Derek Miller Candidate Manifesto 2017

Derek M. Miller, PhD

Manifesto for the position of Career Development Chair

I am writing to nominate myself for the position of Career Development Chair for the 2016-2017 UPPDA Executive Board.  I am a third-year postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Otolaryngology, where I am currently investigating the contributions of hindlimb somatosensory signals to balance control through their influences on reticulospinal neurons. Through this work, we hope to elucidate how body movements are signaled to CNS neurons that process vestibular information.  My involvement in scientific research stems back to the early years of my undergraduate career at the University of Pittsburgh, where I received a B.S. in Biological Sciences. After graduating, I spent two years at PITT as a full-time research technician in the laboratory of Dr. Bill Yates. I received my Ph.D. in Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience from Northwestern University in 2014, under the supervision of Dr. Zev Rymer. My doctoral thesis was focused on investigating the contributions of vestibular pathways to the maintenance of post-stroke spasticity. My interest in the vestibular system developed while working as a laboratory technician in my current sponsor’s laboratory.

My previous leadership roles have prepared me to effectively execute the responsibilities and duties of the office.  For example, as a graduate student, I was elected to the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neurosciences Program Student Advisory Committee (NSAC).  As a member of NSAC, I met with the program leadership to represent and advocate for my peers.  An additional experience that I had as a graduate student was to organize a ten-week long departmental summer research program (Summer Undergraduates in Research or SUIR).  The SUIR program consisted of approximately 30 undergraduate students from universities across the nation.  I designed and implanted a program that helped the undergraduate researchers maximize their potential and integrate into our research community at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  Finally, as a third-year postdoc, I am aware of the challenges unique to the postdoc position.


Postdoctoral scientists play a critical role in research.  While the postdoc appointment has traditionally been viewed as a stepping-stone to a career as an academic researcher, given the growing number postdoc positions in science (150% increase, 2000-2012) and the shrinking number of tenure-track positions, there are dwindling opportunities.  Many postdoc scientists find themselves in a holding pattern that was unheard of 20 years ago.  This extended holding pattern and lack of opportunities have generated issues that are unique to the postdoc of today.  To view the postdoc position as just a stepping-stone to academia is out of step with reality.  To address some of the unique issues that postdocs face related to career development, I would like to set three priorities for the 2016-2017 year:

1.   Career Exploration:  Most newly minted PhDs and even seasoned postdocs are blissfully unaware of the numerous career opportunities that are within their grasp.  I would like to make it a priority that all postdocs are aware of the various and rewarding career paths that are open to them.  This involves providing postdocs with the necessary resources to learn about opportunities in academia, industry, policy, nonprofit and government.

2.   Identify and understand your core transferable skill sets:  How can we help postdocs identify skills that are unique and transferable to a non-academic setting?

3.   Resume and CV development:  Developing a well-crafted academic CV and a resume takes time. Depending on the type of job you end up applying for, you will need either a CV or a resume. How do you enhance a CV so that it will set you up for a successful academic career?  What are recruiters looking for on a resume?

I am excited for the possibility to join the UPPDA Executive Board and to serve the postdoc community at the University of Pittsburgh.