COMPASS: Navigating Trainee Professional Development

Trainee-led professional development programming is an essential component of the ASCB Annual Meeting, and a key tenet of ASCB’s Strategic Plan to “expand and coalesce career and professional development offerings at the Annual Meeting.” The Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) was founded in 2013 to provide a platform for trainee professional development and trainee representation in ASCB. Since that time, COMPASS has strived to provide resources to address the needs and interests of ASCB’s trainees by curating tailored events and sessions both at the Annual Meeting and throughout the year.

Each year, COMPASS develops and implements educational and professional development initiatives (EPDI) for the Annual Meeting to facilitate career exploration. Since its founding, COMPASS has organized a large number of EPDI sessions at the Annual Meeting, totaling 179 sessions from 2013 to 2022. From 2017-2022, 49.5% of all committee-organized EPDI sessions were organized and run by COMPASS. These sessions span a wide variety of topics, including career exploration, grant writing, mentoring, and science communication. Additionally, since the 2019 Annual Meeting, COMPASS has added a focus on mental health and wellness, a topic that became all the more crucial a mere three months later. These efforts eventually led to a collaboration with the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to run a wellness series focusing on mental health in academia at the 2022 Annual Meeting, which will be repeated in 2023. By focusing on and prioritizing the needs of scientific trainees, COMPASS brings an oft-needed but frequently under-prioritized focus on trainee wellness and career exploration to the Annual Meeting, serving to complement the scientific programming with additional resources vital to those in training and career transitions.

Although COMPASS provides these resources to the trainee community, our committee members also gain valuable leadership experience, network with future colleagues and employers, and build community, all while giving back to the Society. COMPASS also historically reviewed and selected abstracts for the microsymposia at the Annual Meeting; from 2013-2022, COMPASS members moderated over 1,000 oral abstracts across 136 microsymposia sessions. These commitments provide critical leadership experience, while also facilitating networking and fostering public speaking and communication skills. Moderating these sessions has been a huge honor and privilege, and COMPASS is grateful for the opportunity to gain this experience through our service to the Society.

COMPASS also uniquely benefits students and postdocs from smaller institutions by giving them access to professional development resources and an expansive community, regardless of the size or resources of anyone’s home institution. For many students and postdocs, trainee-led organizations like COMPASS are their only venue for professional development, as their home institutions may lack the resources to support sufficient professional development. COMPASS and ASCB also serve as a vital expanded networking resource, allowing members to meet colleagues from other types of institutions, career paths, and geographical locations while fostering a culture of communication and collaboration on a global scale. In this way, COMPASS and ASCB fill the gaps in institutional resources and provide service experience that trainees can showcase as transferable skills. To this end, serving on COMPASS is a hands-on way to develop and flex new skills for numerous potential career paths and gain access to a professional network far larger than at any single institution.

COMPASS is an inclusive and highly dynamic committee, and we’re always seeking new members as we continue our efforts. Future COMPASS members will continue to drive the Society forward through these innovative and collaborative professional development opportunities. As the current Chairs, COMPASS has been a rewarding and impactful resource for our own professional development and community-building, allowing us to develop leadership skills, foster new personal and professional relationships, and promote networking to identify career opportunities for our next steps. If you’re a student or postdoc interested in joining COMPASS, please reach out to ASCB to apply!

About the Author:

Scott Wilkinson is the current co-Chair of the ASCB Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS). He is a postdoctoral fellow in the Sowalsky lab at the National Cancer Institute, studying the genetics underlying prostate cancer treatment response.
Sara Wong is the current co-Chair of the ASCB Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS). She is also a postdoctoral fellow in the Hughes lab at the University of Utah, studying mitochondrial-derived compartments.