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Cura Personalis: The Foundation for Georgetown University’s Postdoctoral Association
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Caleb McKinney


Large and small figure, representing the the OPD and GUPDA, with georgetown logo in center.

The adaptive needs of Georgetown’s postdoctoral fellows inspires collaboration between the Office of Postdoctoral Development and the Georgetown University Postdoctoral Association.

Georgetown University Holistically Trains and Educates its Postdocs

Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States, is a Jesuit university in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital and a hub for policy and science advocacy. Pursuant to long-standing Jesuit tradition, Georgetown University values a holistic approach to training and education. It prepares students and trainees to become citizens of science, through excellence in research and service to others.


Consistent with the Jesuit value of cura personalis or “care of the whole person,” Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) has a small population of postdoctoral scholars. This presents a unique niche for individualized career development for postdocs at GUMC. In recent years, GUMC has seen tremendous transformation in postdoctoral training through federally funded institutional training programs and, most recently, through grassroots efforts led by postdocs and administrators to centralize postdoctoral support across medical center departments.


The Beginning of Georgetown’s PDA and Office of Postdoctoral Development

In early 2017, Hillary Stires, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in oncology, founded the Georgetown University Postdoctoral Association (GUPDA). Stires recruited a team of postdocs to put together bylaws, committees, and an administrative infrastructure that would promote community-building and career development for Georgetown postdoctoral scholars. GUPDA utilized frameworks adopted from the Postdoctoral Association Toolkit, which is offered by the National Postdoctoral Association.


The Georgetown University Postdoctoral Association has adapted to the needs of a small postdoc population by convening regular professional development meetings for postdoctoral scholars that utilize a peer-feedback model rather than a seminar/workshop model.


GUPDA’s efforts to increase support for GUMC postdoctoral scholars led to the administrative reorganization and the formation of a permanent Office of Postdoctoral Development (OPD). The OPD is led by Caleb McKinney, PhD, who is a newly appointed assistant dean of graduate and postdoctoral training and development. OPD performs individual career advising for postdoctoral scholars and works with the GUPDA to promote continued postdoctoral scholar-led events and initiatives. Through OPD and GUPDA, postdoctoral scholars develop key professional skills to augment their research training, consistent with Georgetown’s commitment to developing the whole person.


Hilary Stires, PhD

Postdoctoral researcher Hillary Stires, PhD helped found the Georgetown University Postdoctoral Association.

GUPDA Meets the Needs of its Postdoc Community

GUPDA has adapted to the needs of a small postdoc population by convening regular professional development meetings for postdoctoral scholars that utilize a peer-feedback model rather than a seminar/workshop model. At these meetings, postdocs practice elevator pitches, critique each other’s CV’s, practice talks, and engage faculty, staff, and doctoral alumni in discussions on grant writing and applying to academic and nonacademic positions. Furthermore, earlier this year, GUPDA organized the first annual Postdoctoral Research Symposium. This internal conference of oral and poster presentations allowed postdocs to showcase their research contributions and receive insightful feedback from diverse stakeholders across campus.


GUPDA is also committed to service to others. It has organized mentoring activities geared toward PhD students, such as panel discussions on how to pursue a postdoc position, and providing feedback on graduate student scientific presentations through the annual Student Research Day. Lastly, GUPDA has cohosted gatherings with local postdoctoral associations in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area to facilitate a regional community of postdoctoral scholars.


The OPD Values Professional Development of its Postdocs

Through OPD, postdoctoral scholars have access to dedicated career advising and individual development plan consultations, information sessions with employers, professional memberships, and administrative experiential opportunities. Notably, doctoral trainees are encouraged to explore career options that align their skills and interests within and outside of academia.


Communication to broad audiences is a key skill in a variety of industries and sectors. The OPD also offers postdocs a chance to develop their written communication skills through contributions to their Career Catalyst Blog. Postdoctoral scholars receive editorial feedback and a validated writing portfolio of published articles on a variety of career development topics (such as interviewing) that are pertinent to the postdoctoral scholar community. This not only helps themselves professionally. It also helps other postdocs to enhance job-related skills.


Georgetown University Medical Center is proud to recognize the immense scientific contributions of their postdoctoral scholars. It will continue to develop the administrative infrastructure needed to provide an enriching training environment for the success of its postdoctoral scholars. 

Caleb McKinney, PhD, is the assistant dean of graduate and postdoctoral training and development at Georgetown University Medical Center and is a diversity officer for the National Postdoctoral Association.


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