- Career Center
|The POSTDOCket, August 2020|
The National Postdoctoral Association: Promoting Postdoc Potential Around the World
By the communications subcommittee, on behalf of the Meetings Committee, co-chaired by Lisa Maria Mustachio and Anne Wyllie
It is crucial that postdocs always have access to a support system to help them along their postdoctoral journey. The NPA is one such support team made up of individuals who are genuinely invested in the success and well-being of postdocs. With the mission to facilitate the professional enhancement and overall quality of the postdoc experience in the United States, the nonprofit organization was established in 2003 and connects with various research institutions, offices for postdoctoral affairs, postdoctoral associations, scientific organizations and federal agencies to achieve its objectives.
This article is an effort by the communications subcommittee, run by volunteers, to bring the NPA closer to postdocs around the world to make the best use of the variety of easily accessible NPA resources during these most challenging times.
The NPA consists of diverse members who are not only postdoctoral researchers but also scientists from academic and non-academic backgrounds, as well as prospective postdocs. The NPA provides new or incoming international postdocs with information on various topics ranging from visa requirements to obtaining credit cards in the country. There are also several resources that may be helpful to postdocs around the world, some of which are detailed below.
The project ‘NPA ADVANCE,’ supports female postdocs in building their careers and overcoming challenges one may face as a woman in academia. NPA ADVANCE offers information on relevant topics ranging from facilitating women’s advancement in academic careers to navigating postdoc life during pregnancy and discussing maternity leave with supervisors.
Through portals such as MinorityPostdoc.org, postdocs who are interested can access useful information pertinent to underrepresented groups and can discuss or share various postdoc fellowships and opportunities with diversity goals or requirements.
The NPA offers many career resources for postdocs such as “A Postdoc’s Guide to Postdoc Timelines” and, “A Postdoc’s Guide to Career Development.” These tools help postdocs plan their career path, develop essential skills, and gain confidence in making important decisions. Resources for mentoring are also available, which will help postdocs establish a solid relationship with their mentors (who are vital to postdoc training), as well as developing their own mentoring skills by training junior researchers in the lab.
The NPA’s myPostdoc Monthly webinar series (see upcoming webinars on the NPA’s community calendar & view the webinar archives) covers a variety of professional development topics such as enhancing self-awareness, advocacy, and leadership competencies.
The NPA also provides education/information and advocates for postdoc policies and practices with an agenda for change for postdocs on many issues: from salaries and taxes to postdoc benefits, work/life balance, and mental health wellness. For example, the NPA supports consistent, sustainable annual increases in postdoc stipends. The NPA also provides postdocs information such as income tax and how the regulations may differ depending on funding type, employment classification, and citizenship.
National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) is a great opportunity where postdocs across the world are celebrated over a period of a week for their dedication to both their work and communities. For the 11th time, from September 21 - 25, 2020, the NPA will sponsor the NPAW. Many virtual events - both national and local at institutions across the world. - will allow the larger postdoc community to interact with each other in these challenging times. Check the 2020 NPAW site for details! In 2019, NPAW generated 556 events from 121 institutions across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Czech Republic; and we all look forward to in-person NPAW events returning in the near-future. Remember to sign up for your free Affiliate membership in NPA to maximize your participation in NPAW.
The POSTDOCKet features articles of interest to postdocs, geared towards work and personal life, health, and recommendations on how to overcome current challenges. For instance, several articles in The POSTDOCket have recently provided advice on how to cope and adjust to changes during the COVID-19 outbreak, including a special issue in March/April, giving a voice to every community member in sharing their experiences.
The NPA provides several toolkits such as the guide for an individual development plan (IDP), a framework to achieve balance in a postdoc’s research, professional, and career development. Postdocs can use their IDP as a tool - in collaboration with their mentor – to define and identify the skills that need to be constantly shaped and polished to accurately align with their professional trajectory and future career goals. Another example of such a toolkit available online is on how to prepare a postdoctoral symposium.
Every spring the NPA organizes its Annual Conference, which is the largest postdoc conference and networking event in the United States. It provides a great platform to network with fellow postdocs, administrators, faculty, representatives from disciplinary societies, industry, and corporations. It offers a unique opportunity for postdocs to develop their professional and leadership skills. The conference may go virtual in 2021, potentially providing more opportunities to participate in this great event to our diverse membership base.
“As a postdoctoral trainee fortunate enough to have attended the conference, I can attest to how fulfilling and rewarding the experience was. It was an opportunity to meet postdocs from across the country belonging to a variety of disciplines making it wildly different from the hyper-focused meetings dedicated to specific research fields. It’s an amazing experience facilitated by the NPA to exchange ideas, learn from other postdocs and their associations, and to develop new connections and networks for the future,” says Daniel Radecki, one of the members of the meeting communications subcommittee.
We hope to see you at our next NPA Annual Conference that will be held from April 16 -18, 2021 in Philadelphia, PA. And while the conference may go virtual in 2021, it looks to be a great event. Also, due to its virtual nature, such a conference may be more open to our diverse membership base than ever before. Stay tuned for more updates on a conference decision soon and the opportunity for discounted early-bird registration rates.
With its continued strategic planning, the NPA ensures to fulfill its vision of an inclusive community where all postdocs are empowered, valued, recognized, and supported in their current and future endeavors.
For more information on the NPA and the benefits of membership, visit us at:
For more info on postdoc resources:
Revamping Postdoctoral Training to Promote Career Development
By Sunil Kumar Boda
International postdoctoral scholars face several personal and professional challenges, from maintaining visa and immigration status to adjusting to a new lifestyle in a foreign country. In addition, international postdocs striving for career development face a greater challenge: grant/research funding. A postdoc is presumed to be an aspiring faculty/independent scientist Apart from publishing well, the ability to secure independent research funding and obtain recognition for their grantsmanship is a crucial prerequisite for postdocs to transition into independent faculty/scientist careers.
Many postdocs but few funding opportunities
As of 2015, international postdocs comprise about 65 percent of the scientific workforce from among the ~63,000 postdocs in the United States (Fig. 1). In general, postdocs attempt to secure independent funding to support their work, a need more acute for international scholars who may be ineligible for certain U.S. government funded opportunities. A list of fellowships available to postdocs found on the NPA International Hub contains 114 awards.
However, of the 114 fellowships, 20 have citizenship requirements, 20 pertain to postdoctoral training outside the United States, and nearly half of these funding opportunities are specific to certain disciplines and research areas such as cancer, heart, kidney, diabetes, etc. Further, in the biomedical arena, the postdoctoral training (F32) and career development awards (K-type) administered by the NIH are limited to U.S. citizens or permanent residents except for the K-99 Independent Career Pathway award. Only about 200 K-99 awards (Fig. 2 – green line) are awarded per year to non-U.S. citizens despite international postdocs comprising two-thirds of the workforce.
It is clear from the data in Fig. 2 that only a minute fraction of international postdocs receive early career development awards. Moreover, the fellowships available for international postdocs are also open to U.S. citizens thereby further limiting funding opportunities for foreign scholars.
Receiving Credit as a Co-Investigator
Because of the disparity in available career development fellowships and awards to international postdocs, it is imperative that universities, research institutions, and their faculty address this issue. International postdocs work and contribute to federally funded grants from the NIH, NSF, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Defense (DoD), among other agencies. Postdocs routinely generate ideas that form the basis for new grant proposals to individual university or federal agencies. In such circumstances, the postdocs deserve to receive the credit as co-Investigators of those research grants, which is currently not practiced by most universities and faculty.
Even the NSF specified among its FAQs that postdocs are not allowed to serve as a PI or co-PI, but may serve as other personnel. However, merely listing postdocs as key or other personnel on federal grants does not contribute to their career development.
Therefore, a revamping of the postdoctoral career development policies to permit postdocs to serve as co-investigators is necessary, at least in internal university grants and if possible, on federal grants. In doing so, one would have to weigh the competitiveness of the grant against postdoc term limits, and try to find creative solutions that valued postdoc contributions. Currently, each university and its faculty have their own policies to address the issue. A standardized, best practice policy or criteria is necessary for a postdoc to justify his/her inclusion as a co-investigator on grant proposals.
Lastly, there is no publicly available data on the number of postdocs who served as co-investigators on university or federal grants. It is necessary that the postdoctoral associations (PDAs) of individual universities gather such data by surveying among the current postdocs and alumni to determine what fraction of postdocs successfully served as co-investigators of grants or PIs of their own fellowships. It is also essential that the individual universities and PDAs maintain a database of current postdocs and postdoc alums including the careers they transitioned into.
The transition of postdocs into academic and industry positions as well as non-traditional science/research-related careers such as medical science liaison, patent law, and science communication, need to be well documented. These postdoc outcomes may also be an efficient yardstick to judge the mentoring capabilities of tenured faculty members.
Along with graduate students, postdoc career development must also be included among the checklists for faculty development awards such as non-tenure to tenure and distinguished professors. These measures will allow universities and faculty members to better assist international postdocs in their training and career development.
Sunil Kumar Boda, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
The Great Research Ramp-Up: Issues Facing Postdocs as they Return to the Lab
By Stephanie M. Davis
Since mid-March of this year, research institutions and universities across the country have reduced onsite operations (including research) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although these closures have caused research activity unrelated to SARS-CoV-2 or deemed “essential” to slow down significantly, many labs have maintained minimal levels of operation, such as maintaining animal colonies.
As of early June, nearly 60 percent of U.S.-based researchers reported still being on lockdown (Fig. 1). However, after several weeks of minimal activity, these universities began planning for how and when they were planning to return to typical levels of operation.
University administrators and faculty are probably eager to return to this “new normal” since months of minimal activity have delayed the progress of researchers and costs universities millions of dollars in indirect costs. However, returning to the lab also carries risks that will undoubtedly fall on graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and laboratory technicians. Therefore, research institutions must consider the safety of lab personnel, including postdocs, to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19.
To avoid putting researchers at risk, universities and research institutions have implemented strict guidelines and created resources designed to minimize the risks of disease transmission. For instance, Stanford University mandated that only one person could occupy an area of 250 sq. feet at any given time, and researchers were required to wear masks at all times unless they were eating and drinking. Furthermore, researchers are required to complete a survey via the HealthCheck before reporting onsite to ensure that they are not showing COVID-19 symptoms.
At Princeton University, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety pledged to provide unlimited personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, and N95 respirators to all researchers until September. Other institutions used screening stations to ensure that researchers entering labs did not display COVID-19 symptoms. The University of Michigan College of Engineering required lab employees to undergo temperature checks before entering the building.
One of the most popular approaches has been shifting work schedules to minimize the number of research personnel in the lab at one time. Unfortunately, shifting work schedules significantly may adversely affect postdocs and lab personnel with families and other responsibilities. Additionally, postdocs with childcare responsibilities may be unable to return to their research due to lack of childcare; in fact, postdocs with young children are likely to be 17 percent less productive during the pandemic compared to their peers without young children. Finally, performing time-sensitive experiments on a shift schedule may be difficult for other researchers.
Postdocs Voice Their Concerns
Although research institutions have promised to adhere to the guidelines released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some postdocs have publicly voiced their fears about returning to “business as usual.” When asked about returning to campus, Alexandra Edwards, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, replied “I am scared out of my mind at the thought of returning to campus this fall. Everywhere that students are already on campuses (such as athletic programs currently running across the country), people are contracting COVID. It is simply not safe; it’s not safe for us, for students, for our families, or for the communities where we live, work, shop, and travel.”
Several postdocs have channeled these reservations through their PDAs. For example, the NYU Postdoctoral Council conducted a survey May 8-12, 2020, regarding concerns shared by NYU postdocs about a tentative June 8 reopening date. One major concern expressed by survey participants focused on the standardization of reopening policies. Approximately 43.5 percent of postdocs favored institutional policies for reopening while 36 percent favored policies that were implemented by the PI and approved by the institution (Fig. 2).
Other concerns from participants focused on access to COVID-19 testing; 83.7 percent of survey participants reported that access to testing for SARS-CoV-2 mRNA or viral antibodies was either very important or somewhat important for their return to work onsite (Fig. 3). The concerns addressed in this survey were eventually addressed in the NYU Postdoc Council’s letter to Katherine Fleming, Ph.D., the NYU provost. In addition to widespread COVID-19 testing and standardized ramp-up policies, this letter also highlighted fears among the postdoc community regarding job security, affordable housing, healthcare, and childcare for postdocs with families.
Many of these fears were reiterated in a letter by Ahmed et al., which called for assistance to vulnerable postdocs needing health care or childcare as well as “stop the clock” policies to improve job security. Thankfully, offices of postdoctoral affairs, such as the UCSF Office of Postdoctoral Scholars, have recognized the unique problems faced by postdocs during this time and made an effort to educate postdocs on resources available to them during this difficult time through FAQ pages and other websites.
The Inevitable Return
Although postdocs whose research depends on bench experiments and animal studies have had their progress hindered due to lab shutdowns, the gradual return of lab personnel will no doubt bring a new set of challenges for researchers. During this period of heightened uncertainty and stress for members of the postdoc community, research administrators must prioritize their safety and offer maximum flexibility as operations resume.
For more resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues affecting postdocs, please visit https://www.nationalpostdoc.org/page/COVID19Resources
Stephanie M. Davis, Ph.D., is a 2019-2020 Executive Branch AAAS science and technology policy fellow and an associate editor for The POSTDOCket.
10 Cybersecurity Issues for the “New Normal”
Cybersecurity Considerations for the Return to Workplace
By John Doernberg, Gallagher Insurance, an NPA Distinguished Partner
As businesses reopen their offices and factories after the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, office managers will focus immediately on many critical matters:
After the obvious immediacy of health, safety, and core day-to-day operational concerns, cybersecurity concerns may be among the second group of issues to be addressed in depth. The usual dynamic balance between IT operational priorities and cybersecurity safeguards may be tested in an already challenging and stressful environment.
Possible Cybersecurity Concerns during Return to Work
Initial cybersecurity concerns will relate to the reopening of shuttered offices and factories, and to the resumed use of dormant computers and industrial control systems. Other concerns may involve companies’ collection of additional personal health information as part of the effort to protect their employee wellbeing.
As many companies will have a divided workforce, with some employees back in the office and others still working remotely, there will be cybersecurity concerns associated with this division. Additionally, vendors and other business partners, as well as customers, may well be in the same position with partially remote workforces.
10 Cybersecurity Issues Prevalent during COVID-19
Here are 10 cybersecurity concerns that may arise as organizations adapt to new ways of working:
Adapting to COVID-19’s “New Normal”
At this point, the cyber insurance issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic seem not to have changed from what we have noted earlier (e.g., data and network security, and mobile or remote workforce). As businesses adapt their cybersecurity practices to address issues arising in connection with the return to work, they need to be alert to certain matters that could affect their insurance coverage.
For example, while few cyber insurance carriers require that an insured maintain a level of security at least as strong as what was described in the application for coverage, companies should check with their insurance brokers to make sure they don’t face that requirement. It will also be especially important in this environment for companies to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are appropriately involved in the cyber insurance process for both initial placements and renewals, as statements in the application regarding a company’s cybersecurity practices constitute representations that could compromise coverage if untrue when the policy period begins. Companies will also need to make sure that their public disclosures about their cybersecurity, whether on their websites or in SEC and other regulatory filings, are materially consistent with their practices.
Cybersecurity professionals are already accustomed to quickly adapting to cyber thieves’ changing methods. They can also now expect a sustained period of continuously adjusting their cybersecurity practices, and the balance between security and operational ease, to reflect the new ways that people will work. To learn more about how you can efficiently and effectively manage and transfer these increased risks, feel free to a Gallagher cyber specialist.
For more information, please reach out to Steve Johnson, area vice president of Gallagher’s Student and Scholar Services at 949.317.5918.
Gallagher is an NPA Distinguished Partner that provides insurance, risk management and consultation services for our clients. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance/risk management perspective, and offer general information about risk mitigation, loss control strategy and potential claim exposures. Any statement or information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, medical, legal or client-specific risk management advice. The general insurance descriptions and other information contained herein does not include complete insurance policy definitions, terms and conditions and should not be relied on for coverage interpretation. Policy-specific terms and conditions dictate whether coverage applies to any particular risk or circumstance, and this information in no way reflects or promises individual client or policy-specific insurance coverage outcomes.
Gallagher publications may contain links to non-Gallagher websites that are created and controlled by other organizations. Gallagher claims no responsibility for or endorsement of the content of any linked website, as we have no responsibility for information referenced in material owned and controlled by other parties.
John Doernberg, JD, is the national director of Gallagher’s Cyber Practice.
A Champion of Postdocs: Lisa Schwiebert, PhD, Winner of NPA’s 2020 Distinguished Service Award
By Tanja Burkhard
Lisa Schwiebert, PhD, the winner of the NPA’s 2020 Distinguished Service Award is currently a professor of cell, developmental and integrative biology, and senior associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral affairs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She was nominated for this award by 18 individuals, who all pointed out her incredible dedication to improving the graduate student and postdoctoral experience through mentoring, increasing the visibility of postdoctoral issues, and institutionalizing processes to provide more equitable outcomes for postdocs. Her success in this arena is the result of her decades-long work in graduate and postdoctoral education.
Moving Through Professorship Toward Postdoctoral Affairs
In a conversation, Schwiebert notes that in 1997, she had only been an assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics for six months when she became the director of UAB’s graduate program – all while running her own lab.
After ten years in this role, she was promoted to associate dean for postdoctoral education. In this role, her goal has been to formalize access to resources for professional and career development for postdocs, specifically outside of the academic research space (e.g. courses in business, grant writing, and job skills).
Under her leadership, the Office of Postdoctoral Education at UAB is working to increase its visibility and awareness about the needs of postdocs, specifically with regards to career and professional development opportunities. Schwiebert has recently taken this work on full time and is now also focused on developing university-wide policies to gather data on the career outcomes for postdocs, in order to better tailor programming, mentoring, and training.
Focus on Mentoring
In this capacity, Schwiebert has established a team dedicated to postdoctoral education and training and created a counsel of faculty to offer insights and recommendations for increasing the visibility of her office and to formalize mentor training. Believing that anyone can be a mentor, Schwiebert has placed an intentional focus on mentoring, for instance by hosting an annual mentoring week in March. During this week, daily events are offered that bring together graduate students, postdocs, and faculty to highlight conversations around mentoring. This year’s theme is “Mentoring for the Next Steps,” career development and planning.
Describing her approach to mentoring postdocs, Schwiebert notes “The postdocs are very much in my office.” This hands-on approach is necessary, because, as she points out, postdocs can be the most vulnerable population on campus, as they often do not have the same institutionalized support, such as a committee dedicated to their support, as graduate students.
Increasing the visibility of postdoctoral issues and the Office of Postdoctoral Education at UAB, then, has helped provide some of this much needed support, especially with respect to providing postdocs with career development and planning services, which is becoming increasingly important.
Pointing Towards the Future
According to Schwiebert, scientific training is at a tipping point, as the lockstep training from graduate school to the professoriate is no longer the only pathway to success, or even an option for many graduate students or postdocs. Indeed, as The NSF’s Survey of Earned Doctorates shows, academic programs in many fields produce more students than there are academic positions, which makes the need for further education and training, as well as mentors who understand alternative career paths even more important for postdocs.
Considering her dedication to these issues and her timely approach to improving the overall postdoc experience, it is no surprise that Schwiebert was selected as the winner of the NPA Distinguished Service Award, as she embodies what it means to be a champion for postdocs at UAB and beyond.
Tanja Burkhard, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education and an associate editor of The POSTDOCket.
A Video Message from 2020 NPA Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc. Mentor Award Recipient: John Beacom, Ph.D.
Beacom is the Henry L. Cox professor and an Arts and Sciences distinguished professor in the Departments of Physics and Astronomy at the Ohio State University. He received Ohio State’s 2019 Postdoc Mentor of the Year Award and has a strong track record of helping his postdocs land faculty positions. Read the press release on his receipt of the Mentor Award. Watch his video message here.
Save the Date: 2020 National Postdoc Appreciation Week
With challenges, comes innovation. Join us for the first virtual National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) celebration, a multi-institutional collaboration, on September 21-25, 2020!
Events will include a keynote facilitated by the NPA with speakers, John Beacom, Ph.D., and Christine Pfund, Ph.D., discussing best practices for mentorship; virtual networking; workshops hosted by the National Research Mentoring Network, and The Postdoc Academy; and other curated events. For the full schedule of events during NPAW, please visit this page.
Don’t forget to keep your NPA membership updated by visiting this link. All are welcome to join the NPA - postdocs, graduate students, postdoc administrators, all organizations supporting postdocs, any individual interested in supporting the postdoc community - we encourage the involvement of everyone!
Become an NPAW supporting sponsor for $1,000. As a sponsor, your organization will be thanked at the kickoff of the week's events, with its name listed on the NPA website among the NPAW partners/sponsors for the full week and in e-alerts to our membership. Contact the NPA staff for more details.
We are grateful to EVERY new and renewing Sustaining Member of the NPA; consider joining today!
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. Sign up free today to stay on top of all the educational events, networking opportunities and other activities brought to you by the NPA! The NPA is only as strong as its membership so sign up to have your voice heard.
Welcome to the NPA!
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 editors for August!