This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are used for visitor analysis, others are essential to making our site function properly and improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Click Accept to consent and dismiss this message or Deny to leave this website. Read our Privacy Statement for more.
16th Annual Conference Delivers a Rock-Solid Attendee Experience
Share |




Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. Luna and Fabsik-Swarts at the 2018 NPA Annual Conference.

Kerry Kauffman, Rajan Chaudhari, and Tiewei “Leo” Cheng


This NPA community rocks. It simply does. And not just when its members are gathering in Cleveland for the 16th NPA Annual Conference, hosted by Case Western Reserve University. Our members can always be counted on to share their incredible wealth of knowledge and dedication throughout the year, but attendees at our recent conference were treated to invaluable professional content and a fully packed weekend of immeasurable networking opportunities and unique event experiences. Final attendance clocked in at an impressive record 418 postdoctoral scholars, administrators, faculty, industry supporters, exhibitors, and other postdoctoral community stakeholders rocking the NPA Conference.


Highlights of the opening day


Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. Enjoying a night of friendship and networking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The weekend kicked off on Friday morning with an exercise option introduced in 2018! Each morning featured a novel exercise program, led by skilled volunteer facilitators including Friday yoga with Jim Weber, Saturday jog/run exercise with Kylee Veazey, and Sunday yoga with Lee-Ann Doncevic. Attendees fortified their minds and bodies for the weekend by joining the new attendees’ breakfast orientation or returning attendees’ general networking breakfast. A warm welcome was extended to all attendees during the opening session with remarks from NPA leaders:

  • Julie Fabsik-Swarts, MS, CFRE, CAP, executive director of the NPA
  • Tracy Costello, PhD, chair of the NPA Board of Directors
  • Tiewei “Leo” Cheng, MD, PhD and Kerry Kauffman, co-chairs of the 2018 NPA Meetings Committee

Suzanne Rivera, PhD, vice president of research at Case Western Reserve University, welcomed attendees to Ohio.


Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. Rock and roll themed networking event struck a chord with attendees at the 2018 NPA Annual Conference.

The first set of concurrent workshops leveraged the first day’s momentum and excitement. Rafael E. Luna, PhD, gave a strongly applauded first plenary, “Transitioning from the Bench to Institutional Leadership through Mentoring and Shared Governance in Higher Education.” Luna focused on some of the lessons he has learned throughout his career, which included:

  • having a service mindset
  • finding the perfect pace
  • being the best listener in any room
  • appreciating your mentors
  • seeking excellence through diversity

Sam Castañeda inspired others by recounting his story of the challenges he overcame over the years, in his speech accepting this year’s Distinguished Service Award for his profound leadership and ongoing contributions to the postdoctoral community. Even more networking opportunities occurred in the Exhibit Hall and at the open topic lunch-arounds. This gave way to the afternoon highlight of concurrent extended sessions for postdocs and PDO administrators. The postdoc-themed session led attendees on a musical fairytale journey through how to network and find the perfect job, while the administrators session emphasized the benefits of finding time to focus on one’s own career goals and role. The first day concluded with a sold-out signature event at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hosted by the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute and Case Western Reserve University.


Key content continued on Saturday and Sunday

Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. Keynote speaker Villa-Komaroff is a member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering, and the Advisory Council of the NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.


Saturday continued the pace with three concurrent workshop sessions and the breathless delivery of the 2018 NPA Mentor Award to Leanne Redman, PhD, FTOS, for her exceptional mentoring of postdoctoral scholars as a faculty member. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, PhD gave the keynote address, “Intersections of Science, Business, and Diversity,” in which she touched the audience when she talked about the importance of mentorship. She said, “one’s mentor may not look like you, or share the same life experiences, but a good mentor will believe in you and help you succeed.” She also addressed issues of diversity, implicit bias, and taking chances as “sometimes you are ready for a job and don’t know it.” Her suggested reading list from her slides was highly recorded on Twitter using #NPA2018 and is available on the NPA website along with other presentations’ slides from the weekend. Saturday also included an end-of-day networking and poster session, and a large selection of evening dine-arounds led by volunteers from the local area.


Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. The poster session at the 2018 NPA Annual Conference was a great way to network and share best practices.

Alison Gammie, PhD commenced Sunday’s events by giving the final plenary session, “Catalyzing Change in Biomedical Research Training.” Gammie talked about rigor and reproducibility, training beyond academic research, and keeping up with the significant changes in biomedical science. She highlighted several programs and initiatives from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), such as the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) Program, aimed at addressing the needs of trainees. The meeting closed with a final networking break in the Exhibit Hall and a newly reformatted annual NPA Town Hall. This Town Hall introduced NPA Board members and committee leaders sitting with a table of participants to facilitate face-to-face discussions of issues and getting community input on topics including:

  • mentoring environments
  • diversity and inclusion
  • the international landscape
  • wellness and mental health
  • career and professional development

NPA leaders distributed prizes for the top three posters from the Saturday networking and poster session. The winning posters included:

  • “Online Teaching Immersion Experience, Lessons Learned”
  • “Enhancing Science Communication with Science Sketches”
  • “Science Voices from Home: An NIH Visiting Fellow’s Committee Project”

Finally, winners from the inaugural online silent auction held throughout the weekend were announced. Proceeds from the auction will help fund travel awards for postdoctoral scholars to attend future NPA Annual Conferences.


Our members can always be counted on to share their incredible wealth of knowledge and dedication throughout the year, but attendees at our recent conference were treated to invaluable professional content and a fully packed weekend of immeasurable networking opportunities and unique event experiences.


The 17th Annual NPA Conference to be in Orlando, Florida


Image courtesy of Julie Fabsik-Swarts. Kaufman, co-chair of NPA Meetings Committee, takes a moment to connect with Matthew Yako, program manager of postdoctoral training at Cleveland Clinic.

Whether we missed rocking out with you in Cleveland or not, we would encourage everyone to mark your calendars for our 17th NPA Annual Conference taking place next spring at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida, April 12-14, 2019! It is going to be a fantastic event, and our NPA Meetings Committee is excited to start planning, and we need your help! If you would like to help us create an even better conference the coming April, or if you know of anyone interested in volunteering, please reach out to us. To catch up on everything that happened at the 2018 conference, visit the NPA website, our social channels using #NPA2018, log into Whova to see the over 1,962 messages exchanged on the conference mobile app’s community boards throughout the weekend. Check out all of the new connections and experiences from Cleveland and make the resolution to not miss out in 2019!


Finally, this year’s conference could not have taken place without the hard work, time, and commitment from of the staff, Board of Directors, local Host Committee, sponsors and exhibitors, attendees, and all of our amazing volunteers. Thank you to everyone who worked on, attended or inspired us for the 2018 conference. Your energy, passion and ideas continue to impress us, year after year. See you next spring!


Kerry Kauffman is co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently a senior program coordinator at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). In this role, she helps to develop professional and career advancement programs and initiatives for graduate students through junior faculty, as related to cancer research.


Rajan Chaudhari, PhD is the incoming co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In addition to his work in computational chemistry, biochemistry, programming, and data analytic platforms, he actively participates in his local postdoctoral community as a leader for various advisory committees and a mentor for undergrads.


Tiewei Cheng, MD, PhD is the former co-chair of the NPA Meetings Committee and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he studies epigenetics in the context of cancer drug resistance.


If you have any feedback about the Annual Conference, would like to get involved, or if you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at You can also now view presentations from the 2018 conference on the NPA website.