Trainees and the contributions they make to the NIEHS mission took center stage during the week of Sept. 19. The celebration concluded with a Sept. 23 meeting of the NIEHS Trainees’ Assembly (NTA) that included a pizza lunch and the traditional trivia challenge.
Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development (OFCD) led the planning for the week’s events, collaborating with NTA members (see sidebar). “Trainees are the base that our research program is built on,” Collins said, referring to the central importance trainees play in all aspects of research at NIEHS — including developing and testing new hypotheses, writing papers, mentoring students, and other tasks too numerous to list.
“This week, we join with more than 100 institutions across the nation to recognize and celebrate all of our fellows,” Collins said. Trainees at NIEHS include research fellows, postdoctoral fellows, predoctoral and postbaccalaureate fellows, visiting fellows, and students. All took part in the week’s activities.
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., addressed the meeting, thanking the trainees for all they do to support the success of the NIEHS research program. “You make us who we are,” she said. “Your contributions are terrific.”
Birnbaum noted that NIEHS joined with others for a day of recognition in 2009. The next year, 2010, marked the first full week of National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, with official recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives. “Many different organizations are now recognizing that we could not do what we do without you.”
From pharma to food
In conjunction with the seventh annual Postdoc Appreciation Week, sponsored by the National Postdoctoral Association, organizers developed an agenda of activities. Some were career-focused, and others provided a chance for trainees to break away from the lab bench and mingle with other fellows. Lead researchers were encouraged to plan individual celebrations within the labs and branches of the institute.
Professional development was featured in brown bag lunches on careers in the pharmaceutical industry and academic positions, as well as a session on preparing individual development plans. Representatives from KBI Biopharma visited for an information session.
Food provided the context for fun with a coffee and pancake breakfast on Sept. 19, followed by an orientation session for new fellows. An international potluck celebration on Sept. 21 highlighted the global reach of the trainee program. An evening alumni mixer at a local restaurant Sept. 22 drew former postdocs from as far as Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The trivia challenge attracted 10 teams of fellows, lead researchers, and staff scientists, so competition was fierce. Awards were given to teams with the highest and lowest scores, as well as several that honored the ingenuity needed to select memorable team names.
Steering Committee opportunities
NTA President Kristin Gabor, Ph.D., invited attendees at the Friday NTA General Assembly meeting to attend upcoming NTA steering committee meetings and get involved. “I wouldn’t meet a lot of other trainees if it weren’t for participation in the NTA,” she said. More importantly, Gabor detailed some of the ways NTA helps ensure the best possible experience for trainees at the institute.
- Providing information on NIEHS policies and programs.
- Involvement in NIEHS Science Days.
- Planning the annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Symposium.
- Organizing the Brown Bag Lunch Series.
- Serving as liaison with labs and NIEHS planning groups, such as the Distinguished Lecture series.
The next NTA Steering Committee meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 4:00 p.m. in the Lakeview Conference Room.