by Bob Henson
For the ambitious graduate student whose goal is a teaching or research position, there's no time to lounge around after graduation before seeking a postdoctoral research slot that can give a critical boost to a new career.
Postdocs at UCAR
All told, UCAR fills several dozen openings for postdoctoral researchers each year. About 10 to 20 of those are in the NCAR Advanced Study Program, which has served as a career springboard for dozens of atmospheric scientists. Now part of NCAR's Societal and Environmental Research Laboratory, ASP has awarded more than 425 postdoctoral fellowships since the 1960s. Each new postdoc has two years to develop new research across the broad range of NCAR disciplines. ASP postdocs often hold joint appointments across divisions or laboratories.
Irina Marinov. (Photo courtesy NOAA.)
"Former ASP postdoctoral fellows are among the leaders in their fields of research. Many collaborations between NCAR and university scientists emerge from ASP, " says Maura Hagan, the program's director. ASP alumni from the 1980s, for example, are active at a number of universities as well as in federal and private research settings. They include Stephen Bougher (University of Michigan), Leo Donner (Princeton University), Timothy Dunkerton (Northwest Research Associates), Dale Durran (University of Washington), Cassandra Fesen (Dartmouth College), Kevin Hamilton (University of Hawaii), Anne Thompson (Pennsylvania State University), and Tomislava Vukicevic (Colorado State University). More than a dozen NCAR senior scientists are also ASP alumni from the 1980s.
Several of NCAR's divisions and institutes hire postdocs of their own, sometimes in partnership with each other or with ASP. The High Altitude Observatory, now part of the Earth and Sun Systems Laboratory, has a long-standing program that brings postdocs on board to study various topics in solar and solar-terrestrial physics and related astrophysics. This year HAO expects to hire one or two new postdocs (see sidebar).
To help unify UCAR's postdocs and graduate fellows, who are scattered across three Boulder campuses, ASP formed the Graduate-Postdoc Fellows Association this year. The group meets monthly in a social setting for information exchange, friendship, and peer support. ASP has also teamed this year with the University of Colorado's Colorado Diversity Initiative in Science, Math and Engineering, with the goal of cultivating postdocs from underrepresented groups and helping them connect with peers once they're in Boulder.
Elsewhere around the country
Another important aspect of the UCAR postdoc scene is UOP's Visiting Scientist Programs. VSP hires and places postdocs in a number of federal and military settings, ranging from NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, New Jersey, to the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California. "These placements help train new Ph.D.s while giving them a sense of what it's like to work in a federal lab," says VSP director Meg Austin.
The biggest single source of VSP postdocs is the NOAA Climate & Global Change Postdoctoral Program. It was founded in 1995 to help stock the talent pool for addressing climate change problems, which have steadily grown in number and importance. C&GC postdocs are paired with faculty hosts at universities across the country to work on topics ranging from paleoclimate and biogeochemistry to El Niño and other large-scale patterns of variability. Every other summer, they meet to share notes and confer with leading climate change scientists at a week-long conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Former C&GC postdocs include Myles Allen (Oxford University), co-founder of the climateprediction.net experiment, and Heidi Cullen, The Weather Channel's on-air climate expert. "The level of professionalism and genuine concern among the postdocs in VSP is unmatched," says Cullen.
Irina Marinov, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became the C&GC program's 100th postdoc last year. This year she found herself in the spotlight for another reason. Through her meticulous modeling of currents in the Southern Ocean, Marinov found that the southernmost portion of that ocean—where currents flow toward Antarctica and descend—plays an outsized role in the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. She ended up as lead author of a paper that appeared in Nature on 22 June and was herself featured in the journal's "Making the Paper" series. "I'm very grateful for the fellowship support. It was essential for this paper," she says.
In another of its programs, VSP hires two or three postdocs each year for positions at GFDL as part of the U.S. Climate Change Research Initiative. VSP also seeks out candidates for other openings that can be quite specialized, such as one this year for a sea-ice modeler at the U.S. National/Naval Ice Center. "We're seeing more of these kinds of positions, as funding agencies move toward more targeted research," says VSP director Meg Austin.