Symposium Highlights Communicating Science

Posted on October 26, 2012


Photo by Ansa Varughese

Photo by Ansa Varughese


By Samantha Olson and Ansa Varughese

Last month, in honor of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, Stony Brook University held its first ever Postdoc Research Symposium. The event attracted more than 135 attendees and featured oral presentations, a poster/networking session along with a keynote speaker. What made the symposium even more memorable was the theme of the event: communicating science to the public.

What is a postdoc you might ask? As the name implies, a postdoc is a position usually taken soon after receiving a doctorate degree. The typical two- to five-year period for a postdoc is a temporary career-building step. In that timeframe, their work is meant to prepare them for a permanent faculty position, seed their area of research, or to prepare them for another career track appropriate for a PhD. “Being a postdoc helps you find out what you want to be, what you want to focus on,” said Gretchen Lopez, an electro-physiologist in Stony Brook University’s Neurobiology and Behavior Department. “It’s an important time in your life as a scientist.”

Symposium registrants assemble for the opening remarks.Photo by Ansa Varughese

Symposium registrants assemble for the opening remarks.
Photo by Ansa Varughese

The postdocs themselves, with the help of Assistant Dean Lynn Allopenna, organized and set the tone for the event, which was meant to be inclusive and collaborative. This theme was most evident in the oral presentations. Twelve presenters rose to the challenge of explaining their research to a general audience in only ten minutes, a skill postdoctoral researchers realize is key to getting jobs, winning grants and convincing investors to support their research.

“I owe my career to all of my advisors who so graciously have mentored me over the years in quantitative biology research,” said a fourth-year postdoc from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Jordan Hay, after delivering his oral presentation in front of a 40-person audience.  He said he could not imagine doing anything but making biology a subject that future generations could easily comprehend.

An additional component of the event was the poster session showcased in the middle of the Wang Center lobby, where an assortment of over 30 graduate students and postdocs displayed their research. The attendants voted Meng Yang, a second-year graduate student in the Chemistry Department, as the winner of the Best Communicated Science award for her poster, “Novel Heterotetrameric Protein Complexes from Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Involved in Cholesterol Metabolism.” The award took her by surprise but demonstrated there is no age bar for communicating science.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, the 2012 Kauffman Foundation Emerging Entrepreneur Award winner and Co-founder and CEO of Science Exchange, an innovative online marketplace that provides easy access to scientific services for both institutions and researchers.  She spoke about her entrepreneurial achievements, illustrating a gateway for career options beyond the standard tenure-track faculty line.

The world of a postdoc is collaborative, explorative and dedicated to research and fruitful discovery. By providing a platform for postdocs to test their ability to communicate their research to a mainstream audience, the symposium served as a truss for building marketable skills that will help postdocs successfully transition from the postdoctoral phase into their future professions.