Below are comments that we received for topics that were raised in the March-April issue.

On Kovac's letter about postdocs

As Paul Kovac said, many postdocs are weeping and bitter. Their reasons can be good. Examples known to me can often be traced to the behavior of a principle investigator (PI) who exhibits a limited grasp of the concepts of training, leadership, and people management. Also, many postdocs are in a panic because they realize that the job market is getting tougher every year. Many discover that they are not positioned to compete successfully. The latter is not always their fault and may not reflect their skills. Recently, one visiting scientist explained to me how they screen applicants for new posts at his university. First, they throw away all applications from NIH. NIH people have limited teaching experience and usually no grant-writing experience, so they are not worth interviewing. ...

Kovac suggests that NIH cannot be a bad place since "everybody wants to come here and stay here." Not everybody wants to come here. In fact, American postdocs generally do not want to come here. Interestingly, many postdocs take their position unopposed by other applicants. It should also be remembered that, whether it is a happy or unhappy place to be, NIH is safe-not because it is a good place, but because it nurtures and protects its tenured staff regardless of the level of their scientific or supervisory skills. On the outside, people have to compete, be productive, and write grants. Not here. By the time a postdoc discovers that NIH has its complications it is far too late to cut and run, and not all have the requisite imagination or drive to improve their own lots. ...

Perhaps some postdocs are insecure and unhappy because they are just no good and it is not the fault of bad old NIH at all. Certainly this is possible. I find myself happier with this place when I am working well, less happy when I am not working well. But even if the source of all this postdoc disgruntlement is based on their own deficiencies, NIH cannot be held free of blame. After all, how could it be that NIH attracts so many bad postdocs? Or is it that NIH cannot attract good postdocs? Whichever way you cut it, there must be big problems. NIH postdocs do not need "nannies and shrinks" [as Kovac contends], they need constructive debate on how to enhance the scientific atmosphere, how to improve the way PIs communicate with their staffs, and how to prepare for the competitive job market outside.

- Alastair S.H. Goldman, NCI

Both the evidence and I disagree with your evaluation of our intramural postdocs and training program. Where problems exist, there are many constructive ways in which fellows can improve the quality of their training at NIH. They can work with their labs to enhance communication and quality of science, they can work through the Fellows Committee to develop institutional solutions to generic problems, and, if all else fails, they can move to a different lab or institution. Much of your angst, however, seems to reflect a malaise that appears to be spreading among postdocs throughout the United States. It might help to remember that we are all part of an exciting process of discovery and that what we are doing is likely to result in the alleviation of human disease and suffering. There are few, if any, other careers that offer both the intellectual challenges and social benefits of biomedical research.

Michael Gottesman
Deputy Director for Intramural Research

On Dent cartoons

I felt compelled to throw in my two cents when I read the criticism of the Dent cartoon. Please keep the cartoon! I love it! Although I was never a postdoc, I am married to a former postdoc (now a senior staff fellow) at NIH and am quite familiar with the "life as a postdoc" experience. I really think the Dent cartoon has the exciting/frustrating/funny scenarios at NIH described to a "t." I find it really humorous, never offensive, and look forward to each new cartoon.

- Cathy Ribaudo, Office of Research Services

Microbial Ecology Conference

Scientists at an upcoming conference sponsored by NIDR, NIAID, and CBER will be focusing on the big principles governing small creatures. "Microbial Ecology and Infectious Disease," which will take place July 10-12 at the Pooks Hill Marriott in Bethesda, will highlight the commonalties in how microorganisms interact with their external environment.

Among the topics to be addressed are interactions between adhesins and receptors, microbial avoidance of host defense mechanisms, signaling within large populations of bacteria, and bacterial growth in complex environments. Speakers will include Joshua Lederberg and Elaine Tuomanen, Rockefeller University, New York; John Collier and John Mekalanos, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Julian Davies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; Ananda Chakrabarty, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center; Barbara Iglewski, Rochester University, Rochester, N.Y.; and Jorge Galan, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Eugene Rosenberg, a Fogarty scholar sponsored by NIDR, organized the conference. Registration forms are available at the Fogarty International Center (FIC), Room 202A, Building 16. For more information, contact FIC's Jack Schmidt (phone: 496-4161; e-mail:

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