Preparing for Success Post-Postdoc

Samar Al Maalouf2

Samar Al Maalouf, Animal Science postdoc, completes a self-evaluation at Penn State's first Postdoc Leadership Program.

On June 11 & 12, 2014, a group of 22 postdocs representing seven departments in the College of Agricultural Sciences met to discuss their future as academic leaders and ways to achieve their personal goals at a Postdoc Leadership Development Program, the first of its kind hosted by Penn State.

The idea was originally hatched when Ed Dudley, Associate Professor of Food Science, decided to lead members of his lab research group in exercises he had learned at a weeklong faculty leadership development program.

Postdoctoral researchers Avinash Kudva, Veterinary Science, and Jung-Eun Kim, Plant Pathology and Environmental Biology

Realizing that a similar program might be useful, Dudley's postdoc, Nikki Shariat, initiated the development of an abridged leadership program targeted specifically at postdocs. Dudley and Shariat quickly mobilized a small team, including Professor of Horticulture Siela Maximova and Administrative Support Coordinator Melissa Showalter, and also garnered the support of Gary Thompson, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education.

In one exercise, postdocs made lists of qualities found in a good research leader.

As the next generation of scientific leaders, the goal was to introduce postdocs in the college to important leadership concepts that are critical to launching their careers. Highlights included how to develop productive collaborations, how to build a dynamic scientific team and how to deal with conflict.

Elina Nino, postdoctoral researcher in Entomology

The team worked with Clint Sidle of Cornell University to develop a set of syllabi that would emphasize understanding important aspects of leadership and self-evaluation, as well as provide the skills and insight to help postdocs identify personal leadership goals and thrive in a collaborative research environment. Once the program had a direction and focus, Shariat invited all postdocs across the college to participate.

Clint Sidle of Cornell University guides 22 Penn State postdocs through an activity.

Over the course of two days, Sidle led participants through a series of discussions and role-playing exercises, including:

Discovering Leadership

Exploring how leadership is developed, the meaning of leadership, the difference between leadership and management, and a personal definition of leadership.

Kevin Rice, postdoc in Entomology

Leadership Derailment

Discussing what problems leaders face and evaluating individuals' susceptibility to those factors.

Grant Hughes and Marion Le Gall, both Entomology postdocs

The Leadership Wheel

Introducing the comprehensive leadership and learning model and integrating different notions of leadership and development into a unifying framework.

Paolo Margaria, Plant Pathology postdoc

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Exploring personal style tendencies and their impact on leaders' effectiveness, communication and team dynamics.

Sampurna Sattar, postdoc in Plant Science

Team Building

Exploring how teams develop, teambuilding methods and how to account for differences in personal style through team development simulation.

Steve Midway, postdoc in Ecosystem Science and Management

Courageous Conversations

Introducing dialogue framework for skillfully conducting difficult conversations and practicing through role play.

Vivek Narayan and Michael Kalaras, postdocs in Veterinary Medicine and Food Science, respectively

Emotional Intelligence

Introducing emotional intelligence through personal assessment and review of developmental strategies.

An important part of the training was to develop methods for personal evaluation and planning.

Developmental Plans

Guiding postdocs through a process to identify a personal developmental objective and formulate a learning plan for follow-through.

Joe Loquasto, Food Science postdoc


Due to the success of the program, Shariat and Dudley and their team are working through a review process to implement a recurring version of the Postdoc Leadership Program, and will present a talk at the Millennium Cafe on 9/23/2014. View the Cafe's schedule.