NIEHS scientific trainees were celebrated during Fellow Appreciation Week, held online for the first time Sept. 21-25. The institute’s career development events, networking sessions, and fun team-building activities coincided with National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week.
“Fellow Appreciation Week is important because it is a time for everyone to reflect on how critical trainees are to the research enterprise as a whole and to the NIEHS community in particular,” said Tammy Collins, Ph.D.(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/geh_newsletter/2014/6/training/index.cfm#a809142), director of the Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD). “I’m glad that the institute comes together to collectively recognize fellows’ efforts.”
Normally, principal investigators (PIs) across the institute volunteer time and personal funds to host ice cream socials and pizza lunches for fellows. This year, PIs and staff instead expressed their gratitude for trainees in a special tribute video (see first sidebar).
Career advice, trivia, cooking, and more
Although trainees could not gather in person this year, they had several opportunities to learn, to build relationships, and to have fun along the way. Below are some highlights from the week.
- Trainees met with former NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., who delivered the inaugural lecture in a speaker series honoring his legacy. He discussed how economic inequality can affect health.
- Fellows from around the country participated in a virtual brown bag lunch (BBL) — hosted by NIEHS trainees — focused on transitioning to careers in drug development (see second sidebar).
- A “Cook-along with Colleagues” Zoom session allowed attendees to share recipes ranging from Nigerian fish pie to strawberry kiwi pie, and participants cooked together.
- OFCD and the NIEHS Trainees Assembly organized the 11th annual trivia challenge, which tested fellows’ knowledge of science, pop culture, and general topics.
- A photo scavenger hunt tasked fellows with taking selfies on a hiking trail, screenshots with their favorite virtual background, and more.
Enthusiasm for the week’s events was high. More trainees participated in the photo scavenger hunt than ever before, submitting photos from around the institute and home daily. Jennifer Woo, a fellow in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, submitted almost every photo and won top prize.
Trainees showed their wit during the trivia contest. The team “Postbac Facts” took first place, and the award for most humorous team name went to “Researcher’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Most environmental name went to “Brier Straits,” and “Influential Outliers” won most scientific name.
The cook-along was a big hit, too. “My whole family enjoyed cooking with colleagues from the institute,” said NIEHS Postbac Program Manager Katy Hamilton. “It was a fun break and a great way to connect virtually,” she said.
“It is very important for fellows to connect with others, especially at a place where they spend quite a lot of their time,” added Niketa Bhawsinghka, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the NIEHS Mechanisms of Mutation Group.
“NIEHS is home to more than 160 trainees who work tirelessly to study how the environment may affect human health,” said NIEHS and NTP Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. “Their research spans clinical medicine, epidemiology, toxicology, and basic science,” he noted.
“The institute benefits from the fact that each year, our investigators recruit top scientists from the best universities,” Woychik added. “Fellows’ scientific contributions are deeply appreciated by me and the rest of the NIEHS leadership team.”
(Tori Placentra is an Intramural Research Training Award postbaccalaureate fellow in the NIEHS Mutagenesis and DNA Repair Regulation Group.)