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by Kate Brown and Abby Sarkar
After a hiatus of more than three years, the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS), organized and held a Postdoc Symposium this past December.
Unlike other symposiums or conferences that you may have been to, the mission of the Postdoc Symposium is to bring together a group of postdocs that reflect the diversity of people and their disciplines doing research at the Stanford campus. The Symposium Committee of 14 postdocs, led by Bradley Tolar and Saumyaa Mittal, were enthusiastic in organizing the symposium to showcase this diversity and promote discussions and collaborations between postdocs from different fields. 201 registrants from 6 different Schools and affiliate institutions such as SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, and HP Labs were able to attend and contribute. Short talks and posters from more than 50 presenters represented a variety of disciplines from education policy to cancer therapy to design of wearable technology.
Attendees appreciated the diversity of topics. One attendee, Joao Rodrigues ( Dept. of Structural Biology) commented that “Most symposiums are really specific” to a field or topic and that he liked meeting people from different areas of research. Wenling Zhao, (Dept. of Material Science), agreed. “What I enjoyed most is the diversity, try[sic] to bring different groups together like in today’s talks... topics I’ve never never thought of... that was really inspiring” Wenling said. Indeed, symposium talks covered diverse topics such as using DNA sequencing to track biodiversity in water samples from Monterey Bay (Collin Closek) as well as using crowdsourcing to create an open repository of research talks(Rajan Vaish). Ophir Vermish won the award for his talk on developing a new method to identify biomarkers of circulating tumors cells, which could potentially improve precision medicine. Other winners included Lindsay Deis, Noam Weinbach, Omer Linkovski for their excellent poster presentations.
The Keynote speakers also reflected upon the theme of diversity in research and academia. “Science has to be diverse if we want to reach our full potential. “ said Dr. Wil Talbot.
The Symposium also offered an opportunity to recognize achievements and support from postdocs and members of the faculty and administration. During the final session of the symposium, long-time SURPAS members Antoine de Moree and Catherine Gordon were recognized for their contributions and service to the postdoc community.
Will Talbot and Patti Gumport, Associate Dean and Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs respecitively, were recognized for sponsoring the event. Sofie Kleppner was praised for her outstanding support of postdocs as head of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
Koshika Yadava, outgoing SURPAS co-chair, also attended the postdoc symposium. She pointed out that it is hard for the administration to know the needs of the postdoc community if postdocs don’t speak up. “Postdocs need to advocate for themselves” she said, adding that “ the symposium is the perfect platform for that.” The symposium offers a community building opportunity for postdocs who come together from diverse backgrounds, as well as a space to showcase the various research contributions from postdocs when they are often not very visible on campus.