For postdoctoral researchers seeking future careers in academia, the number one priority is being a productive researcher, former UNC Lineberger postdoctoral trainee Jennifer Bradford, PhD, told fellows and graduate students on Tuesday. That means publishing papers and applying for grants, traveling to scientific conferences and making connections, she said.
Bradford is now an assistant professor of biology at August University. She was a postdoctoral fellow at UNC Lineberger in the lab of Albert Baldwin, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor and associate director of basic research at UNC Lineberger, before moving on to her teaching and research role in Georgia. She spoke at the annual UNC Lineberger Postdoc Faculty Research Day, which drew more than 120 doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty members to the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education.
The day-long event included a poster competition for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, and an oral presentation competition.
Joseph S. Pagano, MD, founding director of the cancer center and the Postdoctoral Training Program in Cancer Research, praised the quality of the presentations. “The science is absolutely first-rate. You can’t beat it, anywhere,” said Pagano, who is the Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology. “I think our faculty mentors are diligent because of this training program; we want to do a good job training our postdocs. All of those things make it a great day.”
UNC Lineberger postdoctoral researchers presented current research findings, and two former postdocs, including Bradford and Kris DeMali, PhD, an associate professor of biochemistry and dermatology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, also spoke. Bradford offered tips for preparing for a career in academia amid a competitive environment for tenure-track jobs.
She said that while the number one priority for postdoctoral fellows should be to be a productive researcher, fellows wanting jobs with a teaching component, should also seek teaching experience. She spoke of the value of professional development experiences through workshops or programs like the Future Faculty Fellowship Program, Effective College Teaching Workshop, or others. Professional development can help fellows transition into a new role and “it not be a complete shock,” she said.
“If you are seeking even a small teaching role, especially at those schools that emphasize teaching, you really need to demonstrate your ability to mentor and to teach,” Bradford said. “If your (principal investigator) is opposed to you teaching during normal business hours, you might need to get creative, such as teaching nights at a local community college.”
Bradford recommended that fellows speak with their mentors about whether they can take their research projects when they leave an institution, and also offered tips for the job search process, documents to prepare, job interviews, and factors to consider when accepting an offer.
The event also included a competition for postdoctoral trainees for best poster presentations and best oral presentations, as well as best poster competition for graduate students.
“The awards provide a small way for UNC Lineberger to recognize the research excellence, the great effort and dedication of our junior researchers,” said Channing Der, PhD, Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Pharmacology and UNC Lineberger member. “They tend to work in the shadows of their mentors, since us faculty have the visibility and typically get the recognition for our trainee’s work. The retreat is an opportunity for us mentors to let our trainees take the spotlight and get a well-deserved recognition and appreciation for their hard work.”
The winners were:
First place: Teresa Bonello
Second place: Daniel Dickinson
Third place: Joseph Harrison
First place: Pearl Bakhru
Second place: Lathiena Manning
Third place: Miranda Carper
Graduate student poster: Bin-jin Hwang