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THE CAREER PIPELINE: LEAKY OR BRANCHING?

Highlights: 2016 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Meeting

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), a non-profit organization established in 2003, is aiming to maximize the effectiveness of the research community and enhance the quality of the postdoctoral experience, thereby advancing the U.S. research enterprise. The NPA’s goals are to advocate for postdocs, develop resources to support postdoctoral training, and to build community. Its annual meeting is well attended by postdocs, members of postdoc associations (PDA) and offices (PDO), and all other stakeholders who work towards improving postdoctoral experience in the United States. This year’s NPA meeting was hosted in Grand Rapids, Michigan from March 4-6. The meeting was largely focused on the necessity for postdocs to be versatile and how to identify, acquire, utilize and transfer skills that are needed for career success in industry, government and academia, respectively. More than 380 postdoctoral scholars, postdoctoral administrators, faculty, and company representatives participated in the event. The University of Pennsylvania was represented by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Penn biomedical postdocs as well as Mary Anne Timmins and Morgan Kibler from the Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) office. Penn’s representatives organized and participated in the meeting in a number of forums. Doreen Becker, D.V.M., Ph.D., Co-President of Penn’s Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), Amita Bansal, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the BPC Foreign National Committee and an NPA International Officer, along with Timmins, presented a workshop on developing orientation packages for the international postdoc community, detailed below. Zenobia Cofer, Ph.D., Co-Chair of BPC’s Diversity Committee, presented a poster on the BPC’s “Wine, Cheese & Science” event, and Becker presented a poster on the BPC’s structure and collaborative nature. They write about their experiences below.

Welcome and Keynote – A Leaky Pipeline or a Branching Pipeline?

Belinda Huang, Ph.D., Executive Director of the NPA, welcomed participants and kicked off the meeting. The plenary sessions titled “Fostering Leadership During Your Postdoc Years & Beyond” and “Managing Your Postdoc: Mastering the Core Competencies” focused on qualities of excellent leaders and how anyone can develop the necessary skill set to be an outstanding leader in the career path of one’s choosing. Nancy Schwartz, Ph.D., Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs and Co-Director of the Office of Graduate Affairs at the University of Chicago and this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award pointed out that “you can learn as much from a good mentor as you can learn from a bad mentor”.

The keynote speaker, Paula Chambers, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Versatile PhD, a web-based career education service for doctoral students, focused on the skills needed to prepare and excel in nonacademic career paths. Her talk, “From Skills to Results: Discovering Your Versatility and Showing It,” provided an optimistic perspective on career prospects for postdocs. Instead of referring to a “leaky pipeline,” she called postdocs to be in a “branching career pipeline.”

She recommended that postdocs get involved in postdoctoral affairs, i.e. joining a postdoctoral association, and to think of ways to give your PI what s/he wants while also getting something you want, while developing and obtaining new skills. She motivated postdocs by saying that if you are worried about your career, “you are NOT alone.” She alerted postdocs that the number of Ph.D.s are rising in STEM fields, and therefore postdocs should think not only about expanding their skills, but also marketing their skills effectively. She suggested that one must not limit themself to academic jobs because like academic jobs, non-academic jobs have advantages too. She explained the vicious “career development cycle” and highlighted that one must be cognizant of their own desires and goals in life, pursue what they are passionate about, explore possibilities and make informed decisions.

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By Amita Bansal, Ph.D., Doreen Becker, Ph.D., DVM., & Zenobia Cofer, Ph.D.

amitab@mail.med.upenn.edu, dobecker@vet.upenn.edu, CoferZ@email.chop.edu