The Training Page


Knowing How and Where to Look for Training Opportunities

Postdoctoral fellows provide much of the muscle behind the research output in many labs. With peer-reviewed journal articles as the currency in the world of research and academia, it’s no surprise that publishing is where most of our efforts go.

While most fellows also continue to cultivate their depth and breadth of knowledge in their area of expertise, some are so intensively focused on their research that adequate time is not given to strategically planning for life beyond the lab. Regardless of your post-fellowship plans, more time is usually warranted on addressing additional skills that are required for the next step in your career. Although the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) and the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) are invaluable resources for career-development programming for all intramural fellows, it is equally important to be proactive in seeking out additional training opportunities. But where?

Network: This word might induce the flight-or flight response in some of us, but “networking” can mean that you just strike up an informal conversation with someone. Maybe you ask them about their job; maybe you ask them about their project. Whether you’re looking for a new collaboration, a new job, or nothing at all, those conversations can lead to unexpected, valuable opportunities.

“Almost everyone I know gets a job through informal networking (myself included!),” said Lori Conlan, director of Postdoctoral Services and Career Services at OITE. “Almost all NIH alumni talk about the importance of networking.”

Look to your neighbors: In the rich life-sciences community within Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, three entities—the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and two neighboring universities—established the Enhancing Local Industry Transitions Through Exploration (ELITE) Consortium which helps fellows explore industry-career options through site visits with industry partners.

“A number of fellows have been hired by companies that they visited through ELITE,” said Tammy Collins, director of the Office of Fellows’ Career Development at NIEHS. “This program is truly a win-win for both the fellows and the companies.”

Similar fruitful community-based events take place in Baltimore, where NIH and University of Maryland postdocs are invited to participate in Johns Hopkins University’s Postdoc Symposium and other networking events.

Professional associations: Find the most suitable organizations for your interests. These are often the best resources to find employment opportunities, insight into preferred skills, and opportunities to network with the most important people in your field. The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) is also a useful resource; its mission is to enhance research training and professional growth for postdocs. Didier Chalhoub, postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), serves as the FelCom liaison for NPA. “NPA allows postdocs to improve and expand their repertoire of soft skills,” he said. “They have several subcommittees, including resource development, advocacy, and outreach, all of which postdocs could benefit from to kickstart their careers.” All NIH postdocs are granted free affiliate membership with NPA.

Take the reins: Postdocs sometimes find that certain training components are not readily available. For example, NIH’s Visiting Fellows Committee (VFC) recognizes that it is often difficult for fellows to navigate through issues such as career transition, immigration, and funding opportunities. In response, the VFC established the Brown Bag series of lunchtime talks to address those very issues.

Another good example, highlighted in the May-June 2017 issue of The NIH Catalyst, is how several data-science classes are emerging across NIH in response to fellows’ interest and need for such skills.

If you recognize a gap in training opportunities, act on it. Both you and your colleagues could benefit from your initiative, and you are also likely to also expand your leadership skills in the process.

Know what’s readily available: Are you looking to learn more about specific skills or subjects? One option is to check out the impressive list of courses available at the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) at Alternatively, the ever-improving and expanding options of massive open online courses such as Coursera and EdX can be excellent resources for your individual needs, too.