September 2011

Celebrating postdocs

They do the heavy lifting all year long in labs
across the globe. The third week of this month
is dedicated to showing our appreciation. 

National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week runs from Sept. 19 through Sept. 23. Initiated by the National Postdoctoral Association in 2009, the observance is intended to highlight the contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to science and to spur institutions to show their appreciation in various ways. Here, Robert Barrett and Kate M. Sleeth of the National Postdoctoral Association explain how the observance came to be and how their organization can serve the postdocs you rely on every day.

National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week initially began as a one-day event known as National Postdoc Appreciation Day, which was held Sept. 24, 2009. The inaugural observance was a great success, with more than 50 institutions in the United States and others as far away as Australia participating.

The one-day celebration subsequently was expanded to a full week in September to allow institutions greater flexibility. In 2010, more than 110 events were held in 30 U.S. states.

postdoc_wordcloudWhat happens during the observance

The events that are held vary widely depending on the needs and resources of the participating institutions. Some host mini-research symposia that allow postdocs to showcase their current projects. Others invite noted speakers to give lectures. Still others provide seminars on grant writing and careers outside of academia. Seminars also are used to showcase the latest technology available for use by postdocs. Almost all institutions support networking events with free food and drinks.

Why postdocs deserve recognition

The NPA initiated the observance so that institutions collectively could recognize the value of postdocs to campuses, facilities and the scientific enterprise in general.

The number of postdocs has been increasing steadily in the U.S., and the training has become the natural next career step for newly minted Ph.D.s. The temporary period of mentored research or scholarly training allows them to acquire the skills needed to pursue independent careers.

In earlier years, there was no limit to how many years one could remain in a postdoctoral position, but new rules for National Institutes of Health grant eligibility have capped the experience at five years for many institutions.

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