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Lasting Impressions from the 15th NPA Annual Meeting
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Tiewei “Leo” Cheng, Kerry Kauffman, and Jennifer Lamberts


NPA Executive Director Julie Fabsik-Swarts welcomes attendees to the 15th NPA Annual Meeting.

More than 430 postdoctoral scholars, postdoctoral administrators, faculty, and stakeholders joined us for a lively and engaging 15th NPA Annual Meeting, held March 17-19, 2017. The meeting was hosted by the University of California System at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, CA. Attendees had the option of starting the weekend with our traditional new attendees’ breakfast orientation to get highlights about getting the most out of the meeting or a general networking breakfast for returning attendees.


A warm welcome was then extended to all attendees during the opening session by NPA Executive Director Julie Fabsik-Swarts, MS, CFRE, CAP, and the 2017 NPA Meetings Committee Co-Chairs Jennifer Lamberts, PhD, and Tiewei “Leo” Cheng, MD, PhD. Kate Sleeth, PhD, chair of the NPA Board of Directors also provided a few comments. This year’s Distinguished Service Award was presented to the Postdoc Executive Committee from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for their profound and ongoing contribution and service to the postdoctoral community.


Peter Fiske, PhD, talks to Annual Meeting attendees about the valuable skills that those with PhDs bring to the table.

Peter Fiske, PhD, delivered the keynote address, “There and Back Again: PhD Career Navigation in the 21st Century.” Fiske noted that the world outside of academia has evolved, but the training given to young scientists is mismatched. He advocated for life-long learning, self-confidence, and transferable skills. Fiske said, “You are smarter than you think you are.” He advised postdocs to spend a percentage of their time on professional development and talking to other people about their careers in addition to lab time. He also noted that networking is about making real connections—a point emphasized throughout the rest of the conference.


During the Friday lunch, Sam Hawgood, MBBS, chancellor at the University of California, San Francisco, gave remarks on changes in the academic experience of postdocs over the years. He highlighted the importance of diversity and support for postdocs at universities, noting that postdocs’ contributions should be highly visible at institutions to help build trust in science. The lunch also featured a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the NPA, complete with a large cake in the shape of the number fifteen.


The first day continued with concurrent sessions. This included an extended afternoon option for postdocs to participate in Career Connections, an information session where companies showcased opportunities and interacted with postdocs; administrators could attend a session on Demystifying the Postdoctoral Experience: A 360° Analysis, in which groups worked together to brainstorm ideas about the future of postdoctoral training and the roles of different stakeholders. The day concluded with the traditional opening reception and raffle, emceed by Josh Henkin, PhD, treasurer of the NPA Board of Directors, where $1,600 was raised to help fund travel awards for postdoctoral scholars to attend next year’s Annual Conference.


Sam Hawgood, MBBS, chancellor of UCSF, delivers remarks on behalf of the Annual Meeting local host, the University of California System.

On Saturday, the first plenary session, “Organizational Culture and Its Consequences,” featured the presentation of the NPA Garnett-Powers & Associates, Inc. Mentor Award to Malene Hansen, PhD. After the award presentation, Claudia R. Adkison, JD, PhD and R. Kevin Grigsby, MSW, DSW, discussed how powerful organizational cultures can be in determining whether one thrives or simply survives in their professional environment. The plenary included interactive components, such as having groups discuss what postdocs tell each other behind closed doors.


In the second plenary session, “Data Driven Approaches to Tracking Postdocs,” Kryste L. Ferguson, MEd, membership manager for the NPA opened by sharing a preview of preliminary results from the 2016 NPA Institutional Policy Survey. Nancy Calvin-Naylor, PhD, and Kay P. Lund, PhD, then spoke about ways to track postdoc outcomes and trends, and how to measure and demonstrate the impact of science on society. In the end, Dr. Lund noted, “Despite the challenges, a career in academia is very rewarding. Don’t let anyone discourage you.”


The second day of the 2017 Annual Meeting also featured a variety of excellent concurrent workshops and Innovation in Action sessions. The day wrapped up with poster presentations on topics ranging from matters impacting single institutions to broad national analyses.


Snapshots of top posters at the Annual Meeting

Postdocs as Leaders and Mentors at the Diversity and Inclusion and STEM Education Nexus

Jarrad T. Hampton-Marcell, Sarah R. Soltau, Stephen Wu, Jeffrey Larson, Nicole Vadivel, Harold Gaines, Maria Curry-Nkansah, and Kristene Henne · Argonne National Laboratory


Henne presented about the Argonne/Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) High School Research Program (ARP), a collaborative program between Argonne National Laboratory and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ACT-SO Program to provide STEM research experiences for high school students. Postdoctoral fellows at national laboratories can support STEM educational initiatives, such as secondary education level research programs, that provide crucial early exposure to underrepresented minorities.

Building and Maintaining a Thriving, Productive, and Interactive Postdoctoral Community

Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, Heather Caballes, Kevin Quinn, Mark Lucera, Jessica Finlay-Schultz, Brianna Klein, Carol Kiekhaefer, Hannah Hathaway, Qi Liu, Nabanita Mukherjee, and Bruce Mandt · University of Colorado-Denver


Cruickshank-Quinn, a postdoc at University of Colorado-Denver shares, “Our poster highlighted our postdoc association’s efforts to build community among postdocs on campus, engage faculty, assess our impact, and determine lessons learned. Specifics included our 1) outreach, engagement, educational, and advocacy events, 2) methods for involving faculty (e.g. invitation to Postdoc Research Day), 3) an ‘innovative’ RFID badge reader for tracking attendance at events, and 4) discussion of lessons learnt and recommendations for other Postdoc Associations.”

Postdoctoral Training Course in Scientific Leadership: An Open Resource for Skills Development Training

Imogen Hurley and Debora Treu · University of Wisconsin-Madison


Hurley, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains: “Postdoctoral trainees are typically well-trained in the technical aspects of their discipline, but few receive formal training in leadership. To meet this need, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a team of cross-institution collaborators developed a six-session course for postdocs addressing the leadership issues they will encounter in their current position and future careers. Recognizing that there is a universal need among postdocs for training in this core competency, the team is now generating materials to freely share among the broader postdoctoral training community, and sought feedback and pilot users to help refine these resources.


Sunday brought a final round of concurrent workshops, followed by the annual NPA Town Hall. Kristene Henne, PhD, from the Argonne National Laboratory, Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, PhD, from the University of Colorado-Denver, and Imogen Hurley, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison were awarded prizes for the top three posters from the Saturday poster session. The meeting closed with NPA staff and

members of the Board of Directors taking questions on issues of interest and concern to the NPA membership.


Meeting attendees network and learn about programs and innovations in postdoc associations and offices across the United States at the Annual Meeting Poster Session.

The meeting could not have taken place without the hard work of all the staff, Board of Directors, local host committee, and NPA volunteers. Everyone’s hard work provided interesting content and plentiful networking opportunities, both organized and informal. Each evening featured dine-arounds, and themed lunch-arounds were offered on Saturday and new breakfast-arounds were introduced on Sunday. Networking and coffee breaks throughout the weekend provided attendees several opportunities to give feedback on the new NPA strategic plan. Signature evening social events suggested by the local host committee rounded out a weekend full of networking options. Use of the Whova app and social media also created potential new connections for everyone at the conference. In fact, the NPA received over 41,000 impressions on tweets they sent using #NPA2017 throughout the conference. With a wealth of opportunities to meet fellow meeting attendees in San Francisco, we hope everyone took advantage of at least some of them.


To learn more about this year’s presentations, check out tweets from the Annual Meeting and speakers’ slides from presentations.You can also see photos from the 2017 meeting on the NPA website.


In wrapping up another successful NPA Annual Meeting, we encourage everyone to mark your calendars for the 16th NPA Annual Conference: April 6-8, 2018. It will be hosted by Case Western Reserve University and held at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel in Cleveland, OH. The NPA Meetings Committee is ramping up to start another year of planning and is seeking new members. If you or anyone you know is interested, please reach out to the co-chairs of the Meetings Committee.


Thank you again to everyone who worked on and/or attended the 2017 meeting. We hope to see many of you in 2018!


Tiewei Cheng, MD, PhD, (email) is co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he studies epigenetics in the context of cancer drug resistance. Kerry Kauffman, BA, (email) is co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently the senior program coordinator of the Associate Member Council for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). In this role, she helps to develop professional advancement programs and initiatives for early career cancer researchers, plans meetings and events, and initiates collaborations with colleagues. Jennifer Lamberts, PhD, is former co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently an assistant professor of pharmacology in the College of Pharmacy at Ferris State University, as well as a visiting scientist at Van Andel Research Institute.


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