In the previous article on Expanding the Scope of Your Postdoctoral Education, I described the career seminars organized by the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association ( JHPDA) and provided tips on finding someone to run the workshop and take care of basic logistics. This time, I'll cover publicity and registration, follow-up, and money matters, and I'll offer a few suggestions for future workshops.
Publicity and Registration
To publicize the workshops at Hopkins, we relied on brightly colored posters, which we plastered all over the place, and e-mail notices, the two methods we find to be most effective at our institution. Other ways to advertise could include ads in the institutional papers, postings on institutional Web sites, and even an informational table positioned in a high-traffic location. With a few exceptions, it is best not to advertise too far ahead of the actual event--perhaps only 2 or 3 weeks--to make sure that the program remains fresh in people's minds. We also found it helpful to send out reminder e-mails as the registration deadline approached.
As organizers, we found registering people by e-mail to be the easiest method. The e-mails can be easily ordered by the time that they are received, which becomes especially important if your program is oversubscribed. Additionally, the organizers don't have to be interrupted while working by people trying to register. As postdocs registered for the Hopkins programs, we compiled a participation list and a waitlist. We also e-mailed reminders to the participants as the workshop date approached (1 week, day before, day of), and we were able to easily notify them of any schedule changes.
The first step in any follow-up is to write a nice thank-you note to your speaker within a week of the workshop. For our programs, we also found it helpful to talk with the presenter and get their feedback about how the workshop went--what worked and what didn't--and any suggestions they may have for improvement.
Additionally, a survey of the workshop participants is a valuable way to gauge how well the workshops met the needs of those participating and the quality of the presenter. These follow-up surveys could consist of specific questions or be a request for general comments. The surveys could be conducted either by e-mail (which is convenient, but not anonymous) or on paper through campus mail/snail mail. At Hopkins, we conducted the survey through campus mail and, to make it really easy for the participants, we supplied a preaddressed return envelope with the survey form.
As attendees may have additional questions after the workshops, one useful follow-up activity is to provide copies of the presenter's notes to the participants and/or post them on your association's Web site. Providing a list of additional resources on the program's topic area can also be helpful. These could include any resources at your institution, books, articles, Web sites, and area organizations.
The cost of conducting a career workshop can range from nothing to hundreds of dollars, depending on your various expenses. These expenses can include a speaker honorarium or fee, parking reimbursement, charges for the room and AV equipment, photocopying, advertising, catering, and any specialized costs such as the fee for standardized assessment tests. Two examples of the cost breakdown are found in the embedded box below. With funds often being a scarce resource, costs can be minimized by finding speakers who will conduct the workshop for free, skipping the catering by instituting a "brown bag" format, and charging a small fee to cover any photocopying costs.
Cost Breakdown of the Career Workshops at Hopkins
Career Assessment Workshop
(2 sessions, 20 people each)
Resume Workshop (1 session, 40 people)
However, it is often worth seeking sources of funding for your workshop. Departmental chairs and deans often have discretionary funds that they are willing to put toward a worthy activity such as a career workshop. Also, local companies eager to forge ties with your institution may be more than willing to sponsor a workshop or a whole series of workshops (especially if they are participating!). Also, as mentioned above, a fee could be charged to each workshop participant to partially or completely cover the costs of the workshop. However, if you're relying on this mechanism, you need to make sure that you have enough paying participants, or your organization will have to foot the bill in some other way.
Now that you've got the basics of organizing a career skills workshop, you'll need some ideas for potential topics. I've talked mostly about career assessment and resume workshops, but you can also use the tips covered in this and the previous article to plan programs on cover letters, networking, interviewing skills, negotiation, and more.
Kimberly Paul received her Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton in 1998 and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the department of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she is studying fatty acid synthesis in African trypanosomes. As the current co-vice president of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association, she has been active in organizing career-related events for the postdocs at the Hopkins School of Medicine, so that she and her fellow postdocs can all get jobs and be happy.