Women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in science. Memorial Sloan Kettering is working to change that.
On October 29, MSK’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs hosted a recruitment event for members of underrepresented groups who may be seeking postdoctoral fellowships after completing a PhD. Called MSKView, the event attracted 23 graduate students from schools around the US and Mexico. They spent the day learning about what it’s like being a postdoc at MSK and were encouraged to apply.
“This was a day to bring together people who aren’t well represented in our ranks and who haven’t traditionally had the same opportunities,” says Ushma Neill, Vice President of Scientific Education and Training. “MSK is a phenomenal place to get training, and we wanted to show this group of stellar black, Latino, and Native American scientists that they can and should see themselves in our halls.”
A Packed Schedule
The day kicked off with welcoming remarks from Charles Sawyers, Chair of MSK’s Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and a leading cancer researcher. Dr. Sawyers described his pioneering work developing the targeted drug imatinib (Gleevec®), the first tyrosine kinase inhibitor approved for cancer. He also discussed his current research on lineage plasticity as a mechanism of drug resistance in prostate cancer.
Dr. Neill then introduced the students to MSK as an institution, its culture, and its track record of success in training postdocs. As she described the robust career and professional development that training postdocs receive at MSK, she noted, “One of the best reasons to come to MSK is that you will leave with a job.”
Each student had the opportunity to meet individually with faculty members during the day. Two panel discussions — one with current postdocs and one with faculty members — were also held. The day ended with a keynote talk by Sloan Kettering Institute developmental biologist Kat Hadjantonakis, who spoke about her research on how cells make fate decisions in early mammalian embryos. A reception followed.
“When it comes to the recruitment of postdocs, there aren’t many opportunities for principal investigators to meet diverse talent,” says Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Manager of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. “We felt it was important for the students and investigators to connect one-on-one and share their passion for science.”
A Diverse Group with Varied Interests
The group was a mix of scholars hailing from countries around the world. Their studies span a variety of subjects in biomedical sciences. Edwin Kamau, who is originally from Kenya, will be defending his PhD in molecular pharmacology at New York University next March. Afterward, Mr. Kamau will be in the market for a postdoctoral position.
Takerra Johnson is finishing her PhD at Morehouse School of Medicine. She is interested in the role of angiogenesis in heart disease and cancer.
Danny Maurico Florez-Paz is originally from Colombia. He did his PhD in Spain and is now completing a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at Columbia University. He is interested in doing more translational work in another postdoctoral position.
Michelle Naidoo is a third-year doctoral student at Hunter College, studying what drives aggressive prostate cancer. She was particularly excited to meet Dr. Sawyers, since he is someone she might want to work with if she pursues a postdoc at MSK.
As a leader in science education, MSK has an interest in fostering the career development of talented people from all backgrounds. Like New York City, MSK is a diverse place in that about 70% of MSK postdocs are on international visas from more than 50 countries.
“Diversity of thought is critical for the advancement of science,” Dr. Neill says. “To me, it follows naturally that the more diverse the crowd is doing the science, the fresher the ideas, the more quickly we can proceed, and the better we can make the advances that count.”
She hopes that many of the students who visited MSK will apply for postdoc positions, a view shared by many of the faculty who met the participants.
By all accounts, the event was a smashing success. Michael Riley, a graduate student at the University of Florida in Gainesville studying nanotechnology, tweeted, “Had an amazing time at @sloan_kettering for their postdoctoral recruitment visit. Gave me so much to take back as I finish up the last two years of my doctoral degree. I’m inspired and more focused than ever before.”