May 2020 Circuit

Resilience and career planning: Workshop by The Postdoc Academy

Date: Friday May 29th, 2020

Location: Zoom Webinar

Change is painful but change is also needed to grow. The current pandemic completely changed our lives. We scrambled to build work-from-home offices, spent weeks without seeing friends or family, used phrases like “semblance of normalcy”, and treated every grocery shopping trip like an episode of Survivor. The pandemic forced us all out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. So, when the Chicago Women in STEM initiative, together with the Postdoc Academy, organized a workshop on resilience, I signed up. The workshop was conducted by Dr. Olivia Chesniak and Dr. Sarah Hokanson and attended by over 40 participants over Zoom.

Olivia and Sarah started off by acknowledging how crazy the world is right now and that, while the focus of the workshop was on career planning, resilience is a skill you can proactively build on for everyday life. As Sarah put it, our baseline stress level since January 2020 has changed. So, while it may all seem very daunting, overcoming a big challenge actually prepares you for the next time you face a similar challenge. I loved the positive framing, but I genuinely hope we don’t see another pandemic in our lifetime.

Olivia outlined her four steps in career planning and gave us resources (links at the end of the post) to help us through each step. The first step is to assess your values, interests, and skill set. She highlighted that it is very important to know what you do and do not like about your current work and I believe that, be it with professional or personal life, this step is key. Once you determine your interests, you can explore options that allow you to translate your skill set into a career. When you find that perfect job, set achievable goals for yourself and set a time limit for the goal. Sarah pointed out that if you don’t achieve a goal in a given timeframe, you are probably not truly interested in it. Your goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Lastly, put your plans into action, whether it is building a new skill, networking, or gaining experience. These are all tiny but significant steps towards achieving what you want.

I was really glad that I attended the workshop. It was great to hear from fellow academics on their definition of resilience, and not just with career planning. The Postdoc Academy continues to host such workshops and discussion sessions, virtually. You can find more information at

Resources for career planning:

Assessing skills:

Exploring career options:

Written by Sumitra D. Mitra, PhD