Meeting report: National Postdoctoral Association 9th Annual Meeting (NPA2011)


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The 9th Annual Meeting of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) was held March 25–27, 2011, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Natcher Conference Center in Bethesda, MD, USA. The meeting was hosted by the NIH-Office of Intramural Training and Education and was attended by around 300 postdoctoral researchers, faculty, administrators, staff, and other stakeholders from across the country.

The mission of the NPA, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is to advance the US research enterprise by maximizing the effectiveness of the research community and enhancing the quality of the postdoctoral experience for all participants. The NPA hosts an Annual Meeting each spring to provide a national venue for the exchange of best practices with regard to the postdoctoral experience and to encourage networking among the various stakeholders in the postdoctoral community.

Of participants registered for this year's meeting, approximately one-half of those were postdoctoral scholars. The registrants represented 27 countries, and approximately 16% were “international” researchers (in the United States on temporary visas). At least 11% were underrepresented minorities. More than 100 disciplines, among them bioengineering, were represented at the meeting.

Francis Collins spoke of his commitment to improving the experience for early investigators

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH director, welcomed the participants to the meeting during its opening session. He spoke of his commitment to improving the experience for early investigators and renewed his pledge to increase the National Research Service Award stipends. During this session, the 2011 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Outstanding and Emerging Postdoctoral Entrepreneur Awards were presented, respectively, to Noah Weisleder, Ph.D., co-founder and chief scientific officer of TRIM-edicine, North Brunswick, NJ, and Jason K. Holt, Ph.D., co-founder and chief technology officer of NanOasis Technologies, Richmond, CA.

Following the opening session, the first of the three Innovation in Action Sessions took place. A hallmark of NPA Annual Meetings is the sharing ideas, problems, and solutions with colleagues. The Innovation sessions are intended to facilitate the free flow exchange of information and encourage professional networking among all participants.

Friday's plenary session, “The Future of Postdoctoral Training,” featured a distinguished panel of three speakers: James H. Lightbourne, Ph.D., Director, Division of Graduate Education and Director and Division of Human Resource Development, National Science Foundation; Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., Director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (NIH-OITE) and Rodney Ulane, Ph.D., NIH Research Training Officer and Director, Division of Scientific Programs, Office of Extramural Programs, Office of Extramural Research (OER). The panelists gave a brief overview of how the postdoctoral experience has changed over the past decade; discussed current/strategic training priorities; and closed with a discussion on the ways in which postdoctoral training might change in the coming decade.

Saturday's plenary session focused on the NPA Core Competencies, which were designed to offer guidance to individual postdoctoral scholars who must seek out relevant training experiences, in collaboration with mentors, institutions, and other advisors who provide this training. Panelists included: Nancy Schwartz, Ph.D., Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Chicago; Keith Micoli, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Program Manager, New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences; and Jennifer Hobin, Ph.D., Senior Science Policy Analyst, Office of Public Affairs, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

OSTP is looking at ways to create more direct support for postdoctoral researchers

Following this plenary, the 2011 NPA Distinguished Service Award recipients, Science Careers and the Gladstone Institutes, were recognized for their profound, sustained leadership in improving the postdoctoral training experience. Jim Austin, Ph.D., editor of Science Careers, and Robert W. Mahley, M.D., Ph.D., founding president and president emeritus of Gladstone, accepted the awards on behalf of their organizations.

On Sunday, Kei Koizumi, Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) gave the keynote address, “Research and Development Funding in the 2012 Budget and Science and Technology Policy in the Obama Administration.” He presented the priorities of the President's budget and noted that “we recognize that it is necessary to support [training beyond graduate school] through the postdoc” and noted that OSTP was looking at ways to create more direct support for postdoctoral researchers.

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The meeting also offered four concurrent workshop sessions, featuring 18 workshops, and two poster sessions, featuring a total of 43 posters. The workshop topics ranged from leadership skills for postdoc office directors and marketing for scientists to conflict management and group dynamics and preparing academic scientists for careers in industry. The NPA accepted poster abstracts that highlighted novel or emerging programs that had the potential to impact postdoctoral researchers in a significant way, especially if the programs were to be adapted by others.

Based on the results of the meeting evaluation survey, completed by nearly half of the attendees to date, the NPA's 9th Annual Meeting more than met their expectations. 66% of the respondents rated the conference content as “excellent,” and the remaining respondents as “good.” When asked “what was the most beneficial aspect of the meeting,” networking ranked high, as evidenced by such responses as the “exchange of ideas with key national administrators and policy makers” and “The networking was fantastic!”

More than half of the survey respondents plan to attend the NPA's 10th Annual Meeting, to be held March 16-18, 2012, in San Francisco. Planning is already underway for this meeting, which will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the NPA Annual Meeting. The Call for Workshop Proposals has opened (visit for more information).