Science and Sailing: A Carney postdoc retreat

What do brain science and sailing have in common? The answer is not much, except when you bring together postdoctoral researchers for an all-day retreat that combines scientific enrichment, community-building activities, and a sailing expedition in Newport, R.I.

On Wednesday, June 12, approximately 20 postdocs affiliated with Brown University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science gathered at the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina for a day filled with scientific discussions and Newport excursions. The Carney Institute organized this event with the goal of providing its postdocs with an informal opportunity to get to know and support each other, familiarize them with how the Institute could support their careers, and engage in professional development activities. Having been a postdoc at Brown for a number of years, I was excited to finally put a name to so many of the faces I see in and outside the halls of Sidney Frank Hall.

The morning began with a welcome from Diane Lipscombe, director of the Carney Institute, who reaffirmed the Institute’s commitment to supporting its postdocs. As a member of the Postdocs in Brain Science (PiBS) Executive Committee, I provided an overview of the group. PiBS was formed, in part, based on a recognition that postdocs are an important part of the intellectual community at Brown, and a recognition that their needs are unique from those of other trainees. With sponsorship from Carney and their continued investment, our goal is to foster a sense of community among postdocs, to support professional development, and to encourage interdisciplinary scientific discussions. Thus, the Carney postdoc retreat was a fantastic way to gear up for the upcoming academic year.

An ice-breaker activity served as a great way to get the ball rolling for the day. We got to know each other, our unique backgrounds, where we came from, and what brought us to Brown. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to see the sheer amount of diversity that exists within our community and to see so many new faces that have joined us here at Brown since our last PiBS event. Over the course of the day, postdocs filled out post-its and decorated the walls with the skills they could offer and skills with which they needed help. These ranged from professional to social skills, including help with Matlab coding, gene expression analysis, grantsmanship, and even a gym partner. Our post-it notes were ultimately collated to create a fantastic resource marketplace for the community.

A town hall-style forum served as an excellent platform to discuss how the Carney Institute could continue to support its postdoc community, and it was certainly a productive brainstorming session. I know I am excited to see how Carney takes some of these ideas and brings them to fruition in the future. Perhaps my favorite part of the retreat was the opportunity for participants to practice their scientific elevator pitches during two-minute lightning talks. Each set of lightning talks were followed by informal small group discussions to further encourage cross-disciplinary interactions and open windows for potential collaborations. Thanks to these discussions, followed by several lively rounds of cornhole at the water’s edge, everyone walked away with a better understanding of the diversity and breadth of research performed by Carney’s postdocs and a sense of the unique individuals performing that research.

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Carney-affiliated postdocs participated in a sailing boat race in Newport. 

After a quick lunch, the group split into three smaller groups who set sail on different boats for the afternoon. Accompanied by the perfect wind, the boats sailed towards the Claiborne Pell Newport bridge. They raced around Bull point, past the Beavertail Lighthouse on the southernmost tip of Jamestown, and back to the finish line: the Newport Harbor. Although the race ended in a tie, it’s safe to say everyone won from their experiences, and the community that was shaped as a consequence.

As a member of the PiBS Executive Committee, we thank Carney for their efforts in organizing such a successful retreat. Our goal for the 2019-2020 academic year is to continue to bring postdocs together socially and professionally. We aim to support professional development and improve Carney-affiliated postdocs’ tenure at Brown. Keep an eye for emails advertising mix-and-mingle events, a revival of the popular “speed mentoring” event, which provides an informal opportunity to have “ask-me-anything” conversations with Carney-affiliated faculty, as well as upcoming grant-writing workshops for opportunities to get feedback on your materials.

For upcoming social, scientific, and career development events, join the PIBSBrown google group. If you are interested in becoming more involved, helping organize an event, or joining the Executive Committee, please email us at [email protected].

Kristin Scaplen received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Brown University and is currently a postdoctoral research associate in Karla Kaun’s lab. She is interested in understanding the circuitry mechanisms that underlie adaptive and maladaptive memories to ultimately guide goal-directed behaviors.