NIEHS recognizes trainees on Postdoc Appreciation Day
By Eddy Ball
NIEHS joined institutions throughout the U.S. and Canada in recognition of National Postdoc Appreciation Week with a special celebration Sept. 21. The NIEHS Trainees' Assembly (NTA) held its fall General Assembly in Rodbell Auditorium, followed by an ice cream social and trivia games in the NIEHS cafeteria.
Moderated by steering committee co-chairs Anne Marie Jukic, Ph.D., and Rachel Goldsmith, Ph.D., who described events and opportunities sponsored by the NTA, the event featured talks about career skills, training programs, and trainee-related developments by NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., Division of the NTP (DNTP) Director John Bucher, Ph.D., and Office of Fellows Career Development (OFCD) Director Tammy Collins, Ph.D.
The program offered trainees an opportunity to understand better their place in the larger contexts of NIH, the NIEHS Divisions of Intramural Research (DIR) and NTP, and the NIEHS strategic plan, which promises to help shape the environmental health sciences worldwide over the next five years. The event was also a chance for senior researchers to explicitly remind trainees of their importance to the overall missions of NIH and NIEHS/NTP.
“We do love you,” said Zeldin at the beginning of his presentation. “You are the backbone of the Institute.”
Looking at the big picture
Zeldin moved into a discussion of the importance of training goals in the NIEHS strategic plan, as it relates to enhanced teaching, promotion of scientific literacy, training diversity, and development of the next generation of biomedical researchers. His discussion of budget uncertainties and continuing reduction in terms of budget and training programs was sobering, but Zeldin also had encouraging news for trainees.
Promising developments listed by Zeldin included expansion of the minority Intramural Research Training Award Program, the proposed merit increase for postdocs who are awarded career transition grants, international joint training programs, and the new Fellow of the Year travel award.
Jukic introduced the members of the NTA steering committee who facilitate the group’s input into such NIEHS decisions as hiring, working conditions, and the trainee renewal process. The members represent trainees in the various DIR labs and NTP branches and together perform an important role in advocating for their needs and articulating their interests.
The NTA, Jukic reminded the audience, sponsors social and career development events, including coffee hours, lunches with distinguished lecturers, workshops, brown bag lunches, and the enormously popular annual Biomedical Career Fair, now in its 16th year, which will be held April 27, 2013. The NTA also helps fellows recognize outstanding lead researchers by selecting the Mentor of the Year honor each year on Science Day in November and publicizes volunteer career development opportunities that include writing for the Environmental Factor newsletter and working with the Citizen Schools and NIEHS Scholars Connect programs offered through the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity.
Collins, a former postdoc at NIEHS (see story), addressed the assembly for the first time in her new role leading OFCD. She explained the role of her office in coordinating NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) resources for trainees at NIEHS and implementing NIEHS-based programs, such as upcoming workshops in 2012-2013 in graphic design, grant writing, spoken English, time management, teaching college, and drug development.
As the DIR clearinghouse for information about jobs, career development resources, and training opportunities, OFCD sends out regular emails through its fellows’ listserv. Collins encouraged fellows to contact her with questions and concerns or to request a meeting.
Bucher closed out the program with a description of NTP postdoctoral training opportunities,(833KB) led by DNTP Director of Toxicology Training and Coordination Rajendra Chhabra, Ph.D. NTP training focuses on the kind of team science careers found in government and industry, Bucher said, rather than on lead researcher positions in academic settings.
While NTP has a few postdocs in its wet lab, he said, most of the positions are in pathology training, which leads to board certification in veterinary pathology, and in applied toxicology with an emphasis on study design and literature evaluation.
A four-year tradition at NIEHS
National Postdoc Appreciation Day at NIEHS is the high point of National Postdoc Appreciation Week. The celebration was initiated in 2009 by the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), a member-driven organization that provides a unique voice for postdoctoral scholars throughout the country. With its historically strong ties to NPA, NIEHS has been a part of the national movement from the beginning.
In 2010, this week was officially recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives with House Resolution 1515. In 2011, 89 institutions in 30 states and Canada hosted 171 events to show their appreciation of postdocs. In North Carolina this year, NIEHS, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University held celebrations Sept. 17-21 recognizing the significant contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to U.S. research and discovery.