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New guidebook aims to help female postdocs

It’s no secret that women pursuing careers in science face various challenges, and those related to having children can be particularly pronounced for female postdocs. To help address some of these issues, the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) has released the Advancing Postdoc Women Guidebook. And while the guidebook is primarily intended for women, much of the information—including chapters about career planning and building good mentoring relationships—is relevant for all readers, regardless of gender.

One of the guidebook’s primary aims is to make readers aware of the many resources that are available to them, particularly from professional societies and associations, such as mentorship programs, career development workshops, and funding opportunities. “There are a lot of really great resources available that I don’t believe people know about, so this guidebook is intended to shine a light on them,” says NPA Executive Director Belinda Huang, who edited the guidebook and wrote a chapter. Different societies and associations offer different programs and resources, so seeing them all in one place can also alert postdocs to opportunities they might not have realized were lacking in their disciplines and empower them to advocate for themselves. “If you don’t find the program or resource offered, ask your society for it,” Huang advises.

There are a lot of really great resources available that I don’t believe people know about, so this guidebook is intended to shine a light on them.

–Belinda Huang

Another focus of the guidebook is child care support, an issue that Huang notes can affect both genders but for which the responsibility traditionally falls more heavily on women. In particular, “societies and associations are not doing enough to help postdoc women and early-career scientists by providing child care and dependent care at their meetings,” Huang says. “Child care resources are critical for this population at this time in their life. This is the time period in which people should be presenting their papers, and it’s critical that just because you have a child, [it] doesn’t mean you don’t go to professional meetings.” Of the 46 associations across various disciplines that were surveyed for resources—including the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Psychological Association, and the American Society of Human Genetics—only 16 provided any kind of child care support, either at meetings or more generally. Huang hopes that seeing this on paper will encourage more to implement these types of programs.

Other topics covered in the guidebook are relevant for all early-career scientists. These include a career planning primer and a discussion of the wide variety of jobs, in and outside academia, available to postdocs. The full guidebook, which includes a wealth of information beyond what we have touched on in this post, is freely available for download as a PDF here. You may not have the time or interest to read the guidebook’s full 85 pages, but it’s a great compilation of resources that can be a valuable compass as you navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of a postdoctoral fellowship.