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Symposium Highlights Postdoc Research, Career Opportunities

By Laurie White

Over 90 postdoctoral researchers, 12 graduate students, and over 30 faculty, staff and administrators from across the University of Maryland, College Park, gathered on Friday, September 13 in the Colony Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union for the Postdoctoral Research Symposium. The event kicked off the celebration of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, and included a keynote address, poster presentations showcasing the research postdocs are performing, panel discussions, workshops, and a networking happy hour at Milkboy Arthouse.

Attendees represented the Colleges of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesArts and HumanitiesBehavioral and Social Sciences, and Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, the James A. Clark School of Engineering and the School of Public Health, in addition to several university institutes.

"It is exciting to see so many postdocs from a wide array of disciplines come together to discuss their research and participate in professional development workshops,” said Dr. Blessing Enekwe, Program Director in the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the event organizer. “It is a wonderful way to start National Postdoc Appreciation Week!" 

Graduate School Dean Steve Fetter welcomed the postdocs, sharing that symposium attendance had doubled over the previous year. He then offered some reflections on his own experience as a postdoc.

“I ended up going in a completely different direction from my dissertation research,” Dean Fetter said. “The breadth of research activity at the university had a major impact on my own work.” 

Noting that College Park is situated in “one of the most interesting places to do research in the world,” Dean Fetter encouraged attendees to take advantage of all available resources at the university and in the region to support their work.

Keynote speaker Dr. Mateo Muñoz, Assistant Provost for Budget and Strategic Planning at Colorado College, talked about the value postdocs bring to the university, and commended the University of Maryland for its vibrant postdoc activity. Dr. Muñoz shared his perspective on life after the Ph.D, encouraging attendees to focus on their overall well-being, build strong personal and professional connections, and remain open to diverse opportunities.

“We talk about titles and salary goals, but you’re also building a life,” said Dr. Muñoz, noting that he was an American Studies graduate student at this university, where he also met his wife, a fellow student at the time.

He encouraged postdocs to build friendships and professional relationships throughout their academic experience. “Take advantage of your colleagues in and out of your department,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for connection out there if you’re willing to take that chance.”

Dr. Muñoz reminded attendees about life beyond the tenure track, and that their skills and talents are transferable in the job market.

“You can get a degree in something and do something that looks unrelated to the surface of that degree,” he said. “I thought my only options were to be a professor, or die. I didn’t know otherwise. I knew I wanted to do something intellectually engaging, meaningful—something that was worth it. But I didn’t know where to go with that.”

In his current position, Dr. Muñoz says he’s found a way to use his skills and experience to communicate across university cultures of finance/business and academia.

“By bridging that gap you can help make things happen for the good of the institution,” he said.  

Yun-Ting “Ting” Tao, postdoctoral researcher in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, served on the Symposium planning committee. She appreciated Dr. Muñoz’s encouragement to stay flexible on her career path.

“In the keynote and the transition panel, we heard that uncertainty plays a big role in career development,” she said. “As much as we like to have a linear path, most people take many career detours, and it is not a bad thing. Be genuine, be humble, and be open-minded.” 

Attendees joined workshops on topics like communicating research to a broader audience, with Dr. Linda Macri of the Graduate School; networking for introverts, with Jeffrey Yeung, a graduate student in the Counseling Psychology department, and building an online presence, presented by Dr. Karen Lips of the University of Maryland’s Biology department.  

“Dr. Lips demonstrated the importance of having your own ‘online business card,’” Tao said. On the internet, “90 percent of publications did not get cited. In this information-exploding area, promoting your science can increase your visibility and facilitate potential collaboration.”

Dr. Marissa Stewart, Assistant Director for Graduate Programs in the Teaching and Learning Center, presented a workshop on the Fearless Teaching Framework, teaching multiple active learning techniques.  

“She used "word sprint" to ask us to write down words that we associated active teaching with,” Tao said. “Then she categorized the words into the four framework: content, climate, assessment, and practice. We not only learned the concept of active teaching, but also easy teaching methods through the workshop!”

“It is getting more and more common for people to do a postdoc, but postdocs are often forgotten,” Tao said.  “Events like this symposium increase connections between postdocs and gives us a safe place to practice our scientific elevator pitch and interpersonal skills.”

The Postdoctoral Research Symposium included over 30 poster presentations. The following postdoctoral researchers won this competition:  

1st place, Rianna Murray, School of Public Health

2nd place, Cherisse Hall, Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics

3rd place, Chenshu Wu, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Honorable mentions: Marlaina Martin - Department of Anthropology,

Matthew Milholland - Department of Environmental Science and Technology

Artur Wolek- Department of Aerospace Engineering


Congratulations to all of the winners!

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