Comments by Holly Hamilton


Topic: Postdoctoral Training
by Holly Hamilton
Formerly: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Proposed Actions

(1) Create a mentor network to expand training and allow postdocs to be infused with a variety of philosophies/management styles. (2) “Free-range” postdocs who are permitted to propose and conduct research based on their own interests. (3) Postdoctoral training have achievable goals (not just a number of publications or the ability to land a faculty position) such as competency in independence, leadership, communication, management, and/or innovation. (4) Multiple different tracks for postdocs should be available after the first year based on skills, interests, and aptitudes.

Optional Comments on the Problem

(1) A single supervisor limits a trainee to learn only from one person- who will invariably be flawed, be unable to see certain skill gaps in the trainee, and is biased due to his/her need to compete for funding. (2) Requiring that postdocs conduct research that their supervisor’s lab is working on / has grant funding for limits innovation. Successful scientists typically attribute their discover to “following the science” rather than sticking with a set of methods known the his/her lab supervisor. (3) A lack of defined training goals for postdocs leads to a lack of clear value for people with postdoc training, allow supervisors to guilt (or even withhold reference letters for future employment) until vague benchmarks have been met, and have ultimately led to prolonged postdoc training terms. (4) The majority of postdocs will not become academic research professors. Academic training periods are currently used as a selection for the “best scientists”. Similar to “The Hunger Games” only a small fraction of the contestants will survive such as system. And I would argue that the best trainees do not make for the best academic researchers, as the duties are extremely different. Rather, postdocs should spend their first year in an open period of research and self-discovery. After that, postdocs should be evaluated by multiple mentors for their skills, interests, and aptitudes. After that a track should be recommended- dismissal (for lazy or otherwise unacceptable work), academic research, industry, policy, innovation, writing/editing, and sales).