The Postdoctoral Scholars Association at UCSF did an amazing job organizing and executing the first Bay Area Postdoc Research Symposium on March 14, 2014. The symposium filled within days of registration opening and I was one of the lucky waitlist-ers to make it into the event. Nobel laureate Dr Randy Schekman opened the event with a brief history of cell biology, but the excellent talk was overshadowed by my brief personal encounter with him at the following coffee break when we discovered there was no decaf coffee and no caffeinated tea leading me to wonder what stereotypes the organizers were implying about coffee vs. tea drinkers? Such an interaction with a Nobel laureate is typical for me as my interactions with Dr Andrew Fire, whose lab is down the hall from mine, have been limited to apologies when I let the door to the stairwell fall into his face.
During the same coffee break I met David Zhang from the Greenleaf lab at Stanford who is the founder of Goggles Optional, a weekly podcast on significant scientific news mixed with plenty of humor. We met as several other postdocs in the group shared their “Bay Area Rotation” history. One of the many pluses of living in this area is that once you get here and decide not to leave it’s very easy to do your undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc work all within a 50 mile radius between Stanford, UCSF, and Berkeley. This creates an interesting network among academics that change projects and institutions but never apartments.
For those of us who land in the bay area and also don’t want to leave, but do want to leave academia, there are options as well. Dr Richard McKenney’s talk on dynein motility got laughs when he prefaced part of his talk with, “when I was thinking of leaving science.” However the laughter was somewhat nervous, as the audience knew that the majority of us would eventually leave science, or at least academic science. Dr Ira Mellman addressed this in the final talk as he discussed industry goals and approaches compared to academic ones. His astute and challenging advice to all of us at the close of the first BAPS is universal: “Be serially interesting.”
I believe the postdocs of the bay area have already put this into practice with wearable piezoelectric watches to generate electricity, discovering the longevity secretes of memories, cultured cardiomyocytes beating on their own, and organs growing on collagen; and BAPS 2015 will prove it.