Sept. 16-20, NIEHS celebrated almost 200 postdoctoral, predoctoral, and postbaccalaureate researchers who help to advance the institute’s scientific mission.
Fellow Appreciation Week featured a host of team-building games and activities as well as networking opportunities. It helped new trainees get out of their silos and learn more about what their colleagues do each day. And it allowed NIEHS leaders to show how much they support these young scientists, who often work behind the scenes.
“These festivities are meant to recognize the contributions that fellows make to NIEHS as well as the U.S. scientific research enterprise as a whole,” said Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD).
Her team and the NIEHS Trainees Assembly organized the events, which coincided with National Postdoc Appreciation Week. Collins said the institute has been involved with that initiative since it began in 2009, but noted that the NIEHS celebration includes all fellows.
Trainees attended ice-cream and donut socials, breakfast get-togethers, pizza parties, and dinners at local restaurants. Along the way, they received practical advice on topics ranging from navigating healthcare insurance to managing work pressure.
Kiana Gunn, a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, said she especially appreciated a mindfulness-themed breakfast hosted by Denise Saunders, Ph.D. Saunders is a career counselor in the National Institutes of Health Office of Intramural Training and Education.
“There was a group discussion about the different ways to handle stress, and activities such as intentional deep breathing, in which we focused our thoughts on our breathing instead of our to-do list,” said Gunn. “I walked away with a challenge to explore new stress-relieving activities.”
Other events included a paper airplane contest, photo scavenger hunt, science-themed cookie decorating contest, and trivia challenge, all of which spurred friendly competition.
In it to win it
The photo scavenger hunt provided a fun way for fellows to explore the institute. For example, participants were asked to take pictures of some of the wildlife near Discovery Lake, which is on the NIEHS campus.
On the final day, many fellows participated in the institute’s 10th Annual Trivia Challenge. Seven teams answered questions on pop culture, science, and NIEHS history. “Unbiased Estimators” won both the challenge and the award for most scientific name.
Several of the institute’s principal investigators — scientists who run their respective labs and oversee the work of fellows — participated in the event, as did Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D.
“We have an outstanding group of trainees at NIEHS, as evidenced by many recent successes, including receipt of 23 FARE [Fellows Award for Research Excellence] awards,” said Zeldin.
“The fellows are really the ones who deserve much of the credit for the successes in our intramural program,” he added.
Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS and National Toxicology Program director, echoed that sentiment in a message to employees.
“Currently at NIEHS, [trainees are] working on research projects such as clinical medicine, epidemiology, toxicology, and fundamental basic science of many kinds,” she said. “We are very fortunate that our investigators are able to attract such a world-class group of scientists.”
This year, according to Collins, NIEHS principal investigators and OFCD staff donated more than $800 to help pay for the various Fellow Appreciation Week events, as no government funding was used.
(Jesse Saffron, J.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)