MinorityPostdoc.org Promotes New Postdoctoral Events at the 2010 SACNAS Annual Meeting

By Cassandra Brooks and Alberto I. Roca, Ph.D.

Every year thousands of students, professionals, and professors gather at the annual conference of SACNAS: the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. In 2010, those in that vulnerable stage between student and professional, i.e. postdoctoral fellows, found a plethora of sessions and workshops to help smooth their transition. Participants were offered career and publishing advice, networking opportunities, and even a chance to laugh at the struggles ahead.

These specific activities below were open to all SACNAS conference participants, but were geared towards postdoctoral fellows and advanced Ph.D. graduate students— typically a small population (<5%) at this undergraduate-heavy conference. An agenda overview of these sessions is found on the MinorityPostdoc.org Events page. Sessions were supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Project Director Edward Krug, Ph.D. of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) with activities coordinated by Alberto Roca, Ph.D., founder of MinorityPostdoc.org.

Thu Sep 30th: Workshops with Hours of Technical Advice

The MinorityPostdoc.org events kicked off the first morning of the conference with four options for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to choose from. These sessions included designing an Individual Development Plan (IDP), writing a scientific manuscript, preparing a fellowship application, and getting the most from mentoring.

Creating your Individual Development Plan to Prepare for Your Career

An IDP is a wonderful tool to help students and postdoctoral fellows identify their professional development needs and career objectives. This three-hour panel, chaired by Philip Clifford, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Education at the Medical College of Wisconsin, featured interactive exercises to guide participants through a step-by-step process of creating an IDP. With the help of speaker William Lindstaedt, M.S., Director in the Office of Career and Professional Development at the University of California, San Francisco, participants learned how to put their skills on paper, target their career goals, and generate a map for attaining those goals in the short and long-term.

Technical Science Writing for Peer-Reviewed Journals

Publishing is an essential component of any successful scientific career. Yet many students and postdocs were never taught how to write a scientific manuscript. For minorities, particularly those who speak English as a second language, tackling the task of writing a scientific paper can be incredibly daunting. This workshop, chaired by Marsha Matyas, Ph.D., Director of Education Programs at the American Physiological Society (APS), guided participants through the intricate details of publishing, including how to choose a journal, crafting a good story, and what to include in each section of the paper. Participants were given stacks of handouts to take home, like a pre-submission checklist featuring all the essential components a paper must have before you submit it for publication. Participants learned about the wide spectrum of scientific journals and the associated acceptance and rejection rates. To give participants a broad and thorough perspective on publishing, panel speakers were Kim Barrett, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of California, San Diego, Barbara Horwitz, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior at the University of California, Davis, and Melinda Lowy, Ph.D., Higher Education Programs Coordinator for the American Physiological Society.

From the evaluations, the participants (mostly graduate students) rated the workshop as either excellent or very good. Write-in comments included: “I found this workshop to be outstanding” and “I feel I could’ve benefitted a lot from having this info last year when I started my 1st paper”. This workshop is a brief selection from a more thorough weekend workshop where attendees can have their draft manuscripts reviewed (more info at the APS website).

Preparing Applications for Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellowships

Obtaining independent fellowships for graduate and postdoctoral training can provide stability, ensuring that trainees have the time and finances to conduct their research. Moreover, those who receive fellowships gain a competitive edge when applying for future grants or professional positions. This hour and a half workshop, chaired by Gayle Slaughter, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Graduate Education and Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, gave participants essential tips on how to find fellowships that met their career interests whether in research or teaching. The audience of mostly graduate students received tips on how to prepare a research proposal and how to make their application stand out, for example, by stressing the novelty of their project and addressing what it will add to their field. Speakers Bettina Aptheker, Ph.D., Professor of Feminist Studies and History at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Margarita Curras-Collazo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside, gave participants inside tips on what they look for when choosing candidates for fellowships at their institutions. Furthermore, Dr. Aptheker described how geneticist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock was an inspirational leader who through selfless devotion challenged discrimination and cleared a path for future female scientists.

From Conflict to Collaboration: Getting the Most from Mentoring

Working in a new research environment provides wonderful opportunities for learning and collaboration. Yet students and postdocs are often the newest addition to a research group. They must quickly learn to navigate the institution’s hierarchy, build new relationships, and establish their arena in the group. This session, chaired by Emil Chuck, Ph.D., Term Assistant Professor at George Mason University, taught participants skills for building and maintaining respectful work relationships, dealing with conflicts, and knowing when to walk away from a harmful relationship. Through the help of panel speaker Edward Krug, Ph.D., MUSC Associate Professor, participants examined common sources of conflict and were guided through a 10-question assessment on knowing when to establish, maintain or terminate professional relationships.

Fri Sep 31st: Scientists Working and Laughing

MinorityPostdoc.org hosted two popular evening sessions on the second evening of the conference. The first was a remarkable networking opportunity and the second was a well-needed chance to laugh.

Postdoc and Ph.D. Graduate Student Networking Reception and Postdoc Poster Session

The SACNAS Annual conference is full of networking opportunities, yet many of the events encompass enormous crowds or are geared toward the undergraduate students. For the third year, the smaller population of advanced level graduate students and postdocs could present their research in a poster session and reception specifically for them. This unique event gave participants a chance to network in a more intimate environment while showcasing their work to potential future employers or mentors from a variety of professional and academic institutions. During this session, students and postdocs stood next to their research posters, while sponsors and exhibitors engaged them in conversation. Food and drinks were served, which encouraged interaction by all parties, including those who did not have posters, but still wanted a chance to meet with exhibitors. A roster of exhibitors is found on the Events page including the major sponsor, Procter & Gamble.

Using Humor to Survive Graduate School

Following the reception, comic book author Jorge Cham, Ph.D. offered humorous advice on how to survive the ups and downs of graduate school culled from his collections at PhDComics.com. His anecdotes and comics had the audience of around a hundred, laughing out loud. It seemed that everyone in the crowd could relate to his jokes about the thrill of being the best and smartest in your class as an undergraduate, only to find that everyone is as smart as you (or smarter) in graduate school. The audience empathized with the pain of watching your friends get married, have kids and obtain stable jobs while you continue to live near poverty level. But, Dr. Cham offered (ironic) hope by revealing that the average graduate student gets paid pennies more than employees at fast food restaurants.

Sat Oct 1st: Many Career Panel Choices, but Not Enough Time

On the third day of the conference, sessions included selecting an advisor to match your career goals, strategies in science education research and practice, fellowships for a successful postdoc experience, achieving a faculty job, non-academic career alternatives, how to do a one minute biosketch, and the postdoc committee meeting.

Postdoc Fundamentals: Selecting an Advisor and Project to Match Your Career Goals

In the past, many postdoc positions focused primarily on university research, yet in an increasingly crowded and competitive academic job environment, postdocs must consider a broader range of career options and build their skills according to their specific goals. This panel, chaired by Meda Higa, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, offered participants details on a variety of postdoc fellowship options, including those in research, teaching, industry, and policy. Speakers each representing a different postdoc option included Christine Des Jarlais, Ed.D., Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of California San Francisco, Leslie Pond, Ph.D., Scientific Education Manager at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Richard Weibl, Ed.D., Director of the Center for Careers in Science and Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Maggie Werner-Washburne, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico. This diverse array of speakers gave participants examples of what a postdoctoral fellowship at their specific institution would entail, highlighting the differences between an academic or industry postdoc, while also discussing respective career options that might follow. This panel clearly meets the needs of a small (35 participants almost all graduate students) but important audience. Sixty-five percent of the evaluations judged the overall content to be excellent. We suspect this is the case since these students are not receiving postdoc advice from their home institutions.

HHMI Showcase: Effective Strategies in Science Education Research and Practice

The modern revolution in the biological sciences calls for constant advances in science education for students and teachers alike. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) actively funds new strategies for improving scientific literacy while enhancing science education in the 21st century. This session, chaired by Cynthia Bauerle, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer in the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program at HHMI, featured a variety of new teaching strategies, such as using mini-lectures or small group discussions to engage undergraduates more effectively. Speakers included Diane O’Dowd, Ph.D., HHMI Professor in Developmental and Cell Biology at the University of California, Irvine, Tuajanda Jordan, Ph.D., Director of Science Education Alliance at HHMI, and Rafael Romero, Ph.D., Lecturer in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Fellowships and Opportunities for a Successful Postdoctoral Experience

Navigating the incredible array of postdoctoral fellowships can be an overwhelming and daunting experience leaving the candidate wondering: Is this position right for me? How can I make my application stand out? What unique experience will I gain from this fellowship over another one? This session, moderated by Charla Lambert, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, offered participants a chance to learn about specific funding opportunities and details about the application selection process. Session speakers included Jane Dell’Amore, Ph.D., Manager of Program Outreach in the Fellowships Office at the National Research Council, Victor DiRita, Ph.D., a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Assistant Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Michigan, Heriberto Hernandez-Soto, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Grinnell College, Sheila O’Rourke, J.D., Assistant Provost of Academic Affairs at the University of California, Berkeley, Lina Patino, Ph.D., Geosciences Program Director at the National Science Foundation, and Sneha Veeragoudar Harrell, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow at the TERC Education Research Collaborative. Each speaker gave detailed advice about fellowships at their institutions or their experience as a fellowship recipient. This unique session allowed participants to glean invaluable fellowship information through open conversation with panel speakers or by networking one-on-one at the end of the session.

Achieving Your First Academic Faculty Job

Postdoctoral fellows face fierce competition when applying for academic faculty jobs. In this session, chaired by Meda Higa, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, participants learned about the differences between working at a research university, a liberal arts college, and a community college, as well as the critical qualifications for a strong job application at each institution. Session speakers included Wilfred Denetclaw, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, Perla Lahana Myers, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of San Diego, Pedro Gutierrez, Ph.D., Instructor of Biological Sciences at Coastline Community College, Gail Hanson, Ph.D., Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside, and Roger Worthington, Ph.D., Assistant Deputy Chancellor for Diversity at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Speakers addressed the benefits of working at each institution, for example, increasing diversity at community colleges. They also gave tips for how to navigate the first year as faculty, for example, seeking out career advice and mentorship from experienced professors. Participants were given tips on job offer negotiations (i.e. requesting lab space, funding, and technicians), the responsibilities of being the Principle Investigator of a lab, and how to meet an institution’s expectations for achieving tenure. Dr. Worthington spoke from his perspective as a chief diversity officer and former Board member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). He explained a diversity officer’s role in the faculty search process including personal outreach to attract more diverse candidates.

Post-academic Ph.D. Careers: A Spectrum of Alternatives

During these challenging economic times, many Ph.D. career paths lead to jobs outside of academia. This session, chaired by Brianna Blaser, Ph.D., Project Director of Outreach at AAAS, gave participants a host of non-faculty (or post-academic) science careers to consider, like science writing, industrial management, or positions in the non-profit realm. Session speakers included Cassandra Brooks, M.S., a Science Journalist and graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz Science Communication Program, Jerry Bryant, Ph.D., Director of the UNCF-Merck Science Initiative, and Yvonne Klaue, Ph.D., student in the Professional Postdoctoral Masters Program at Keck Graduate Institute. Speakers engaged in an open dialogue with participants about a typical workday in their respective careers, why they choose a post-academic job, and the pros and cons of their choice. For example, alternative jobs might offer more opportunities to work with students or to interact with a variety of scientists, but might exclude any chance to do bench science.

Tell Me About Yourself: The One-Minute Biosketch

During the course of an academic schooling and career, all students and postdocs will be faced with the dreaded question “Tell me about yourself”. This highly interactive workshop led by Emil Chuck, Ph.D., Term Assistant Professor at George Mason University, taught participants how to generate a concise and confident answer. Participants practiced their one-minute presentations with each other, learning valuable speaking and listening skills. These skills will give participants the tools to make a good first impression, network, and sell themselves to future employers.

Postdoc Committee Meeting

This evening meeting, chaired by Meda Higa, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, allowed SACNAS conference postdocs and other to meet and discuss plans for next year. Participants gave feedback on this year’s events and brainstormed about possible new events. The annual postdoc group photo was also taken.

Exhibit Booth

Throughout the duration of the conference, the Postdoc exhibit booth was a central place where attendees could come and discuss topics that might not have been addressed during the career development workshops. At the exhibit booth, coordinated by Nancy Hurtado-Ziola, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Sialix, Inc., postdocs and students could pick up free materials, including job ads for postdoctoral fellowships and professional positions.

Postdoc Networking Opportunities

Networking is a key component of building new relationships and maintaining old ones. During each of the sessions described above, students and postdocs gleaned essential tips and tools for their professional development; but, they also had time for more intimate networking where they could ask one-on-one questions and exchange contact information. This incredible opportunity allowed students and postdocs to foster professional relationships and enhance their competitive edge. For example, a student interested in a particular fellowship could actually meet the fellowship coordinator in person, practice their one-minute biosketch, and leave a lasting impression. Such proactive interactions maximize the benefit of the SACNAS conference to the underserved postdoctoral community.

Senior Diversity Officers Meet

One of the authors (A.I.R.) collaborated with the UC-Berkeley Office of Equity & Inclusion to schedule a meeting of senior diversity officers at a pre-conference event separate from the SACNAS conference. These officers and their administrative teams gathered for a regular meeting of the California Universities Consortium (CUC). This informal organization allows participants to share effective strategies for diversifying the doctoral, postdoc, and faculty academic pipeline. Topics presented were the UCLA Office of Faculty Diversity and Development’s mentoring programs, collaborations with student science diversity organizations, and the opportunity to form regional chapters of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. These senior officers educate faculty, especially search committees, about the value of diversity and the need to broaden an applicant pool for open job positions. The goal of having the CUC meeting near the SACNAS conference was to catalyze networking between these stakeholders and the diverse postdocs attending the SACNAS conference. Such “science matchmaking” could eliminate the inertial barrier of “we do not know where to find them” that search committees express when faced with the challenge of diversifying a candidate pool for postdoctoral and professional positions.

From the 19 official CUC attendees, 8 evaluation forms were received to assess the impact of scheduling this meeting next to the SACNAS conference. The respondents reported that 3 were new to SACNAS and 7 stated that the conference expanded their network of diversity contacts. The CUC attendees participated in a range of conference activities with the career development workshops and networking meals being the most popular. Since faculty diversity is a high priority for the CUC, their feedback on the utility of the SACNAS conference for faculty candidate recruiting was specifically requested. While most of the comments were positive describing that the conference was “very important” and a “valuable resource for identifying and cultivating future researchers of the professoriate”, the emphasis was on graduate student recruiting. In particular, one CUC member said that they had “recruited one candidate who was successful obtaining a prestigious postdoc at my institution”. Limitations expressed were that “so far SACNAS has not really helped with faculty diversity” and that the effort “needs to be more focused, organized, explicit”. According to SACNAS, out of the total 3,654 conference attendees, there were 110 postdocs but only 30 participated in the Postdoc Poster Session. Thus, the rest were diluted throughout other conference activities. MinorityPostdoc.org is working toward drawing more attention to the recruiting needs of diverse postdocs specifically within SACNAS and for the broader Ph.D. workforce. A future online CV database drawn from the 1,000 diverse postdocs in the MinorityPostdoc email contact list will be a critical pool of talent for recruiting.

Cassandra Brooks is a freelance science writer with a background in marine science and public outreach. Alberto I. Roca, Ph.D. is the Founder and Editor of MinorityPostdoc.org. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Photo credits: D. DeSilva and A.I. Roca
The citation for this article is:
C. Brooks and A.I. Roca (2011) MinorityPostdoc.org Promotes New Postdoctoral Events at the 2010 SACNAS Annual Meeting.
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Last updated 5-Dec-2012
Published 23-Oct-2011