Environmental Factor, February 2008, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Welcomes Trainees
By Eddy Ball
As part of a continuous effort to improve postdoctoral training at NIEHS, the Institute held what organizers described as the first ever systematic NIEHS Trainee Orientation January 17 in Rodbell Auditorium to welcome new - and several old - trainees. The event was chaired by Bertina Jones, Ph.D., chair of the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) Orientation Committee, and featured talks by NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., and key personnel from the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development (OFCD)(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/fellows/), the NTA(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/nta/), which organized the program, and the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) (http://www.training.nih.gov/).
Speakers at the two-hour meeting covered topics that ranged from the philosophical and scientific, such as the mission of NIH/NIEHS and the "whole person" concept of training for fellows, to the mundane and practical, including the excused leave policy, use of the Junction web site and the specific logos required on all NIEHS presentations. Nearly 30 trainees were on hand for the event, which was also attended by Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D., and Associate Director for Management Marc Hollander.
By his presence as well as by his words, Wilson testified to the important role of post-baccalaureate and postdoctoral training at the Institute. He opened the orientation with an overview of NIEHS research initiatives and the Institute's role in the NIH family of 27 Institutes and Centers - and where he sees the NIH/NIEHS moving in the future.
During the question-and-answer session, Wilson emphasized, "Postdocs are right at the top of the totem pole [at NIH/NIEHS]. You're the future of the research enterprise in the country. Each principal investigator here depends on working with postdocs and fellows in the laboratory to be able to advance scientific projects."
A familiar face for many in the NIEHS trainee community, OITE Director Sharon Milgram described her talk as "the 20,000 foot answer to the question about what the NIH is doing to make sure that fellows are ready for a changing job market." Noting that although the job market for fellows has changed dramatically, Milgram argued that in too many cases, training has not. "We need to train flexible, adaptable 'whole people,'" she continued, "which is something that we have not done very well in the past."
Milgram began her talk with a list of the kinds of skills "whole people" need to develop during their training in addition to competence in their field of science. "You have to develop personal skills, professional skills and career skills that allow you to seize opportunities quickly," she argued.
Following Milgram were NTA leaders Jennifer Adair, Ph.D., Co-chair Rose Ramos, Ph.D., and Chair Anastasia Wise, OFCD Acting Director Dianne Klotz, Ph.D., and OITE Deputy Director Pat Sokolove, Ph.D.
Adair introduced trainees to the resources link on the internal Junction web page and, with the help of Schrader, the process of getting approval for publication of abstracts and papers. In her segment, Klotz described the series of workshops offered to trainees each year and discussed the three new workshops scheduled for 2008: the mentoring program with the Summers of Discover program, leadership training and laboratory management training.
Sokolove, who spoke on "Administrative Information for Fellows," showed the audience how to access the NIH Policy Manual and directed the trainees to sites that explain the differences among the three most common types of appointments, differences that affect how taxes are handled and that may impact future fellowship appointments.
Ramos and Wise were the final speakers at the event, urging the audience to participate in the organizations that represent them locally and nationally. As NIEHS liaison to the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), Ramos emphasized the benefits of free membership in the NPA, an advocacy group with a number of important resources for trainees and graduate students. Wise encouraged trainees to become active in the NTA, which holds workshops and social events and sponsors the annual Biochemical Career Fair each spring.