As our country celebrated National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week Sept. 17-21, NIEHS expanded recognition to include postbaccalaureate and predoctoral fellows as well. “NIEHS fellows are instrumental to our research programs,” said Paul Doetsch, Ph.D., NIEHS deputy scientific director.
The action-packed week featured events ranging from the fall meeting of the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) to the first annual photo scavenger hunt (see sidebar).
Scientists having fun
“Our fellows are dedicated to their research,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). “This week we honor their devotion by planning some fun, too. I am especially pleased to note that Andrew Trexler, a postbac in my lab, soared above the rest and won the paper airplane competition.”
Additional opportunities to help fellows relax and enjoy the week included a scientific cookie bakeoff and the annual trivia challenge. Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the Office of Fellows’ Career Development, fashioned a sugar cookie that was almost too beautiful to eat. Her rendition of a mitochondrion, illustrated by a clever selection of fruit, won the day and served a crowd.
The 9th annual trivia challenge attracted great participation by fellows and others in their labs. Questions addressed topics ranging from past and present pop culture, to questions about NIEHS and the National Institutes of Health. The complexity of the questions often led to laughter as teams struggled to select the right answer.
This year’s winners were the Traumatic Brain Inquiry team. The most humorous team name was Do These Genes Make My PFAS Look Big? The prize for the most environmental team name went to The NTA — Natural Trivia Answers, and the most scientific team name was Live-R Let Die.
“Fellows’ appreciation week is always my favorite time of year,” said Collins. “It is a time when we join together to demonstrate how much we appreciate the contribution fellows make to the research enterprise as a whole, and to NIEHS as a community. We are lucky to have such a great group of fellows!”
NIEHS alumni are well known for their willingness to give back to the NIEHS community by helping current fellows understand networking and the diverse career paths available. This year was no exception, with eight alumni returning to speak at two separate Professional Development Brown Bag Lunch Seminars.
Three alumni discussed career paths within academia, and another five spoke about working in contract research organizations (CROs). Alumni also attended the traditional happy hour, which promoted networking between current and past NIEHS fellows.
The schedule was rounded out with a wellness workshop focused on self-care, encompassing physical, mental, social, and emotional health. The workshop emphasized the value of slowing down and taking time to focus on what is happening around you.
Additional events were designed to connect people, including a breakfast social for postbaccalaureate fellows. A career talk was held at the Keystone building. “We are one united community of fellows, and it’s important to make the fellows located at the other campus feel less isolated whenever we can,” said NTP postdoc Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D.
Such social events included fun activities for fellows to meet and interact with their peers. The events also served as excellent venues for making connections that will support individuals later in their scientific careers.
(Kiri Hoff, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group.)