Initiatives Promote Learning and Career Development for Postdocs

By Mika Ono

Reflecting an effort to enhance the postdoctoral experience at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the former Office of Employee and Graduate Student Counseling is now named Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department.

"Postdocs are an important part of our employee base," says Vice President of Human Resources Judith Muñoz. "The institute's research depends on these individuals. As an institution, we want to do everything possible to ensure that postdoctoral training at TSRI is rewarding and productive."

There are some 785 postdoctoral fellows, a.k.a. research associates, at TSRI, who spend at least one to four years after obtaining their doctoral degree establishing their ability to run a successful independent research program within another investigator's lab. After this scientific apprenticeship, these individuals typically move on to career positions in academia or industry.

The Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department name change is one result of a year of work on postdoctoral issues by an ad hoc committee consisting of members of the faculty and administration, staff from Human Resources and Communications, and postdocs.

"The committee's goals include helping postdocs, increasing their satisfaction with their experience at TSRI, and attracting the best possible fellows to the institute," notes Associate Professor Luc Teyton, a founding member of the committee. "Ensuring that TSRI is an environment supportive of postdoctoral fellows offers long-term benefits to postdocs—and to the institute."

Postdoctoral fellow Phyllis Frosst, also a member of the committee and president of the TSRI Society of Fellows, adds, "The Postdoctoral Issues Committee is the first forum to address issues specifically relevant to postdocs. It's a venue for introducing ideas that can lead to change."

In addition to revising its name, the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department has increased its administrative support to manage additional programs for postdoctoral fellows.

"Our department will continue to provide mental health counseling and other services for all TSRI employees—faculty, staff, graduate students, postdocs—and their families," says Jan Hill, director of the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department. "I am delighted, however, to have additional resources to address the special educational and career-related needs of our postdoctoral fellows."

In addition to Hill, the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department consists of psychologist Jeff Jones and full-time administrative assistant Ryan Wheeler. More information about the department's activities is available at its website.

Initiatives resulting from the Postdoctoral Issues Committee to date include:

• Seminars for postdocs. Workshops for postdoctoral fellows have included those on grant writing, proposal writing, and lab management.

According to Cell Biology Professor and Chair Sandra Schmid, one of the primary benefits of the committee has been "establishing a curriculum for postdocs that covers career decisions, leadership skills, time management, grantsmanship, salesmanship, and other skills necessary to maximize their future success."

These workshops supplement other relevant seminars offered by the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department, which address topics such as how to work with difficult people and how to manage stress.

• Workshops for principal investigators. To enhance the mentoring skills of principal investigators at TSRI, several workshops targeting faculty members have addressed lab management issues such as hiring and conflict management. Muñoz notes that nearly 30 percent of the faculty have already participated.

• Job center. Teyton is spearheading an effort to create a job center for posdoctoral fellows in biology, modeled on the notably successful system created by TSRI Chemistry Chair K.C. Nicolaou for postdocs in chemistry.

"Creating the job center has been slow going so far because of the state of the economy," admits Teyton. "However, we have had some success in inviting representatives from industry to interview on campus and we believe it is an effort well worth pursuing over the long-term."

A postdoc alumni database, which could be used in the context of a job search, is also being compiled by the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department.

• TSRI postdoc web site. A web site consolidating useful information for TSRI postdocs is in the planning stages. One component of the site will be a document entitled Seven Steps to a Successful Postdoctoral Experience, which offers advice on how to make the most of opportunities at TSRI.

Muñoz concludes, "We want TSRI to be known as an excellent place for postdoctoral work, not only because of our world-class science, but also because we offer an environment conducive to learning and career development."











"As an institution, we want to do everything possible to ensure that postdoctoral training at TSRI is rewarding and productive."

—Judith Muñoz