Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Administrators (CAPA) Report

Postdocs are innovation engines, but where are they going?

This was a key message echoing throughout the 2015 Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars (CAPS-ACSP) held jointly with the 2015 Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Administrators (CAPA) conference.

The CAPA Institutional Survey Report, presented by Marilyn Mooibroek, offered informative data illustrating reasons for the low probability of PhDs and PDFs to achieve an academic career. PhD enrollment is noticeably increasing and hiring at the professor level is limited as full-time faculty members are postponing retirement.

The good news is that highly skilled researchers are needed in non-academic areas of society. Postdocs are R&D trailblazers with valuable skills to get knowledge and innovation into industry. As Edward Tse of Smart Technologies remarked, “Your PhD is another set of weapons in your arsenal.” Postdocs have a unique skillset that is highly sought on the labor market, including: strong capacity to deal with high levels of uncertainty, ability to make sense of vague topics and turn ideas into something meaningful and tangible, innovative mindsets (visionaries), critical thinking and research expertise, and independent leadership skills (PDFs need little direction compared to regular employees).

Victoria McGovern delivered an empowering presentation, encouraging PDFs to take ownership of their career aspirations. She spoke with intelligence and humor, reflecting how, “Being a scientist is the adventure of a lifetime! You get to find new worlds, to see with new eyes, and to leave a legacy.” She advised postdocs to change their focus from “Where will I work next” to “What legacy will I leave when I look back?” She also shared useful advice for PDFs to increase the immediate and long-term impact of their research.

You can read my full report of this conference on the Society of Canadian Women in Science & Technology (SCWIST) blog. I thank SCWIST for their generosity in supporting me to attend this important conference.