.; MUINDI, F. Towards sustaining a culture of mental health andwellness for trainees in the biosciences. Nat Biotechnol, v. 34, n. 3, p. 353-5, Mar 2016. ISSN 1546-1696.

5. GLORIA, C. T.; STEINHARDT, M. A. Relationships Among PositiveEmotions, Coping, Resilience and Mental Health. Stress Health, Jun 2014. ISSN 1532-2998. Disponível em:

6. ASSEMBLY, T. G. Graduate Student Happiness and Wellbeing Report 2014.University of California, Berkeley. University of California, Berkeley 2014

7. PAIN, E. Trainees and mental health: Let's Talk!: Science2016.

8. EVANS, T.M., BIRA, L., GASTELUM, J.B., WEISS, L.T., VANDERFORD, N.L. Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nat Biotechnol. V. 36, p. 282-284. March 2018. ISSN 1546-1696.

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!
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
  • Indiana University, School of Medicine
  • New York University School of Medicine
  • Savannah River National Laboratory
  • The George Washington University
  • UCLA Graduate Division
  • University of Nevada Las Vegas
  • University of Washington
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Yale University
Please consider joining the NPA in forwarding the interests of postdocs on a national level!

Associate Editors

Thank you to our associate editors for September!