Clockwise, from top left: Benjamin Currall, Marina Kvaskoff and Dennis Dean II are part of BWH’s thriving postdoc community.

Clockwise, from top left: Benjamin Currall, Marina Kvaskoff and Dennis Dean II are part of BWH’s postdoc community.

BWH is home to more than 800 postdoctoral researchers, fondly known as “postdocs.” Having already completed their doctorate degree, postdocs come to hospitals and universities to engage in a temporary period of research or training with the goal of gaining additional professional skills and knowledge in their field.

Earlier this year, The Scientist named BWH one of the 10 best places to work for postdocs in 2013. In recognition of last month’s National Postdoc Appreciation Week, BWH Clinical & Research News sat down with three postdoc leaders to learn more about the life of a postdoc at BWH.

What are some of the challenges within the postdoc community today? 

Marina Kvaskoff, PhD, Channing Division of Network Medicine: National Institutes of Health research grants are opportunities to put a postdoc on track to becoming an assistant professor, but it is difficult to obtain these grants because of recent budget cuts. Acquiring funding and publishing your work are crucial for postdocs who are looking to advance their career. This is our big challenge: to show we can be independent researchers and that we can go to the next stage.

Benjamin Currall, PhD, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Biology: The postdoc community can be a tough community to connect with because we get stuck in our own research and seemingly, everything else disappears. Research is our passion, but we need the larger community to succeed. BWH has made great inroads within the postdoc community in terms of mentoring and supporting postdocs through organizations such as the Center for Faculty Development and Diversity and Postdoc Leadership Council (PLC).

What role do postdocs serve in the research community? 

Dennis Dean II, PhD, Sleep Medicine: Postdocs are in the best position to advance research because they have just finished a PhD, during which they have advanced some small field in a meaningful way. They don’t yet have the obligations of a principal investigator (PI), so this allows them to have this concentrated time to make big research discoveries. Postdocs are the life force of the lab; they are setting the tone.

What advice would you give to new postdocs? 

Currall: Realize that everyone around you is brilliant, and take advantage of that by seeking help from others and having multiple mentors. Your PI is not your only mentor.

Kvaskoff: Attend seminars offered at BWH because they provide a lot of insight into research as a career and the skills you need to develop. Join professional associations and volunteer at BWH, whether serving on the PLC or becoming involved with the BWH Biomedical Research Institute, as these are wonderful ways for networking and professional development.