Imagine halls filled with chatter about obscure proteins that could one day be used to identify cancers, idiosyncratic assays to measure single RNA molecules in a cell and homebrew techniques to create the tastiest beer. This was the scene this past April at the second annual Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Retreat. The event was organized by the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association and Homewood-Postdoctoral Association, featuring an impressive full day of speakers, scientific poster presentations, breakout sessions and workshops for Johns Hopkins postdocs. What started out as an experiment in 2014 with a handful of registrants has now grown to over 250 Johns Hopkins postdocs and 65 research poster presentations — in addition to engaging plenary speakers — for a full day of science, career building and networking.
Now in its second year, the theme of this year’s retreat was harkened from the title of the well-known and inspirational Dr. Seuss book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! There was a focus on professional development, with leading faculty members heading seminars and workshops covering diverse career paths, including academic, industry and government jobs, alongside scientific discussions and a poster session with awards.
Indeed, one of the challenges for all postdocs is career advancement within their chosen paths. Though our training involves a wealth of learning and developing highly specialized techniques and concepts, there is an overarching challenge to one day use that knowledge to help society and make a lasting, positive impact in the world. And more importantly, how can postdocs reach an audience in which they can achieve this in a job market that, at times, is daunting for young investigators to gain footing or even remain in the field?
One way is to pursue science jobs with a passion. This was the topic of the final plenary speaker, Dan Beaudy, who gave an encouraging and striking talk to the postdocs. As an author, speaker and entrepreneur in higher education and careers, Beaudy spoke of his own experiences and struggles in finding a job, with dashes of humor thrown in to lighten the grim life-sciences job market he foreshadowed. Of particular relevance to the large international postdoc body at The Johns Hopkins University was Beaudy’s outline on how to find a job and sponsorship in the United States, including stories of those who had been successful. Not only were his specific examples of how to get more out of networking applicable to the postdocs searching for their next steps, but his advice for bypassing the “middle obstacles” that keep people from advancing can be applied to any field.
Closing out the day was Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, who awarded the best scientific posters and acknowledged all postdocs in the audience for their hard work and dedication as the future of scientific research, carriers of the torch of excellence and leadership that is Johns Hopkins.
Thanks to efforts like these, we can make our way into the workforce with the hope that Dr. Seuss’ words will still ring true: “And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 ¾% guaranteed.)”