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7 The Postdoc and the Disciplinary Societies T he nationâs disciplinary or professional societies1 can play a larger role in enhancing the postdoctoral experience. Their membership affords a unique overview of broad fields, such as physics, mathematics, and chemistry, from which to collect and provide information. In particular, advisers and postdocs need information about career opportu- nities beyond the laboratory. Web sites are effective mechanisms for describing society programs and providing information on an ongoing basis. A more focused forum is each societyâs annual meeting, where scientists and engineers at all levels gather to gain perspective, make contacts, and share information. Meeting organizers can devise strategies to promote the professional careers of postdocs by, for example, placing them on the research program sessions so they receive the public exposure they deserve. Society meetings are also effec- tive venues for bringing postdocs together with potential employers. The job search can be facilitated through formal presentations, informal drop-in rooms, and coffee sessions throughout the meeting. Funding agency representatives can discuss grant mechanisms and topics of high funding priority, allowing postdocs to gain perspective on grant possibilities. Societies can take concrete steps to make the role of postdoctoral scholars more visible and to publicize the importance of that role. For example, they already provide travel funds that allow postdocs to attend their meetings; this practice could be expanded. In addition, they could invite postdocs to serve on 1Examples include the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Society for Microbiology. 95
96 ENHANCING THE POSTDOCTORAL EXPERIENCE FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS their standing committees, where appropriate. They could award prizes to post- docs in which the role of the mentor might be highlighted. By focusing more attention on postdocs, they can increase the likelihood that advisers, institutions, and funding organizations will spend their own funds to send postdocs to meet- ings and take other steps to enrich the postdoctoral experience. Professional societies can also translate their information and perspective into the development of norms regarding the postdoctoral experience. For exam- ple, they can suggest appropriate skills and standards that should be mastered by postdocs in particular disciplines prior to completion of their postdoctoral expe- rience. They can, on the basis of their own or othersâ surveys and disciplinary knowledge, suggest standards for compensation, benefits, evaluations, or other practices that now vary widely. Some disciplinary societies are active in collecting and analyzing informa- tion about the education, employment, compensation, distribution, trends, and other features of disciplinary life. This information can be useful for postdocs in planning their careers if it is made easily available (e.g., on the societyâs web site) and publicized in journals. Both postdocs and advisers can benefit from more information about new fields, subfields, and âhotâ sectors of employment, both within and outside academia.