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Establishing Partnerships with and across Postdoctoral Associations
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Swetha Murali, Sarah Dykstra, Tony Cijsouw and Erin Lewis

 

As PDAs grow, developing collaborative partnerships with other organizations serves to benefit both postdoctoral scholars and their research institutions. Partnerships can vary from informal, ad hoc collaborations to formal inter-institutional or corporate partnerships. This article discusses considerations for establishing and maintaining mutually productive partnerships and how they can benefit PDAs.

 

Benefits of Partnerships

 

Image courtesy of BPDA. BPDA arranges a well-attended Patent Law Course for its members in collaboration with Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

During a time of limited resources, partnering can directly benefit both PDAs and administrative PDOs. Partnerships can be formed to streamline career development efforts, enhance training efficiency, as well as promote synergies with local or regional institutions. Many groups develop diverse core competencies and can exchange institutional knowledge, best practices, and resources, potentially saving time and improving postdoc satisfaction. In addition, partnerships with other PDAs and PDOs offer valuable opportunities for training that may not be afforded to individual associations. Partnerships also increase access to a larger and more diverse community, allowing PDAs to scale up social and networking opportunities.

 

Types of Partnerships

 

There are multiple types of beneficial collaborations for PDAs. At the intra-institutional level, close partnerships with PDOs (or other university administrative offices) can provide significant benefits to postdocs. PDOs possess valuable institutional knowledge and, because they typically have permanent staff members among their ranks, they can provide a sense of continuity. Such a partnership adds stability and endurance to advocacy efforts, which, due to high turnover, can be challenging for postdoc-led PDA boards.

 

Image courtesy of BPDA. In collaboration with Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, BPDA hosted a one day drug discovery boot-camp workshop

Beyond the parent institution, multiple partnership opportunities exist at the regional and national levels. There are a growing number of local groups forming PDA consortiums across the country. The Boston Postdoctoral Association (BPDA) hosts regularly scheduled career development, social, and advocacy events, resulting in increased scientific cross-pollination and resource sharing. Additional options for developing regional partnerships include reaching out to local industry and legal firms. Many employees are recent PhD graduates or former postdocs who are happy to aid in the career development and networking efforts of other early career researchers. Additionally, professional associations and non-profits such as the NPA, ASBMB, IEEE, ACS and GSAare excellent partners, especially when developing training opportunities for specific postdoc audiences.

 

Considerations in Finding Partners

 

The BPDA model works well in Boston because of the high concentration of research institutions in a limited geographical area. This may be difficult for other PDAs and PDOs due to long distances to other universities or low postdoc density. The BPDA has implemented several tools for working remotely across different sites, which may be a viable solution for fostering collaborations in other regions as well.

Image courtesy of BPDA. Jay Bradner, MD, president of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), Dan Jay, PhD, professor at Tufts; Leslie Pond, Snr. Cardiovascular Sales Specialist NIBR; Crystal Shih, PhD, Investigator III at NIBR; Sanjeev Thohan, preclinical safety expert at New Opportunities Pharma, all attending a career symposium hosted by BPDA, part of the ongoing partnerships between BPDA and Boston area organizations

 

A major challenge PDAs encounter is finding points of synergy across institutions and among potential partners. In general, the BPDA has found a good starting point for building partnerships is to have thorough conversations aimed at finding areas of overlapping interest. Afterwards it is worthwhile to draw up an event proposal containing goals, timelines, and the specific responsibilities of each partner. Following through on the initial event will help build on the foundational trust and further confirm the interest of both parties. After the event, both parties should reconvene to discuss the outcomes and share feedback to help determine the future direction of the partnership. It’s not surprising that being very clear about expectations and capabilities helps build the trust required for an enduring partnership.

 

Building Relationships and Finding Partners

 

For any partnership to be successful, care must be taken to develop the relationship. The NPA Annual Conference provides an excellent opportunity for potential partners to meet and discuss possible points of collaboration. Additionally, local scientific meetings and networking events are excellent opportunities to meet potential partners. Regardless of how these discussions begin, it is crucial that conversations continue beyond the initial meeting to allow the relationships to flourish. Trust and open communication are key so that the sharing of ideas, experiences, and resources can continue and lead to a productive collaboration.

 

The BPDA has found a good starting point for building partnerships is to have thorough conversations aimed at finding areas of overlapping interest. Afterwards it is worthwhile to draw up an event proposal containing goals, timelines, and the specific responsibilities of each partner.

 

Overall, establishing collaborative partnerships is an invaluable way to further meet the needs of individual PDAs. Working to meet our goals collectively is an efficient and mutually beneficial path towards enhancing postdoctoral advocacy at both the regional and national levels.

 

Swetha Murali, PhD, is the co-chair of the Boston Postdoctoral Association Career Development Committee and the co-organizer of the 2018 BPDA Symposium on Careers and Collaboration in Science (B-SOCCS).

 

Sarah Dykstra, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University, the co-president of the Tufts University PDA and one of the lead organizers of the Boston Postdoctoral Association.

 

Tony Cijsouw, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University, the co-president of the Tufts University PDA and the co-chair of the Boston Postdoctoral Association Advocacy Committee.

 

Erin Lewis, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University, and the co-chair of the Tufts Postdoctoral Association Career Development Committee.

 

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