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The composition of the biomedical research enterprise at the University facilitates networking. By often serving as the bridge between the several institutes that make up the Perelman School of Medicine, postdocs gain exposure to tangential fields and enhance their research across disciplines. As part of his strategic vision for the University, Dr. Jameson would like to see more venues for social interactions between faculty and trainees.

Dr. Jameson also suggests that developing a network outside of the group-focused research of a single lab addresses the trend that established science no longer has sharp milestones, or break points in learning. The knowledge base a new scientist needs does not finish with a terminal degree. Rather, the growth in new methods and concepts over the last 30 years has resulted in an evolving framework for learning that the postdoc itself extends. Taking this into consideration, what are the metrics for a successful postdoc if learning is a continuous process? Dr. Jameson looks for certain markers of success that predict future achievement. Primarily, he keeps an eye out for a scientist’s involvement in multiple projects. This metric points to the role of the individual in driving success, particularly when the scientist switches areas. Additionally, he asks if the scientist’s publications reflect changing team compositions, a marker of collaboration. It is important to develop the experience and training interests to not only pursue a topic with vigor, but also to be an effective team member.

Circling back to the multi-institutional nature of the School of Medicine, it is fruitful to consider the opportunities one has to collaborate with other labs and gain experiences that can open new career avenues. A big change that surprised Dr. Jameson is the changing expectations of starting graduates. Nearly half surveyed do not enter with the expectation of staying in academia. Dr. Jameson suggests that many of the skills developed by graduates, such as collaboration, writing, and analysis, are transferrable outside of the traditional academic career track. These attributes are increasingly recognized by journal editors, medical writers, administrators, technology transfer specialists, law firms and other professions that do not require additional degrees. They value those with scientific skills. While there are still holdouts, most faculty are aware that their mentoring needs to adapt more towards the career interests of the trainee and not simply replicate the mentor’s career. Dr. Jameson, himself, cultivates his trainees according to their interests, while offering objective feedback.

Sculpting Your Postdoc Training

Sculpting your postdoc training to match your needs is a long-term investment. Mary Anne Timmins, the Director of Administration of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Program (BPP) offers some advice from her 15 years of experience at UPenn. Of primary importance, expectations need to be stated by both the mentor and trainee, and this is an early opportunity for the postdoc to show leadership. Still, difficult discussions require sensitivity and there have been several negotiation skills workshops that are offered by BPP for this very purpose. Timmins is also impressed with the open-mindedness of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), which is an all volunteer group of postdocs. In my own experience with the BPC, for example, I have worked with fellow researchers who have taught me quite a lot about their science and helped me develop many new soft skills. Regardless of where you are in your career trajectory, there are a few things every Ph.D. holder should consider. Those holding Doctorates make substantially more over their lifetimes than those with a Bachelors degree. Furthermore, unemployment rates for Ph.D.s are extremely low, far better than the national average. While trainees wait, or better yet, advocate for reform nationally, it is also wise for us to consider strategies for enhancing our prospects now. To this end, there are several substantial advantages that postdoctoral appointees have at the University of Pennsylvania. These include exposure to transformational science in several fields, an established Career Services Office (5), a pioneering Postdoc Office (6), and venues for social and scientific networking, such as those provided by the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (to keep up with updates, like us on Facebook - The overworked, isolated postdoc caricature needs to be put to rest and in its place a resourceful and well-connected individual should emerge, one who is invested in the multitude of broad scientific and social offerings here at Penn.


1. The Biomedical Workforce Working Group Report (2012).



4. Alberts, Kirschner, Tilghman, Varmus (2014). Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 111 (16), 5773–5777



with Dean Larry Jameson

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