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Postdoc research symposium at the medical school featuring keynote speaker Dr Christine Guthrie. Credit: Carolyn Lim , Carolyn Lim

Yesterday, the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council and the Office of Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs hosted a symposium to showcase current postdoctoral research.

The symposium, featured about 50 poster exhibits, nine lectures and a keynote address given by Dr. Christine Guthrie, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco.

The event began at noon, ended at 5 p.m. and was followed by a short reception. About 200 people attended the event.

The symposium gave postdocs the opportunity to present their research and to strengthen Penn’s postdoctoral community, said postdoctoral fellow Melissa Mendez, chair of the BPC Symposium Committee. “It gives people who want to present the opportunity to practice and to get communication going,” she said. “The people who come want to get to know their colleagues.”

But the symposium was more than just a postdoctoral mixer. It was an opportunity for the fellows and researchers to practice communicating their ideas to those who do not understand the intricacies of their fields.

“It all comes down to communication,” said Rohinton Tarapore, BPC co-chair and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Periodontics. “Can postdocs communicate their science in layman’s terms? The way we measure the success [of this event] is if you understood a majority of the posters. That means that the postdocs are doing a good job of communicating their ideas.”

Postdocs are technically not faculty or staff of the university but are “trainees” who receive a stipend while conducting research. Their appointments are annual and can be renewed for a maximum of five years. Most postdocs do not see their position as a permanent job, but rather as a stepping-stone toward a larger goal.

“Your end goal can be a faculty position, and you can become a professor, or it can be joining and doing industry research in a start-up biotech company like GSK or Pfizer,” Tarapore said. “You can become a consultant or you can be in policy-making. You can start your own biotech company or [you could go into] writing science articles.”

In addition to the symposium, the council hosts a variety of other programs throughout the year through its Career Enhancement and Training Committee and its Community Service Committee to help postdocs gain intangible experience beyond the laboratory.

Caleph Wilson, the other BPC co-chair, explained that the Penn Career Services office and the BPC pool their resources to help postdocs improve their writing skills and make them as marketable as possible.

The Community Service Committee, on the other hand, pairs middle school students in Philadelphia with Penn postdocs in a science mentoring program.

“Penn offers resources to postdocs which are unique and very unusual,” Mendez said. “There is a variety of training that is offered here that other postdocs don’t have access to, from public speaking to etiquette to events involving … the business school here.”

Sarah Smith, a postdoc in biochemistry and biophysics, discussed her research in RNA alternative splicing. “We’re looking to understand how it is regulated by these transacting factors [that you see on my poster board.]”

Smith said she chose to present at the symposium “to talk about her data and to get feedback from others.”

Akira Kaji, a professor of microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, said that the event was good in that it allowed postdocs to exchange ideas but it was difficult to fully grasp every concept presented because so many branches of science were represented.

“Because of the variety of departments, the subject variation was so big, I had to really learn from scratch [the concepts in] many of the posters,” he said.

Jia Zhang, a BPC Symposium Committee member, explained why she likes attending the symposium. “I feel inspired by people doing scientific research even far away from what I do daily,” she said. “It gives me new angles and new ideas for me to revisit my own research.”

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