By Sudhir Kumar Rai, PhD
I started my postdoc training at the NICHD in 2011. From day one, I was very interested in improving my scientific and personal skills. Working closely with the NIH Fellows Committee (FELCOM) as a subcommittee co-chair for the Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) program was one of the best opportunities that I found at the NIH. It was a challenging but rewarding task within FELCOM. This unique contribution to the NIH community is a great opportunity for any postdoc to gain a high level of interpersonal and scientific management skills.
Within the National Institutes of Health, FARE is a travel award competition that is open to all IRTA, CRTA, clinical and research fellows, postdocs, visiting fellows, pre-IRTAs, postdoc level special volunteers, and graduate fellows. After a rigorous review process every year, nearly 25 percent of candidates (approximately 250) receive financial assistance of $1,000 to be used towards conference-related travel, provided by the 27 Institutes and Centers (IC) through the scientific directors.
FARE subcommittee co-chair tasks
Serving as the subcommittee co-chair for the FARE travel award program requires outstanding management skills from day one to the end of the FARE award ceremony. As the co-chair, I established a strong, dedicated, and active group of 15 committee members who reported to me regarding updates on FARE activity. To manage this large task, I subcategorized the FARE travel award competition into various subgroups. Following are brief descriptions of each one, to help illustrate the experiences you can gain as a FELCOM subcommittee co-chair:
- FARE Marketing - We designed and prepared FARE pamphlets and then distributed them throughout campus by email and through 15 FARE committee members.
- FARE Awareness Session - We created informative presentations about FARE and guidelines for winning, for fellows on campus and off campus (through a webinar). We addressed any query related to FARE within 24 hours.
NIH-Information Technology - We teamed up with the NIH CIT department to publicize the FARE campaign via an email List-serve and to develop a computerized domain that allowed individual users to submit their abstracts in their chosen study sections.
- FARE Judge Recruitment and Judging Process - The FARE program comprises 50 unique study sections in almost all biomedical research areas. To examine more than 1,000 unique abstracts required a very dedicated team for each study section, with a minimum of one principal investigator, one staff scientist, and three postdocs (including current FELCOM board members and previous FARE winners). As co-chair, I recruited 250 judges (with another 250 for back up) for the FARE abstract judging process. I am really grateful to the entire NIH community for their generous support.
- FARE Ceremony - We circulated the official announcement of FARE winners through individual emails and requested each winner to be present at the FARE award ceremony at Masur Auditorium. We jointly organized the award ceremony with the NIH Research Festival committee members.
- FELCOM Monthly Report and Abstract Publication - It was a 12-month process. Every month as a FARE co-chair, my job was to submit a report to FELCOM committee members for their valuable input. At the end of the FARE competition, we uploaded FARE winners’ abstracts by IC, with authors’ names, on the Office of Intramural Training and Education and FELCOM websites.
What I gained as a FARE co-chair
If you are looking to contribute to the NIH community outside the laboratory, serving as a FARE co-chair is a great experience. I personally gained experience in managing this very heavy workload along with rigorous benchwork, where my task was to screen 3,004 deletion strains to test retrotransposon element integration in the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe genome. The NIH FARE program is an excellent platform for balancing our scientific experiences with NIH community involvement, all while building a wide range of scientific networks within the NIH.