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How I spent summer 2018 as a postdoc

How I spent summer 2018 as a postdoc

Overview

I am writing this piece for my colleagues that are in their PhD and wondering what it is like to be a postdoc bridging two disciplines (plant and human microbiomes). This post gives a synthesis of what I did this summer and why I chose to invest my time in these activities.

Writing a Banting postdoctoral application

This year I have been invited by my university to apply to the Banting postdoctoral fellowship. This process is long and tedious, but the support to prepare my application at the University of Calgary has been outstanding. I was assigned a team of internal reviewers that commented on my document to make sure it was as well prepared as possible. I must say that this year I have spent a lot of time applying for a variety of awards and grants, of which I got very little. But even if I get only one, that can make a huge difference on a CV.

Mentoring a PhD student on microbiome analyses

This summer I am collaborating with a PhD student to help her in the analyses of her DNA sequencing data. I could have decided to do the analyses myself but I chose to teach her and help her through the process. This, for sure, takes more time than if I were to do the work myself, but as a future PI, you need to be able to mentor students and pass along your knowledge. So this was a great exercise of mentoring and positive leadership.

2-week metagenomic workshop in Calgary

As a postdoc, you need to continue to learn and improve your skillset. This is why I decided to take 2 weeks of my time to invest in learning metagenomics. I was very lucky because there was a metagenomic workshop in my hometown and it was great. I bet they will repeat it in the future so here’s a link to the description: Workshop

Poster at a conference on protists in Vancouver

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Organization of a symposium at ESA 2018 in New Orleans

This is one of the best things I decided to do this year. I reached out to a colleague in the US (Briana Whitaker) and together we proposed a session at the Ecological Society of America’s annual conference of 2018. These proposals have to be put in, in September and we had to recruit 10 speakers for our session. We reached out to a variety of researchers working on plant leaf bacterial and fungal communities. The session was amazing; we got to spend the afternoon hearing about great projects that were of high interest to us. Big conferences like ESA can feel a little scattered in terms of research quality and topic. So by organizing our own conference we got to hear only about the research we were interested in. Building a network as a postdoc is also essential, and this was a great exercise that extended the reach of my network.

2-week crazy experiment end

Our lab completed at the end of August an experiment on germ-free and gnotobiotic mice. We worked hard and hopefully we will get great results out of this effort. When carrying out such a big experiment, everyone participates in the lab.

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Invitation to give a seminar at Université Laval

My best moment of the summer was to give a seminar at the university where I did my undergraduate studies: Université Laval. By interacting on Twitter with Dr. Christian Landry, I got an invitation to present my work at IBIS (Institut de Biologie Intégrative et des Systèmes). It was an amazing feeling to come back after all these years and be in front of a very full room to present my research to some of my former professors.

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Invitation to participate at a symposium on Microbial Ecology and Evolution in the Phyllosphere in Santa Barbara, California

Finally, I got an invitation to participate at a one-day symposium in Santa Barbara organized by two colleagues from UC Berkeley (Dr. Britt Koskella and Dr. Steven Lindow) and one colleague from U of Arizona (Dr. David Baltrus). Initially only the hotel was paid for, but one participant agreed to pay for their own accommodations so I could have a $500 budget to pay for my travel. The symposium was amazing and I got to exchange ideas with many researchers I keep on citing in my papers… very humbling!

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Left picture: Maria Brandl, me (four months pregnant), Carolyn Frank, and Johan Levau enjoying the sun during the break at the Santa Barbara Symposium. Right picture: The Santa Barbara beach and me (can I move there away from Quebec’s winter?).


Isabelle Laforest-Lapointe (@Isabel_Laforest) is a Postdoctoral fellow on maternity leave, post which she will start a position as Assistant Professor in January 2020 at the Université de Sherbrooke. This story was published on September 22, 2018 on Dr. Laforest-Lapointe’s blog (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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