Beyond the Bench: Postdoctoral Education in Leadership, Communication, Diplomacy and Policy
Kaitlyn Sadtler, Ph.D.
Academic research is an ever-evolving field, from the techniques that we use to the people that are involved in both the bench side as well as in the clinic. Increasingly, there is broad participation of disparate academic fields to achieve high-impact. While previously we had seen technical efforts focused on narrow scientific areas—for example there were the synthetic chemists, and the physicists, and the molecular biologists—we are now entering a world where in order for discovery to be truly innovative, there is convergence between these various disciplines in a single project. For example, in the field of gene editing, it is not surprising to see a cell biologist (who is informed of the molecular underpinnings of the disease in question) and a geneticist (for the structure and function of missing or non-working genes) connect with materials scientists and chemists who can engineer a nanoparticle approach for the successful delivery of these gene-therapies as well as tune material surface properties to optimize drug delivery kinetics. And of course, add to this a team of clinicians who can determine the ultimate outcome in patients!
Kaitlyn presenting at the 2018 TED Conference in Vancouver, BC.
View her TED talk here.
In this ever-evolving research realm, postdoctoral fellows are often thrown into a world that is quite different from their doctoral studies, with the goal of expanding their education beyond what they learned in graduate school. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that young scientists should also hone their skills beyond the bench, for example in science communication and policy. In order to better engage with the public and have non-scientists understand the impact of research—from basic to clinical studies—we must be able to relay such information to a variety of audiences, very few of whom really have the level of expertise in a particular technical area.
Kaitlyn (front/right) pictured at the 2018 AAAS Science Diplomacy & Leadership Workshop in Washington, DC.
The term “Ph.D.” stands for Philosophiae Doctor in Latin. This comes from the original description of science being in the realm of natural philosophy, and the term science truly did not come into its own until the nineteenth century. Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which described the basics of physics and calculus, translates to Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Historically, the Ph.D. degree corresponded to an in-depth study of the natural sciences, with appreciation for varying processes in the terrestrial and extraterrestrial worlds. We must remember the fact that researchers holding the Ph.D. degree are natural philosophers. Though our field of study may be specific, it is intertwined with other research disciplines, which all depend on our society as a whole. In order to truly have impact on this world, our work must bridge disciplines, and be communicated to policy makers, patients, funding agencies, citizens from varying backgrounds and nations, different genders, and of course young rising scientists.
Kaitlyn is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Daniel Anderson. Her research lies at the intersection of immunology and regenerative medicine, focusing on the modulation of immune responses to promote functional tissue development. Kaitlyn received her B.S. summa cum laude in Biological Sciences at University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2011. After her bachelor’s degree, she moved to the National Institutes of Health as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology under Dr. Ronald Schwartz from 2011-2012.
Kaitlyn received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2016. She completed her thesis in the laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Elisseeff, where her work on the role of the adaptive immune system in forming a pro-regenerative immune microenvironment was published in Science. She continues her research on immunology and wound healing at MIT, focusing on materials for minimizing scarring after traumatic injury.