Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I Wasn't One of the 275 at the NPA Meeting

So, YoungFemaleScientist remarked on the perceived low turnout at the National Postdoctoral Association's 2010 Annual Meeting, and Isis the Scientist responded with, "well, duh, they need to serve booze!" Okay, so it was actually more nuanced than that, it was more about lack of resources in general, but you should go read her blog yourself.

Anyway, as a postdoc who knew about the meeting, applied for funding, even won a partial grant, but still didn't go, I felt I should comment on this.

Firstly, I should note that I did attend the Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate held just before the NPA meeting, but still didn't stick around for the main meeting. I attended the Summit as a representative of the American Astronomical Society's (AAS) Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). So there I had sufficient funding and motivation to justify going to the meeting. I'm posting a summary of the meeting over at the Women in Astronomy Blog, in case you want to read my take on the Summit.

So why didn't I just stay the few extra nights in Philly for the NPA Meeting? The primary reason was that I didn't see what I would get out of it personally. Right now, I need to be focusing on getting my research done and publishing papers so that I can land my next job. Spending my time at a meeting that is not research related is a net loss to me. Going for the Summit to begin with was already a big drain on my time and energy. I have precious little else to spare.

What could I have gotten out of the meeting? Possibly some career development skills from workshops. But I've been to some excellent career development workshops in the past, so this was insufficient motivation for me. Possibly some networking. But given that the vast majority of postdocs in this country are bioscientists and not astrophysicists, this was of limited utility to me. It's interesting because the NPA was making a special effort to bring more physical scientists to the meeting, and yet they still failed to grab me.

My impression of what the NPA is setting out to do is to encourage the establishment of PDAs and PDOs. From what I've learned about about those types of organizations, it sounds like they can do a lot to help postdocs. But getting these things going takes a lot of work, work that doesn't necessarily look favorably on your CV. Heck, I've already been told repeatedly that I should avoid doing any public outreach work because it would take time away from my research. How less relevant to my research career would community organizing be?

Lastly, I want to respond directly to Isis's argument about the lack of booze: many funding organizations specifically prohibit the purchase of booze for meetings, like NSF and pretty much all other federal and state government agencies. So that wasn't necessarily the NPA's fault. And personally, I don't drink much to begin with, so lack of booze is not necessarily a fault in my book.

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