National Postdoc Appreciation Week – the Purpose of a Postdoc
This week marks the seventh annual National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW). Since 2009, the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)* has sponsored this week-long celebration. NPAW grew out of National Postdoc Appreciation Day, which was held on September 24, 2009. In 2010, NPAW culminated with the passage of house resolution 1545 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution, which was passed on September 24, 2010, nationally recognized NPAW. During this time, it is important not only to celebrate the contributions of our postdocs, but also to reflect on the purpose of a postdoctoral appointment.
As defined by the NPA, a postdoctoral scholar (“postdoc”) is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing. Notable in this definition is the specific reference to mentoring, professional skills training and pursuing a career path. A postdoctoral appointment is not a career goal; it is a critical step to a fulfilling career.
Our postdocs have heard me say numerous times that part of their job is to find a job. Mentoring towards developing one’s career and the professional skills to make successful career transitions are a key component of the postdoc experience at Argonne. Even the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a clarification stating the expectation for postdoctoral researchers to be engaged in both their research training and career development.
It would follow that the purpose of a postdoctoral appointment at Argonne is to pursue research that is mutually beneficial to the postdoc’s intellectual interests and to Argonne’s missions, while developing transferrable skills that will enable one to make sound decisions and smooth transitions towards the next career step, whether that is at Argonne or elsewhere. The Postdoctoral Program was created nearly 10 years ago to be a resource for postdocs in this latter aspect. Through monthly workshops and seminars and through a thriving Postdoctoral Society of Argonne, postdocs and fellows have many avenues to explore career paths and build skills.
In addition, I encourage postdocs, supervisors and mentors to find creative ways to make professional skills development part of the research training experience. Are there opportunities for postdocs to make significant contributions to proposal development, including planning a budget? Can your postdoc take the lead on managing a short-term project or take part in program reviews? Are discussions around authorship and other means to raise visibility happening? These are just a few examples of the core competencies one should be developing as a postdoc. While the Postdoc Program Office strives towards addressing these competencies in our programming, there may be additional ways postdocs can hone these skills as part of their research experience.
As we recently shared through the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition Catalyst newsletter, Argonne postdocs take their careers in a number of different directions. Their interests are continually expanding to include areas such as science policy and entrepreneurship. To postdocs, supervisors and mentors, I would advise having a good initial development discussion, revisit goals and progress periodically and always be thinking about the next steps. In the meantime, let’s celebrate by joining the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne in their September Coffee Break at the Advanced Photon Source on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, at 3:30 p.m. in the 5th Floor Gallery. And to check off another skills development opportunity, join us Wednesday, Sept. 21, at noon in Building 241, Room D172, for a special brown-bag lunch session on Preempting Poster Disasters.
Have a happy National Postdoc Appreciation Week!
*The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) is a nonprofit, 501(c) (3) educational association headquartered in Washington, D.C. Founded in 2003, the NPA seeks to provide a national voice for postdoctoral scholars; to facilitate positive change for postdocs; and thereby to advance the research enterprise in the United States. The NPA serves the postdoctoral community, including more than 3,400 individual members and some 196 institutional members. The NPA provides support to the postdoctoral community through resources, toolkits, professional development and networking opportunities.