After the fanfare of summer and the last hurrah of the Labor Day holiday, by the time third week of September rolls around, monotony has started to set in. However, for postdoctoral scholars, the third week of September is a week of celebration. National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) is a five-day period dedicated to recognizing the passion, the perseverance, the hard work and toil, and the commitment to their craft that postdocs across the country demonstrate every single day.
Born out of National Postdoc Appreciation day, which was held on September 24th 2009, NPAW was nationally recognized in 2010 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.RES. 1545. This year, September 21-25 is the week of NPAW. This week is commemorated by professional and social events held by Postdoc Associations and Offices at institutes across the country. Networking events, breakfast and ice-cream socials, motivational speakers, wine and cheese receptions, and game nights are just a sampling of events held in the past and planned for this year. The National Postdoctoral Association Outreach committee currently led by Andrew Bankston and Shakira Nelson “works to promote the mission, values, goals, and business objectives of the NPA” and is the force behind organizing and coordinating NPAW.
I think this week is also a good time to reflect upon the various achievements of the NPA. The National Postdoctoral Association was established in 2003 with the goal of improving the training and general well-being of postdoctoral scholars in the U.S. In 2005, it was formally incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The mission of the NPA is to “improve the postdoctoral experience by enhanced research training, and a culture of enhanced professional growth to benefit scholarship and innovation.” With this mission in mind, volunteer members of the NPA board past and present and of the different committees, advisors, and staff work tirelessly to collaborate with the research community, professional societies, postdoctoral affairs offices, postdoctoral associations, and funding agencies to fully recognize the contribution of postdocs to science as well as to further education, training, career advancement, and work-life balance of postdocs.
The NPA and its collaborators have been responsible for bringing about a lot of changes to the way postdocs are viewed by the research communities and the funding agencies. Some of the important accomplishments are:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) now formally adopt the term “postdoctoral scholars.”
- The pathway to independence, or the K awards, were instituted by the NIH to enable the transition of postdocs to tenure-track faculty positions.
- In grants submitted to NSF that request funding for a postdoc, NSF requires a mentoring plan for the postdoc.
- The NPA has assisted numerous universities across the country in setting up Postdoctoral Offices (PDOs) and Postdoctoral Associations (PDAs).
- NPA is a repository of resources, toolkits, policy updates, news, and all information pertinent to a postdoc.
- The NPA has advocated for an increase in NIH training stipends, requirement of mentoring plans on NIH grants, more independent funding, and better benefits for postdoctoral scholars, as well as increasing diversity in the postdoctoral workforce.
- The NPA has been vocal about the proposed changes to overtime regulations for postdoctoral scholars.
Each year, the NPA holds an annual meeting, which provides a platform dedicated solely to postdoctoral scholars. The 13th annual meeting held on March 13-15, 2015, boasted a record 400 attendees, with 230 first-time attendees. The two and a half day meeting was flush with workshops that focused on negotiating skills, establishing mentoring networks, communication strategies, diversifying the postdoctoral environment, establishing a faculty pipeline, and more. The keynote speaker, Rosina Bierbaum, spoke about her experiences working as a scientific advisor to the POTUS. She encouraged scientists to translate their science so the policy makers and tax-payers can understand it and to stay optimistic despite seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.
Plenary sessions focused on increasing diversity in mentoring and the roles professional societies play in the development of science career. Talks focusing on diversity in mentorship included not just diversity in race and gender, but also diversity in knowledge and networking, and how postdoctoral scholars can use that to get a foot in the door. The annual meeting accepts proposals submitted by attendees for workshops on different topics, which help shape the meeting into an event postdocs have made their own. The 13th annual meeting was a highly successful event that brought 13 companies together to participate in Career Connections, provided numerous networking and social opportunities, and allowed all attendees to participate in a town hall meeting that discussed Institutional Policy Report and the National Academy of Sciences report. The slides from the workshops are currently available on the NPA website. The 14th annual meeting is scheduled to be held on March 4-6, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Van Andel Research Institute.
The NPA is a force that champions for each and every postdoctoral scholar. If you haven’t joined the NPA yet, this is the best time to do it. For the month of September, the NPA is offering a discounted rate of $10 for full individual membership for a year!
About the Author:
Samarpita Sengupta, PhD, is a Scientific Research Writer in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and is a member of the NPA Outreach Committee.