|The POSTDOCket, November 2019|
Science Communication In Action
By Amber Ismael and Shawna Matthews
If scientific jargon is the illness that plagues academia, can science communication offer an antidote? Sure, it’s the latest buzz-word, but what does science communication (scicomm) actually look like? This two-part series will explore types of scicomm and highlight resources to hone your communication skills. If you’re itching to get started but not sure where to start, consider which scicomm medium aligns with your interests and strengths. Thinking through and devising a communication strategy can take a little time, but it will ensure you choose the best medium and that your message will be more focused. Here are a few considerations to help you decide where to target your science communication efforts:
Getting started with ‘who’ and ‘what’
Having a clear goal and thinking about your ideal outcomes can help determine your target audience and hone in on a communication medium that is best suited to achieving those endpoints.
What makes you unique?
Ask yourself, what do you have to offer your audience? Identifying your personal combination of expertise, hidden talents, and strengths can help you find your niche in what may feel like a saturated scicomm arena. For example, the most enjoyable Twitter accounts are those where the person brings their entire self. Their passion for the work shines through, and their struggles as well as their achievements lend authenticity to their enthusiasm.
You are scientists: go experiment!
Look at different styles of science communication and identify what appeals to you, and don’t be afraid to experiment before focusing your efforts. You may not initially be successful at everything you try, but every protocol needs to be optimized and scicomm is no different.
With focused goals and a target audience, you are poised to choose the best suited platform for your science communication. Below are highlights of the strengths of the most popular scicomm mediums and tips on how to get started.
Are you interested in reaching a broad audience? Social media may be the venue for you. Have a clear plan for what type of content you want to share. Social media can be used to highlight your own research to make it accessible to the general public, highlight articles you have written (scientific or nonscientific), your blog, or your outreach. If you are concerned that your personal views will cross into your professional persona, consider having separate personal and professional accounts. However, authenticity is a must for social media—don’t be afraid to let your personality come through in your posts. Look at various accounts and find what speaks to you to begin getting ideas. Lastly, remember to engage with your audience (respectfully).
Science Writing:Is writing your strength and your passion? Written forms of science communication, including freelance writing, may be a good fit. Consider pitching an idea for an article to your institution’s newspaper, The POSTDOCket, or other publications that are academic-adjacent to practice writing and pitching before venturing into more significant and popular publications. The Open Notebook (TON) has a searchable Pitch Database of 150+ successful pitches with links to the resulting published story to give you an idea of how to write a successful pitch. TON provides resources for the dos and don’ts of pitching, as well as where to find ideas and how to hone in on stories that aren’t being pitched by everyone else.
Do you enjoy performing, or does your science lend itself better to a visual medium? Physics Girl uses YouTube to highlight physics in a visually engaging way. If you are interested in representing your science visually, Dance Your PhD or collaborating with a performance art group can be a fun and creative way to connect with new audiences. The Pacific Science Center, a science museum in Seattle, WA, promotes collaborations between scientists and artists to bring important topics to life through visual and performance art through an Artist in Residence Program.
Storytelling can engage audiences and makes research more accessible, allowing the audience to connect with the storyteller’s research passions and motivations. A story about how you solved a scientific mystery or made a discovery can engage people in the human side of science. Researchers can participate in The Moth and The Story Collider, national storytelling events open to the public. Podcasts or TEDx are also ways to access a broader audience to talk about your life as a scientist or discuss your work while also receiving valuable presentation and storytelling coaching from their team.
Does sharing your science through personal interactions interest you most? Although audiences will be smaller using this approach, personal connections can often be the most impactful and allow for communications tailored to each individual. For younger and older audiences, local libraries and science museums are excited to bring researchers in to interact with their audiences. There are On Tap series that occur in cities around the world at local breweries and pubs targeting 21+ audiences. Science at the Market events at local farmer’s markets is a great way to reach a broad audience. Your institution’s outreach organizations are a great place to find events to participate in, as well.
If nothing highlighted above hits the mark for you, don’t be afraid to cut your own path and create something new. Keep an eye out for part two of this series, which will highlight resources to hone science communication skills.
Amber Ismael, PhD, manages the Office of Scientific Career Development at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.
Shawna Matthews, PhD, is a postdoc at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, CO and side-hustles as a freelance writer.
by Avanti Dey and Alexandra Taraboletti
Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, built of collective rituals and traditions. People all over the United States celebrate this day in many different ways and with many different foods. A common Thanksgiving tradition involves the turkey wishbone. Whoever pulls away the larger piece is granted a wish. The President of the United States also traditionally pardons two live turkeys to live on a farm without threat of being eaten. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we explore some of the scholarly superstitions, traditions, or habits that occur in the work environments of our members.
Derek Micheal Peloquin, PhD: Our lab’s tradition involves a rather run-of-the-mill counter-order Mexican restaurant in Darien, IL - The Crazy Burrito. The superstition with this restaurant originated from my mentor and a colleague I work with, during their thrice annual trips to Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. After a decade of trips, they have found that whenever they don’t eat at the Crazy Burrito as their first meal, there are many more mishaps and troubles with data collection than on the trips where they do. Myself and other postdocs have empirically seen this firsthand, and it is a tradition we will be eager to pass down to our own mentees to ensure the future success of our science.
Murielle Ålund, PhD: Field seasons in the Qvarnström Lab are long and intensive and as a token of recognition after two months monitoring wild birds, each member gets a bird pin! It is always nice to increase the collection and look back at all our years in the field!
Scott J. Neal PhD: Drosophila proteins have fun names (eg. Hippo, Warts, Yorkie, Armadillo), so our lab started acquiring idols to represent each of the genes that we work on. Prior to key experiments one will generally worship said idol, for example, by pulling the lemur’s tail or by squeezing the armadillo, in order to produce good will towards a positive experimental outcome. We also use these idols to represent the genetic interactions among these factors, and to reflect key phenotypes (eg. double retina) that we observe when the genes are mutated. Our display also helps us to engage visitors to the lab, be they children or adults, into a discussion about some of the basic concepts that we work on.
Krishna C. Mudumbi, PhD: Before each run, we sacrifice an empty PCR tube to the “Eppendorf PCR God” and pray for bands!
Ramsey Hanna, PhD: As a graduating labmate was cleaning out and transitioning their chemical hood to me - I noticed a polaroid photo from the 90s, featuring an intoxicated husband and wife, in the back. My labmate specifically instructed me never to remove the photo from the back of the hood, as the photo was of a previous student and that removing it would curse the hood. I didn’t take too much stock in what he said, but I never moved the photo in my five years working at the hood. When the next trainee took over my hood, I instructed him to do the same.
Avanti Dey, PhD is currently a postdoc at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas, and the study coordinator for the engAGE Project.
Alex Taraboletti, PhD, is the graphical editor of The POSTDOCket and a postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University. She is an avid artist, and is always looking to grow in the burgeoning field of #sciart.
Socials, Snacks, and Symposia: 2019 NPAW
by Tanja Burkhardt
September 16-20, 2019, was the 10th annual National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW). Every year, institutions and universities dedicate one week to the recognition and appreciation of postdoctoral scholars and their contributions to academic and professional communities. This year was no exception. With more than 500 reported events across the United States, Canada, and Europe, this NPAW can be considered a huge success.
Fantastic NPAW Events
This year’s NPAW events included a great mixture of creative career and networking events, as well as events that targeted the health and wellness of postdocs. For example, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine organized a four-hour-long workshop entitled “Tell your Science Story,” in which participants were taught how to effectively communicate and address their research to a wider audience. Thanks to a collaboration with Seattle Humane Society, postdocs at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center were able to destress by cuddling and playing with pets. Other examples of anti-stress events included yoga at APC Microbiome, or guided meditation at Stanford University.
Of course, there were also numerous traditional events that centered professional and career development, such as headshot days, networking events, or CV and article writing workshops. Adding a fun component to a professional event, Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute offered a “Resume Swap Workshop” for peer support. As in previous years, many events sought to strike a balance between addressing the professional needs of postdocs and offering opportunities to socialize and have fun, such as at “Postdoctoberfest” at Brown University, and the many social events at which comfort foods, such as pizza, ice cream, and doughnuts were served.
This year, the NPA also took the time to honor the most creative events with the NPAW Awards. Organizers and PDAs could be nominated for awards in the event categories Best PDA-Led, Most Collaborative, Most Creative, and Best New.
Congratulations to all award winners and nominees.Thank you for your creativity, dedication, and hard work on behalf of the local and transnational postdoc community!
Thanks to everyone
The NPA is grateful and appreciative for its members’ contributions to the improvement of the professional and personal experiences of postdocs all over the world. Although NPAW only makes up a small portion of the academic year, we know that the various symposia, social events, pizza parties, ice cream socials, and breakfasts can provide a much-needed break and a great opportunity to briefly leave labs, offices, and classrooms to build community and support. We thank everyone who contributed to making NPAW a space for this work and hope to continue to grow our momentum in years to come.
Tanja Burkhard, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, and an associate editor at The POSTDOCket.
Diversity Missing in Leadership: A Corollary Between Canadian Corporate Environments and Academia in the United States.
by Jeffrey Thompson and Caleb McKinney
What happens when a researcher of diversity within Canadian business leadership teams has an insightful conversation with a U.S. academic administrator? We discover institutional similarities leading to an age-old phenomenon occurring in leadership roles in both settings: lack of diversity and representation in decision-making roles.
Diversity in faculty roles is low in U.S. academic medical institutions for women and underrepresented minorities. Fewer individuals from underrepresented populations enter assistant professor roles, and this low representation further tapers through the promotional tracks toward professor, with little progress made in recent years in research-intensive academic institutions. Similarly, in the Canadian corporate environment, studies show that diversity at both the board and executive levels is low for women and racial and ethnic minority leaders. The number of senior level minority women are further reduced because they experience discrimination both as women and as racial and ethnic minorities.
We hypothesize that top-down and bottom-up approaches are crucial to incentivize equitable hiring and promotion practices and to ensure robust talent pools of underrepresented individuals enter the pipelines to diversify leadership teams.
In the academic research sector, national initiatives to increase transparency of data reporting of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are being fostered. This transparency allows for better evaluation and dissemination of information regarding the key pipelines into the professoriate, particularly in the life sciences. A myriad of factors governs career choice. To better prepare graduate students and postdocs for the careers of their choosing, funding institutions are revamping their funding criteria. Then intend to catalyze institutional change in their grantee institutions by promoting data transparency and inclusive academic research environments in which all individuals can thrive. As a result, postdocs will be better prepared to make informed decisions about their next career steps, including pursuing independent academic research careers.
Canadian efforts to address discrimination
Federal regulation mandates corporate transparency in Canada. Government leaders sought to address discrimination through laws like the Employment Equity Act. This act designates four groups for protection: aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, and women. About 18,000 federally-regulated employers in industries such as banking, telecommunications and transportation are mandated to annually report on the designated groups. Companies that report employment equity numbers tend to develop transparent plans on how their management will improve their numbers (e.g., Royal Bank of Canada Diversity & Inclusion Blueprint 2020). Other companies even establish goals related to employment equity representation for senior management, as well as the rest of the workforce (e.g. Canadian Imperial Commerce Bank - Our Employees).
Another layer of protection was introduced for women in the form of regulations mandating companies to report on the presence of women at the board and senior executive levels of organizations. Companies had to comply with or report noncompliance to the Ontario Securities Commission. The number of women on the board of directors and executive teams increased over a four-year period after these regulations, with the level of increase depending on the type of leadership team.
In 2020, Bill C-25 will add additional protection for all designated groups of the Employment Equity Act. Bill C-25 received Royal Assent on May 1, 2018. In Canada, Royal Assent is the approval granted by the Governor-General or one of the Governor-General’s deputies for a bill to become an act of Parliament and part of the law of Canada. Bill C-25 mandates that certain companies (governed by the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, and the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act) must report annually to their investors the status of diversity at the board and senior management levels. The Canadian business enterprise reveals compelling evidence that increased transparency in diversity metrics can lead to institutional prioritization of representation in decision-making roles.
Applying corporate solutions to academia can be effective
These trends towards increasing diversity after mandated change are encouraging and lend hope to the idea that widespread and mandated transparency could lead academic research institutions to create policies fostering systemic culture change toward better representation among the professoriate and institutional leadership.
Of course, equal representation cannot happen overnight. Interventions and strategies implemented earlier in careers need to exist to facilitate a road toward leadership. Mentorship and sponsorship can help recruit individuals from underrepresented backgrounds into leadership roles. Within corporate environments, sponsorship at managerial levels is pivotal for facilitating transitions into leadership roles. There are lessons to learn from the corporate environment; applying similar strategies in academia, particularly when it comes to facilitating the postdoc to junior faculty transition, could lead to a more equitable representation.
Caleb McKinney, PhD, is the assistant dean for graduate and postdoctoral training & development for biomedical graduate education at Georgetown University Medical Center, and a Diversity Officer for the NPA.
Jeffrey Thompson, DBA, is a senior project manager, ITS Strategic Delivery Management, TD Bank Group; board member, York Region Alliance of African Canadian Communities (YRAACC); and VP Career Development, Project Management Institute (PMI), Toronto Chapter.
by Garnett-Powers & Associates
As a postdoc, you’re busy. And when your research demands most of your time and focus, it’s easy to stop listening to your body and fall victim to fatigue. Before you know it, your alarm goes off in the morning and getting out of bed is harder than it has ever been.
We’ve all experienced mornings like this more than we care to admit, whether it’s due to a sleepless night of tossing and turning or staying in the lab extra late the night before. But the fact remains, you need your brain to be firing on all cylinders to get some work done. So, what do you do?
Your first instinct is probably to stop at the closest coffee shop and order your favorite espresso drink, but you have other options. Instead, try these natural solutions that can offer you that extra boost in energy you need without the caffeine crash.
Get on the Move
With the stress of the daily grind, you may not feel like exercising all that often, but physical activity is a great way to boost your energy levels and help you feel more alert. Even if you can’t fit a 20-minute workout in your busy schedule, try taking a quick walk around the block for some fresh air, or do a few sets of jumping jacks in your work space. You can also consider some of these office-friendly workouts. These simple activities can get the heart pumping and the blood flowing to your entire body, including your fatigued brain. Just make sure you have some antiperspirant on hand to get you through the rest of the day.
You may spend some days sitting in front of your computer or in front of your bench. Spending fewer hours sitting can help you feel less tired. Try spending more time standing - it may be difficult in the office, but it is definitely possible when you are working on the bench.
It’s simple enough, a lack of water leads to a lack of energy. Keeping up is hard enough if your body is lacking sleep, but if it’s also lacking water, you’re facing a devastating one-two punch to your productivity. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay energized and fuel your research. Try filling a gallon jug of water in the morning and commit to finishing that jug by the end of each day. There are also several new innovations in water bottle technology, such as the Hidrate Spark, that assist in reminding you to stop and take a sip. For those glued to their phones all day, these free hydration phone apps can help you stay on track.
Get Some Rest
You may think you don’t have the time, but you just might. When it comes to mid-day re-energizing, power naps are more beneficial than you might think. If you’re able to grab a 15-30 minute snooze in a quiet spot, do it! You may feel a little groggy when you first wake up, but splash some water on your face and you’ll notice an improvement in your cognitive function.
For many, snacking has a negative connotation, but its benefits are tremendous if you’re eating the right kinds of food. Keep some healthy snacks on hand that contain energizing nutrients. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, try snacking on:
In addition, eating smaller meals more frequently may be more beneficial to your health and may reduce your fatigue, as it keeps your blood sugar levels more stable.
Reduce stress/ relax
Most postdocs are stressed because their PI expects a lot from them. On top of that, you may also have high expectations and/or you think that someone will publish work that is similar to yours before you get the opportunity to. These are stressful situations, but if you learn how to disconnect and relax, you will be more productive and feel better at the end of the day.
Remember to always snack in moderation. Overeating can lead to increased fatigue, and that’s certainly not the goal.
Our tips can be used on those occasional “off days,” but if you’re experiencing chronic fatigue, it’s best to seek the help of a medical professional to rule out any health conditions and formulate a plan to help boost your energy levels. Your research is important, but so is your health. Take care of yourself so you can continue your research and make the world a better place for all of us.
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, www.Garnett-Powers.com.
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.
The Advocacy Committee is focusing on mental health issues pertaining to postdocs. In addition, Advocacy is looking to establish campus representatives at all interested institutions to better understand issues occurring at a local level and translate them into national action. To help with organizing this, they have created a Google group for campus reps; interested postdocs can email email@example.com for more information or detail on how to join. Leaders of Advocacy have also been attending and documenting NASEM events; one of the latest of these events was focused on mentoring.
Caleb McKinney will be rotating off as Diversity Officer, as he has become a member of the Board of Directors. While undergoing a change in leadership, the Diversity task force has been developing content and resources to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the NPA community. Currently Diversity members are working on developing articles for The POSTDOCket and hoping to develop diversity webinars. If you are interested in helping curate content or coauthor articles, please let them know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
The International Officers have focused on updating some resources for international postdocs on the NPA website. Check out the Quick Guide to Visas and the Beginners Guide to Income Taxes for International Postdocs.
One of the NPA International Officers, Sudha Krishnamurthy, PhD, talks about international postdocs in the United States in a podcast. Listen here.
Currently, the International Officers are planning on revamping their task force and include a biweekly call to keep the task force engaged. If you are interested in volunteering with this task force, please register here.
The Meetings Committee recently closed the call for proposals for the 2020 Annual Conference. The committee members are currently reviewing applications and will be ready to share a schedule of the workshop and poster presentations for the upcoming 2020 conference soon.
The Meetings Committee also recently closed applications for travel and childcare awards. The NPA is pleased to announce that the number of applications nearly doubled this year! Members of the committee are currently reviewing the applications and will select the top applicants from ~ 50 applications.
Finally, the Meetings Committee is finalizing a list of potential keynote and plenary speakers for the 2021 Annual Conference. We look forward to sharing more details on these speakers with the postdoc community soon.
The Outreach Committee would first like to thank all those who helped make NPAW a success! There were some amazing events this year, and we hope that the appreciation for postdocs extends throughout the year. In addition, the Outreach Committee would like to give a special thank you and recognition to all of the volunteers and judges that helped make this NPAW a success, for their hard work and support.
The Outreach Committee would like to invite all postdocs, postdoc officers, and postdoc administrators to participate in #TagAPostDocTuesday on all NPA social media channels to highlight the contributions of postdocs.
The POSTDOCket Committee:
The POSTDOCket has been conducting a monthly PITCH MEETING, where we invite members from the community, from NPA committees and Board of Directors, from our list of volunteer authors, and from PDOs and PDAs to come together in a monthly meeting to discuss articles they would like to see published in The POSTDOCket—please let us know if you are interested in attending!
Resource Development Committee:
The Resource Development Committee organizes and delivers the monthly myPostdoc webinars. Here is our upcoming schedule:
The February and March myPostdoc webinars will focus on how to prepare for the 2020 NPA Annual Conference Career Fair as announced in October's POSTDOCket. All webinars start promptly at 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT.
In 2019, Resource Development volunteers created the Postdoc Guide to a Timeline. We are currently working on a guide to using an individual development plan. We are always looking for volunteers to help support Resource Development! To get involved, email the committee at email@example.com or learn more about the committee here.
NPA in the Community:
The NPA has elected four individuals to the Board of Directors for the three-year term of service beginning on January 1, 2020: Tullia C. Bruno, PhD; William Mahoney, Jr, PhD; Caleb McKinney, PhD; and Chris Smith, PhD.
The NPA is pleased to announce the recipients of 2019 Elsevier NPAW Awards.
The NPA is currently seeking a motivated and committed leader to serve as the co-chair of the Meetings Committee. If you know someone who can fill this position (including yourself), please let us know.
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.
Welcome to our new members!
Thank you renewed members for your continued support!
Please consider joining the NPA in forwarding the interests of postdocs on a national level!
Thank you to our associate editor for November!