Postdoctoral fellows vital to Health Science Center research

Manju Mamtani, M.D., and Weijing He, M.D., are both postdoctoral fellows who research HIV/AIDS in the lab of Sunil Ahuja, M.D., professor of medicine (infectious diseases), and microbiology and immunology.

Major research universities around the country host large numbers of recently graduated Ph.D.s and clinicians to further their research credentials for training intervals from two to six years. A hallmark of an elite research environment, whether academic or industrial, is the number of postdoctoral fellows who are pursuing this intense research training interval. Merle S. Olson, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Health Science Center, places a high value on postdoctoral fellows. He calls them “the lifeblood of any research program or institution.”

“Postdoctoral fellows are the most efficient and valuable members of our research teams, because they are experienced and they dwell in our midst only to focus on research and only research,” Dr. Olson said. “Furthermore, having a large number of postdoctoral fellows is an important, very positive statement concerning the prominence of the research programs of our faculty. Quality investigators are inundated with applicants from outstanding doctoral programs around the world. We have a great need to recruit the very best of these applicants to our institution.”

Robin L. Brey, M.D., assistant dean for research in the School of Medicine, agreed. “The training of outstanding postdoctoral fellows is a priority for the School of Medicine,” she said. “These young researchers are the future of academic medicine, and out of their ranks come tomorrow’s leaders. We must view postdoctoral training as a crucial investment in our future.”

“Postdocs,” as they are called, have been on campus since the inception of the Health Science Center. More than 200 are working in research programs at the institution today in both the Graduate School and the School of Medicine. Numerous former Health Science Center postdoctoral fellows inhabit faculty and administrative positions, and are achieving at an outstanding level at research universities around the world.

Incorporating postdoctoral fellows into research laboratories requires a financial commitment by the host faculty member and department. To enhance funding and career development opportunities, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is in the process of establishing the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, the purpose of which will be to recruit and then provide a comprehensive program of education and career development. This program will include mentoring in both technical and presentational skills that are important for young scientists to acquire.

The faculty mentors of the Health Science Center must be doing something right in their postdoctoral research mentoring, because the March issue of The Scientist includes the Health Science Center among the “Best Places to Work for Postdocs in 2006.” The survey generated data from postdocs from 114 universities in North America; it ranked the Health Science Center 33rd. While Dr. Olson and Larry D. Barnes, Ph.D., associate dean of the Graduate School, both said this survey clearly was not a valid ranking device, they agreed that the future is bright for postdoctoral training at the Health Science Center.

The proposed Office of Postdoctoral Studies will make the environment for postdocs on campus even more inviting, they said, and it will allow the Health Science Center to compete with other outstanding research organizations for a very competitive talent pool headed for academic, governmental and private-sector training, then employment opportunities.

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