ADELPHI, Md. -- The U.S. Army's corporate research laboratory recently held its annual Postdoc and Early Career Research Symposium, highlighting the impactful work of postdocs and early career researchers who are driving foundational research for future Army needs.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory's symposium took place during National Postdoc Appreciation Week and featured keynote speaker Dr. Dan Miracle, senior scientist in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, a poster session from CCDC ARL postdocs and a panel discussion with several notable Army personnel.
In addition to highlighting the impactful research of the lab's young talent, the symposium fostered collaborative research across ARL's community of early career researchers to address future Army concepts by pinpointing cross-identifying, cross-cutting research interests.
"Postdocs hired by ARL represent some of the best technical talent available," Miracle said. "The impact these young scientists will have on the Army mission depends on how well they understand how best to develop their careers, and the ARL Postdoc Symposium gives them opportunities to learn new insights into developing a successful career from Department of Defense leaders and other peers."
In terms of advice that Miracle has for postdocs and early career researchers, he stated that they should learn the Army mission and how their research can advance that mission, ask themselves, "'What's the most impactful research I can do for the Army?'" he asked. He then urged them to work hard for the next three to five years to "expand their knowledge and to develop and refine their skills as an outstanding researcher and a technical leader in their field."
"Science and technology is a dynamic enterprise, and research institutions need to continually renew their organic skills and talent and to consciously build thought diversity," Miracle said. "Postdocs are the best way to achieve these goals. They bring not only new skills, but new energy and new perspectives that are vital for any research institute."
Panel members, who offered advice to and took questions from symposium attendees, included ARL's senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Snipes, and ARL researchers Dr. Michael Wraback, Dr. Kyle Grew, and Miracle.
"The postdoc symposium is important because it provides an opportunity for the postdocs to socialize and showcase the research that they pour their professional life into with other postdocs and career staff," Grew said. "At this year's symposium, I saw numerous engagements between postdocs and senior researchers and staff. It is touch points like this that lead to new ideas, innovations and opportunities for everyone involved."
For Grew, who was once an ARL postdoc, being a postdoc and early career researcher is all about discovering what makes you unique and understanding how vital the research you are conducting is to our nation.
"There are two pieces of advice that I would share," Grew said. "The first is to always remember how fortunate you are to have the opportunity to work on challenging yet exciting problems that are of such importance to our warfighters. It is an awesome opportunity that you should both value and have fun with."
The second piece of advice that Grew had to offer is to understand and be deliberate about what skills make you unique.
"Ask yourself as well as your colleagues and mentors what it is that you bring to the table as a researcher," Grew said. "Many of us have a tendency to focus on improving in areas that we feel deficient. However, you have arrived at this stage in your career for a reason. I would encourage you to focus some of your energy and attention on continuing to nurture the skills that make you unique. I truly believe that these are the skills that are most likely to help you do great things in your career."
According to Grew, in many ways, postdocs are a lifeblood of our labs.
"They are intimately involved in many of our research efforts, providing key expertise, depth, focus of effort and capability to get to research results," Grew said. "Many of our postdocs come to the lab with new and cutting-edge expertise, which provides new capabilities and insight. As a result, new and innovative ideas frequently come out of their ranks. Moreover, because we draw so many of our hires from our postdocs, they are often quite literally the future of the lab."
Wraback stated that the postdoc symposium provides a great opportunity for ARL postdocs to share their research with other postdocs as well as the wider ARL workforce.
"This will lead to greater collaborations among the postdocs and with the workforce, based upon a growing shared perspective on the Army's problems, which will fuel new innovations for solving these challenges," Wraback said. "The postdoc symposium is also important because it provides an opportunity for postdocs to interact with ARL's strategic and technical leaders, who can provide both Army perspectives and career mentoring for the postdocs."
He went on to state that postdocs should seek to ask and answer important research questions for the Army as they move forward in their careers.
"Following this path will enable them to be relevant to not only the Army, but should they choose a different career path, also to industry or academia," Wraback said. "Within this context, it is also important for them to document their findings in technical journals and reports, which are the "coin of the realm" in interacting with the wider technical community and influencing it to address Army problems."
From a military perspective, Snipes stated that he believes the postdoc event is important because it gives the new graduates an opportunity to speak to a group of people that have been on the many sides of science.
"We have individuals that have been in the industry, whether it be civilian, contract, academia and military arenas," Snipes said. "This diversity provides an array of insights to let the postdocs figure out where they want to start out their careers as new PhD scientists."
For Snipes, finding out what keeps you motivated in your career is a big part of discovering the possibilities that could lead to a fulfilling future.
"My advice, from my foxhole, is to find your motivator as to what makes you happy," Snipes said. "Is that money, day-to-day challenges, self-worth, or the greater cause of pride to your nation and self to service?" If service to your nation is your motivator, then I encourage you to understand what the Army does, the modernization priorities, the gaps that we face and how to get after them. I know publications are big in the scientific arena, and understand the necessity. I would say to all of you: if you work for a service lab and are doing the right work for the right reasons, your publications will be overflowing. To me, there is no greater feeling at the end of the day than knowing I have the privilege to serve in the U.S. Army."
At the conclusion of the event, a best poster award was presented to co-winners Kanika Bansal and Daniel Field.
The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.