As I have previously mentioned, I am an individual member of the National Postdoctoral Association ( http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/ ), and I recently attended my third annual NPA meeting in San Francisco. This year marked the 10th annual meeting and was wonderful due to the attention to detail and efforts of the meetings committee. A special mention must go to a key NPA member, Sam Castaňeda from UC Berkeley who masterfully served as the chair of the NPA local host committee for this year’s meeting. I would like to personally thank the meetings committee and Sam for all their hard work which culminated in the best meeting I have attended. Each year that I have gone I have learnt new things to bring back to my institution and also appreciated different facets of the meeting.
This year, I actually gave the new attendees’ orientation with a fellow board member, David Taylor. For the first time, I was involved with preparing and shaping a presentation. It was challenging to distil as much information as we wished into a coherent 45 minute presentation. I hope we managed it. After that presentation, I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the meeting.
The format was similar to previous years. We had Innovation in Action sessions where we met our colleagues from other institutions and shared ideas. These sessions are designed to promote an open forum for discussion, and again this was successfully achieved this year. Many members asked questions about best practices and, as everyone in the room was given the opportunity to speak, they were either answered, or more questions were raised. It was clear that there are still many issues to tackle to improve the postdoctoral experience; but after seeing the plenary sessions concerning the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) 2000 report and the founders of the NPA, it is clear progress has been made. It was a very nice touch to hear the history of the association from the founders as it was clear just how much has happened over the years. It served as inspiration that real change has already occurred, and that with consistent effort more will change in the future to help postdocs.
There were some fantastic workshops. The only issue was there were so many I wanted to attend that I couldn’t. There were topics ranging from institutional strategies for advancing postdoc women’s careers; how international postdocs must balance career advancement with visa issues; business dining is about networking and not about food; conflict resolution skills; becoming a more effective research mentor; and building an entrepreneurial postdoc association. As you can see, there were interesting topics whether you are a postdoc or someone who advocates for postdocs (postdoctoral training office manager etc). One of the great things about these workshops is that you can discuss issues and get advice from others more experienced than yourself. You can also get fabulous speaker ideas to take back to your institution.
As usual, the “Dine-Around” sessions were very popular. This year it was actually broken up into discussion topics so you could continue to network and learn from people interested in issues you are concerned about. The two dinners I attended promoted some great discussions and introduced ideas I had never considered before. I believe that the variety of people who you meet at the dinners is one of the key successes of the NPA annual meeting. You could be sat next to one of the speakers and make a wonderful connection for the future. At the very least, you will have a great conversation.
This year, we had a wonderful keynote speaker in Dr. Alan Leshner. He gave a witty, succinct overview of scientific research over the years, where we stand now and what needs to happen to allow the USA to continue to be a scientific leader.
There were also two town hall meetings which were exceedingly interesting which were both lead by board member Lori Conlan. The first allowed input regarding the current state of the postdoctoral experience. Representatives from the current National Academies of Science committee working on the “State of the postdoctoral experience in scientists and engineers revisited project” were present and will be using that information when they compile the latest report. The second included a discussion on the NPA strategic plan for 2013-2017 and allowed those present to make suggestions. I feel that these town hall meetings were vital and gave wonderful food for thought. I often hear complaints about the postdoctoral experience, or that the NPA doesn’t do enough. Well, that was everyone’s opportunity to have their say and shape both the NPA and the future of postdocs. I hope you took the opportunity to do so.
I aim to utilize the information I gathered at my home institution and believe that other attendees will be doing the same. I had another great meeting and would encourage others to attend next year’s meeting in Charleston, South Carolina on March 15-17 2013.