Inaugural Johns Hopkins postdoc retreat fosters community across divisions

Postdocs from Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Medicine gathered May 16 at Homewood

The Johns Hopkins University Report of the Committee on the Innovation Ecosystem, released in April, pointed to the importance of physical space that, among other effects, "creates opportunities for spontaneous and deliberate collisions among faculty, students, entrepreneurs, and technical experts."

From technology commercialization and the specifics of intellectual property development to partnerships with schools such as Maryland Institute College of Art and increased community investment, Johns Hopkins is moving to create a context in which its people can flourish. So, how do postdoctoral fellows at Johns Hopkins learn to explain their work? The first annual Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Retreat took place on May 16 on the Homewood campus, with the theme, "Let Me Tell You—A Day of Learning to Communicate About Research."

The retreat was organized by postdoctoral leaders from the schools of Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Medicine.

"Our aim was to bring together postdocs from all walks of life at JHU to foster a strengthened sense of community and encourage our members to take their career and professional development seriously," said Patrick Boyle, assistant research scientist in the Institute for Computational Medicine.

"Postdocs have a tendency to bury themselves in their work and lose sight of the big picture," Boyle said. "Typically, the first priority is to spend a year or three producing top-tier, high-impact research, but what is the next step career-wise?"

Boyle noted that effective communication is a key skill for all postdoctoral researchers who want to make a mark with memorable lectures, in successful job interviews, achieving grant funding, or in professional networking and pitch environments.

The day's programming included many breakout sessions and two workshops where postdocs could practice their short-format "pitch" skills with professionals and representatives of the Carey Business School, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Field Museum in Chicago. The effort to educate postdocs beyond their laboratory discipline requires a continuous learning process, and Boyle looks forward to progress made between this year's event and the second annual installment in 2015.

"Every postdoc at JHU is a highly-trained expert in their field; our goal is to make sure they are just as well-prepared to get their point across to any audience in a succinct, understandable, and memorable manner," Boyle said.

The organizing committee for the postdoc retreat included Cara Altimus, Nick Puts, and Blythe Shepard from Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association at the School of Medicine, and Patrick Boyle and Ying-Ying Wang from the Homewood PostDoctoral Association.

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