Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs

Section 4: Postdoctoral Training Program

Program Goals

The postdoctoral experience must be considered as a professional training experience irrespective of the source of support for the postdoc. Although federal regulations indicate that postdoctoral researchers supported by RO1’s are “fee-for service” for tax purposes, in reality there is no difference between the experience of these individuals and that of those funded by NRSA or private foundation awards. The AAU, NRC, AAMC ( American Association of medial Colleges) Graduate Research Education And Training (GREAT) group and the Office of Research Training, the National Institutes of Health support this position.

The BPP Advisory Committee endorses the concept that the goal of the training is to prepare individuals to follow scientific careers that draw on their unique, in-depth education and expertise in the biomedical sciences. This includes acknowledging that current career and job market trends indicate that these scientific careers may not be in academia. At the same time, we acknowledge that the primary responsibility for a successful training experience lies with the postdoc. This program outline presupposes that postdocs demonstrate high levels of productivity, initiative, and commitment to research excellence. Therefore, part of the responsibility that the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Veterinary Medicine has in supporting its postdocs is to tailor the experience to meet the individualized needs of its appointees. To this end, the goals of the postdoctoral program are to:

  • Provide advanced research training beyond the doctoral degree.
  • Prepare individuals to follow scientific careers in academia, industry, government or other careers that require expertise in biomedical science.
Mentor Obligations

The BPP Advisory Committee recognizes that the postdoctoral experience is a unique “apprenticeship” between mentor and trainee. The obligations of the postdoctoral appointee and the faculty mentor are well defined in the existing University Policy. The BPP Advisory Committee embraces the concepts of mentorship outlined in the 1998 GREAT report, which recommends that mentorship go beyond ensuring that quality research is performed and published. The mentor must also have a vested interest in the career development of the individual and must help prepare him or her for the next step in his or her career. Therefore, the BPP Advisory Committee would like to reiterate the responsibilities of the mentor which include the following:

  • Develop a mutually established and definable named project.
  • Encourage presentation of the postdoc's work internally and externally with due recognition.
  • Provide career guidance and set realistic career goals. (see below)
  • Meet regularly to discuss project/career progression.
  • Provide a formal annual review of project/career progress.
  • Apprise themselves of all University policies regarding postdoctoral appointments.
  • Inform postdocs of all mandatory training sessions.
Career Development Guidelines

Mentors should encourage postdocs to:

  • Manage their own project, which should lead to a first author publication.
  • Learn chosen scientific discipline/field.
  • Learn technical skills.
  • Learn ancillary skills, e.g. writing, public speaking, networking, etc.
  • Present scientific work both inside and outside the University.
  • Write up research work for publication.
  • Apply for extramural support, e.g. NRSA postdoctoral fellowships, career development awards, private foundation fellowships, etc.
  • Participate in the review of journal articles and other manuscripts.
Elements of the Postdoctoral Training Program

All Biomedical postdocs come to work with an elected mentor on a specific problem in order to become experts in their chosen field. However, the BPP Advisory Committee has identified Core and Optional Elements that should be incorporated into the postdoctoral training experience if these individuals are to be successfully prepared for their career. Core Elements are restricted to mandatory training sessions (e.g., Bioethics, radiation safety and chemical hygiene training) and elements deemed “essential” to all postdoctoral training. Current NRSA guidelines stipulate that Responsible Conduct of Research training is mandatory for all postdoctoral trainees and the University also requires safety related training. In addition, the Advisory Committee recommended that it was essential that all postdocs give a public seminar on the research they have performed and develop competency in scientific writing. Public speaking and writing skills are fundamental to being a successful scientist. Postdocs deficient in these skills should be encouraged to take the optional elements of the program (see below). A list of the core elements recommended by the BPP Advisory Committee and accepted by BPP is given below.

  • Bioethics Training
  • Chemical Hygiene, Environmental Health and Radiation Safety Training
  • Research Animal Policies, Practices, and Procedures Training
  • Human Subject Research Training
  • Public Seminar on Research
  • Competency in Scientific Writing
  • Regular Attendance at Seminars

Optional elements recommended by the BPP Advisory Committee include participation in research success skills training, continuing education opportunities, career guidance programs, and career development opportunities. Participation in these elements requires time outside the laboratory and it is the responsibility of the postdoc to schedule this time with their mentor. It is the responsibility of the mentor to provide appropriate time for the postdoc to attend these sessions provided that the postdoc is meeting his or her research obligations to the laboratory. The GREAT report, and a number of our own postdocs, emphasized that these opportunities are expected by postdocs in lieu of compensation.

The BPP Advisory Committee identified specific research skills as parts of a key skill set for succeeding in an independent research career. These “Research Success” skills include how to write a scientific article and grant, how to handle peer review, and how to establish and manage a laboratory including its finances and resources. Continuing education involves participation in course work that will complement the research experience of the postdoc, participation and presenting at scientific conferences or training in specialized techniques not offered by the mentor’s laboratory. While the advisory committee strongly recommends that proper career guidance be given to postdocs, the mentor may be unable to provide this guidance if the career path chosen is outside the traditional academic route. Because of this need the BPP has established a formal relationship with the University’s Career Services Office. The Advisory Committee has recommended that the Career Workshop Series and seminars offered by Career Services be optional elements of the training program.

The AAU Report, NRC report and AAAS statistics validate the fact that only a small percentage of postdocs obtain tenure track faculty positions. These career trends indicate that additional career development opportunities should be provided to prepare postdocs who elect to follow other career objectives. Depending on an individual’s career goals, temporary, part-time, internships or apprenticeships in business management, intellectual property, scientific writing, or science teaching may be appropriate. There is also a need to create and identify awards which provide stipend and tuition for postdocs to pursue other advanced degrees e.g., M.BA or M.Ed. in order to prepare them for careers in business or science education respectively.

A list of the Optional Elements recommended by the BPP Advisory Committee and accepted by BPP is given below.

1. Research Success Skills
Peer Review
Scientific Writing
Grant Writing/Obtaining Grant Funding
Public Speaking
Establishing/Managing a Lab
2. Continuing Education
Conference Attendance
Specialized Technique Training
3. Career Guidance

Career Workshops
Career Advising and Programming
Biomedical Career Fair

4. Career Development Opportunities (i.e. Internships in technology transfer, business planning, Bioethics, Teaching etc.)

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