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Postdoctoral contributions celebrated nationwide this week
Erin Giles is searching for metabolic links between obesity and cancer. Jason Duex is trying to determine how to inhibit a tumor-forming protein in cancers. Kimberly Cox-York is striving to advance the world's understanding of the role estrogen plays in heart disease.
All three are University of Colorado Denver lab researchers, and are among the estimated 800 postdoctoral fellows on CU's campuses.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, their advisers and other supporters will celebrate their contributions on the first National Postdoc Appreciation Day, sponsored by the National Postdoctoral Association. CU is one of 60 academic institutions in 27 states and Canada that will mark the occasion, expected to be an annual event.
"The purpose is to celebrate the significant contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to the U.S. scientific enterprise and, at the same time, to increase awareness of these contributions," said Valerie Saltou, a coordinator in the UC Denver postdoctoral office.
Saltou said postdoctoral scholars come to CU armed with advanced degrees, and receive training under senior scientists with the goal of becoming independent researchers prepared to run their own labs. Others aim to become bioscience entrepreneurs. As postdoctoral fellows, they provide invaluable training to undergraduate and graduate students, and critical feedback to their advisers.
"Beyond performing much of the day-to-day oversight and labor for experiments, fellows provide critical scientific debate and discussion that makes the overall pursuit of knowledge not only more rigorous, but also more interesting," said Paul MacLean, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Medicine's Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. "Fellows are much more likely than graduate students or technicians to challenge their mentors' dogma, to pursue alternative explanations, and to spend extra time and effort finding or acquiring data to support their own arguments."
MacLean said postdoctoral researchers are "inherently involved in adjusting the direction and focus of their mentor's lab, while creating a niche for their independent pursuits. This type of intellectual interaction is a fundamental part of their progression towards independence, but its value to their mentor's research program is greatly underappreciated."
John H. Freed, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, held two postdoctoral positions when he was younger, and is credited with lobbying for greater visibility and prestige for UC Denver postdoctoral researchers.
"Far too often, postdocs have been relegated to the role of unsung heroes at universities," said Freed, who has mentored several fellows. "Postdocs are a critical component for the overall research productivity of the university. National Postdoc Appreciation Day gives us all a chance to tell postdocs how much we appreciate their hard work and contributions."