Postdoctoral students conducting research in science and technology were treated like kings and queens for the day at an inaugural post-doc conference and career fair held this week on the campus of the University of Maryland at Shady Grove.
“We dreamed about you, thought about you for the past six months, and we are here to help you move along in your careers,” Sally Sternbach, executive director of the Rockville Economic Development Inc., told a group of more than 300 newly-minted Ph.D.’s who are now doing research at federal laboratories in Maryland and the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
“You represent the future of the global economy,” said Larry Giammo, Rockville’s mayor. “That’s our motivation, but we are a little bit selfish.”
More than 4,000 postdoctorates conduct research in Maryland each year, and the state would like to retain at least 10 percent of them, Montgomery County councilmember Michael Knapp told the group.
“We want to figure out who you are and where you are,” he said.
“I really appreciate what they are doing, trying to get us to stay here,” said M. Crina Frincu, who came to Maryland from Romania in 1999 to begin work on her doctorate in infectious diseases at Georgetown University. “It is the first time in seven years that I have felt welcome, and gosh it felt good!”
Frincu is a fellow at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is focusing on malaria. She says she cannot see herself in academia but thinks she would be happy with a career in health policy.
“It’s just that being in academia forces you to focus on a narrow field and I want a broader vision,” she said. “I like the interface between science and society and I started missing daily contact with people.”
Mary Kamande, six months into a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Research Council in Baltimore, is leaning toward seeking work at an established company.
“I want to work for a company where I can continue learning and be mentored. In academia you need to be on your own,” said Kamande, who completed a doctorate in chemistry last year at Louisiana State University.
The difference between working alone in a lab versus the more team-oriented environment of some companies was one of many points that a panel of speakers discussed during the conference’s three sessions.
The sessions included postdoc discussions about what is necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. They also talked about non-traditional career opportunities, such as working with government agencies or science writing. For those interested in a more traditional route, the sessions gave postdocs the chance to meet and pick up advice from peers who are already working in the corporate arena.
The conference also featured a job fair during which postdocs met representatives from about thirty local-area companies. Exhibitors were required to have job openings, said Rick Harris, vice president of the Tech Council of Maryland, a sponsor of the conference.
“We hire a lot of postdocs,” said Nicole Mazzella, a recruiter for the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicin. “We have 160 job openings, so we like any chance to meet with prospective hires.”
— By Cassie M. Chew
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