UW Graduate School

March 23, 2017

Tips for Postdocs from National Postdoc Association Meeting

On March 18-19, 2017, leadership from OPA and UWPA participated in the 15th Annual National Postdoc Association meeting in San Francisco. Three members from the Fred Hutch Student and Postdoc Advisory Committee also attended, and a postdoc from  Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) so Seattle was well-represented! There were many good working sessions and an opportunity to learn from our peer institutions and other postdoc-led organizations.  Here are just a few insights for postdocs gathered from the meeting – we will be sharing more in the coming weeks.

  • Seek experiences outside your primary research group. Peter Fiske, plenary speaker and consultant/entrepreneur, advised spending as much as 20% of your time exploring other resources and experiences on and off campus.  Academic training is good at providing deep expertise, and yet “you have a keel without a boat”. PhDs have a tremendous amount to offer, but need more experience in adaptability, collaborative problem-solving, leadership to be successful in future careers, in and outside academia.
  • All jobs come through relationships. Expand your network. Networking is about genuine relationships created through shared interests or connections; it is not about shallow schmoozing with dozens.  Use your existing network of peers and advisors to connect you.  Ask for help. Join our UW Postdoc LinkedIn group as one starting point, and seek out other online spaces (including Twitter) where your professional societies or disciplines connect.
  • Know your rights. As a pregnant postdoc, you have federal protections under the ADA and Title IX.  We will do a separate blog post on this to clarify rights of pregnant and parenting postdocs.  One national survey showed only 40% of pregnant postdocs requested some kind of accommodation during pregnancy (e.g. modifying schedules, avoiding lifting, limiting toxic exposures, etc.) as compared to 70% in other sectors. You need to ask – it is a protected right!
  • Build your Mentoring Plan: We heard advice from the NSF program officers that the culture is changing for postdocs from an apprenticeship model (where you learn by doing and watching) to professional training model.  Be explicit with your research advisor about the time you want to spend on professional development, how and why. And build your mentoring team also, so you have a broader base of input to guide your career development.
  • Include Work/Life Balance in your IDP. Resilience is coping with, bouncing back from, and adapting to difficult situations – and academic life is full of them. Resilience requires we invest in ourselves and the things that renew or sustain us. Set goals and milestones for dimensions of the “wellness wheel” that are important for you now (e.g. financial, physical, nutritional, relational, spiritual…).  Schedule yourself on your calendar to make sure these things happen.
  • Make your dollars go further. Apply for travel awards through professional societies and foundations. Ask your PI or department to match what you bring in.  Seek external sponsors for events you want to hold (e.g. donating pizza to a lunch gathering). Consult with the librarian who researches funding sources and can advise you on tailoring your searches (at UW it is the Graduate Funding Information Service).
  • Culture Fit: If you are considering a position, how do you find out about the organizational culture there? Culture goes beyond stated vision and values to daily practices, and how people engage with each other. Culture is “the way we do things around here”. Ask a range of people about it during your interviews and site visits. Also, do the self-reflection and assessment work to learn what is most important to you in a workplace culture (what makes you happy and productive?). Do your research and ask yourself: Will you thrive, personally and professionally in the organizational culture?

And don’t forget that all UW postdocs, faculty, and staff are eligible for a free membership with NPA because UW is a sustaining institutional member.  You get access to resources behind their firewall and also connected with their networks. Please email OPA if you are interested in the affiliated membership from NPA.