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October 2011

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NIEHS celebrates Postdoc Appreciation Week

By Eddy Ball
October 2011

Humphrey Yao, Ph.D.

Competition during the trivia challenge that concluded Postdoc Appreciation Day may have been fierce, but as NIEHS lead researcher Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., shows, the mood was also light, as participants took time out to laugh at themselves. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Darshini Trivedi, Ph.D.

Laughter was contagious, as Trivedi, center, discovered as she joined in the fun with her team mates. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Pat Phelps, Ph.D. and Nisha Cavanaugh, Ph.D.

Phelps, center, and Cavanaugh, right, bantered as they puzzled over questions. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Living up to her promise during the General Assembly earlier in the day, Birnbaum, center, joined in the competition with trainees and their group chiefs. NIEHS Associate Director for Management Joellen Austin, left, was on hand to lend her support. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS joined institutions nationwide Sept. 23, as it paid tribute to its postdoctoral fellows with a celebration on the final day of National Postdoc Appreciation Week( Exit NIEHS. A record number of the Institute's 225 trainees attended an NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) General Assembly meeting in Rodbell Auditorium, followed by a drawing for door prizes, an ice cream and dessert social, and a fun-filled trivia challenge for postdocs and their lead researchers.

At the beginning of their meeting, the Institute's postdocs heard tributes by NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and Acting Scientific Director David Miller, Ph.D. Birnbaum's words to the trainees set the tone for comments by Miller and, later in the meeting, by Pat Phelps, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education Graduate Partnerships Program.

“You really make NIEHS who we are,” Birnbaum told the audience.

Looking ahead to the 2011-2012 training year

The moderator of the General Assembly meeting, NTA Steering Committee chair Erin Hopper, Ph.D., presented an overview of the role of the NTA at NIEHS and introduced speakers who discussed new developments and upcoming events. Highlights included:

  • Planning for the 15th Annual Biomedical Career Fair, scheduled for April 27, 2012 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conference center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. - Planning committee co-chair Darshini Trivedi, Ph.D., said that she and co-chair Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., are working to integrate even more former trainees into the program to underscore the event's theme for 2012: “Yes, you can still be successful in obtaining a job in this current economy.” Career Fair workshops will include converting CVs into high-impact resumes and the K-99 early-career grant pathway.
  • Information about a new brownbag lunch career development series coordinated by NTA Steering Committee co-chair Tammy Collins, Ph.D. - The series features discussions about a different career path each month in an informal question-and-answer setting.
  • Update on leadership of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, following the departure of former Director Diane Klotz, Ph.D. - NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D., told trainees that his office is striving to get approval for a search for a new director by the end of the 2011 fiscal year. In the meantime, he said, Phelps has accepted a detail to NIEHS for a week each month to support trainees' career development activities.
  • Overview of the new Citizen Schools Program( Exit NIEHS, coordinated at NIEHS by the Institute's Office of Science Education and Diversity - According to Steering Committee member Nisha Cavanaugh, Ph.D., the program will offer postdocs outreach opportunities to participate as environmental health educators in new afterschool programs at two local middle schools.
  • Assignment of office and meeting space for the NTA - Miller said he was pleased to announce that the NTA will have space in the main building at NIEHS, room F-182.

Emerging as a tradition in postdoctoral training at NIEHS and elsewhere

Founded by the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)( Exit NIEHS in 2009, National Postdoc Appreciation Week was celebrated in 2010 at 87 institutions throughout the U.S. The events are designed to recognize and create awareness of the contributions that postdocs make to the U.S. scientific research enterprise.

At NIEHS, which has long-standing ties to the NPA (see story(, the event has come to mean an afternoon of fun and fellowship with refreshments and prizes made possible by donations from senior scientists. Postdoctoral Appreciation Week is also a time when supervisors and leadership take time to remind their junior colleagues how much the success of the Institute's research program depends on postdocs and to renew their own commitment to offer trainees quality mentoring and a variety of career development experiences that will be useful in a changing job market.

This year's celebration was organized by the NTA National Postdoc Appreciation Day planning committee, which included Hopper, Collins, Cavanaugh, Jim Aloor, Ph.D., Tracy Xu, Ph.D., Stela Palii, Ph.D., and Chaitra Cheluvaraju, Ph.D.

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