The pathway to higher education eventually culminates in advanced degrees, giving students the opportunity to work in a field they’ve spent the majority of their lives studying.
Many look to postdoctoral fellowships as a transition between school and the job market. But in the past, these “postdocs” often have been left to their own devices, missing out on opportunities to hone their marketable skills, socialize, and share their research among fellow researchers.
Enter Dr. Lique Coolen, a professor of physiology, neurobiology and anatomical sciences, who wanted to give the some-100 postdoctoral fellows at the University of Mississippi Medical Center the opportunity to grow in their fields.
Coolen oversees the Office of Postdoctoral Studies in her role as an associate dean in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences. The office serves as a safety network of support for postdoctoral fellows who come from across the globe to further their research at UMMC.
“Postdocs are very different from graduate students,” said Coolen. “When graduate students come here to campus, they are recruited into graduate programs and stay in those programs for typically five years.
“Postdocs are totally different,” she said. “They typically come from other universities to do two or three years of additional research training. They are no longer students. They are employees.”
Coolen said postdoctoral fellows at UMMC work with a specific research mentor on their journey to the next stage of their career. It’s their final stage of training to become an independent faculty member.
“The postdocs were very much by themselves in the laboratories, sometimes isolated and sometimes not,” explained Coolen. “They historically kind of fell between the cracks.”
After years of working toward a doctorate, these researchers are suddenly existing in a world without advisory committees or structured mentorship. “Yet, they are expected to, within a very short time, move into independent research positions,” Coolen said.
Through the work of the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, these fellows can attend monthly workshops and annual research days to hone their presentation skills or to hear from people who have taken alternative career routes after completing advanced degrees.