JSMF-SFI Postdocs working together during the Complexity Conference IX. (image: Katharine Mast/SFI)

SFI is hosting the 10th JSMF–SFI Postdocs in Complexity Conference from March 29–31. The biannual event provides a forum for postdoctoral fellows studying complex systems to share research ideas, develop new career skills, and expand their professional networks.

When the program first began in 2017 it was launched as a way to serve postdocs based at SFI as well as complexity fellows funded through the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

“Our [JSMF] postdocs are drawn from a broad pool and are distributed at institutions around the world, but not necessarily at complexity institutions,” says SFI Science Board Member Susan Fitzpatrick, who recently retired as President of JSMF and who has co-led the conference since it began. “We wanted to provide them with an intellectual ‘home’ at SFI. And, it offered a way for the SFI postdocs to broaden their networks.”

In its early years, the conference featured many speakers and informational-type lectures. “That has changed somewhat over time,” says conference organizer Hilary Skolnik, Manager of SFI’s Postdoctoral Fellows Program. Now, in addition to invited speakers, the conference also features more interactive sessions and prioritizes time to explore research questions in small groups.

“Each year, it’s evolved in a sort of adaptive, complex-systems way,” says Fitzpatrick. “Postdoc feedback has shaped how we plan subsequent meetings.”

For instance, the small-group “research jams” used to begin and, largely, end within the conference. Now, they’re a launchpad for continued collaborations throughout the year, including new micro-working groups that meet in Santa Fe in the days leading up to the conference. Postdocs in Complexity X begins with three new micro-working groups — “Exploring the Space of Bacterial Motility,” led by Jasmine Nirody; “Representing Evolving Scientific Concepts with Machines,” led by Anna Guerrero; and “Slow-fast Dynamics in Biological Systems,” led by Kasturi Shah.

“These conferences are about networking, working together, and building relationships,” says Skolnik. This spring’s meeting reflects that idea and will feature talks and field trips that explore collective intelligence through the theme of The New Hive Mind. “Many of the participants at this conference will be attending for at least the third time. The group has gradually started to get to know one another, but there are still opportunities to meet new people,” says Skolnik. Through creative, interactive 1-on-1 activities, this gathering will continue to foster new connections.

As Fitzpatrick and Skolnik look to the future of the conference, they know there are changes on the horizon, from funding structures to the makeup of the group as current postdocs move on to new positions and fresh graduates arrive. Whatever the particulars, the conference will continue to evolve to support the changing needs of early-career complexity researchers.


James S. McDonnell Foundation Grant Award No. 220020541 "Support for the James S. McDonnell Postdoctoral Fellows Conference Phase 2"