The Postdoc Experience: Forming a Postdoctoral Association at UVM

uvmmedicine blogger Nicholas Farina, Ph.D.
uvmmedicine blogger Nicholas Farina, Ph.D.

Postdoc: A postdoctoral scholar (“postdoc”) is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing. National Postdoctoral Association

Meet your friendly local postdoctoral scholars, or postdocs for short. We are from around the world and joined the University of Vermont community to live in the beautiful state of Vermont. We have doctorates in diverse fields and are continuing our mentored training while gaining new experiences and acquiring the required skills to transition to an independent and permanent position. There are almost 80 of us scattered around campus. However, due to the fluid nature of the position, our numbers are constantly in flux and we tend to stay close to our lab, office, or favorite brewery or coffee shop. For a long time, even we knew only postdocs in our own research spaces. However, that’s starting to change. In the fall of 2016, UVM recognized the importance of creating a central hub for our community, and became a sustaining member of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). All postdocs at UVM can now become affiliate members for free (Join NPA) and gain access to a wide variety of resources, from advice on family planning to professional development. We offer our sincere thanks to the Office of the Vice President for Research for supporting the postdoc community and becoming an NPA sustaining member.

With guidance from the UVM administration, an interim steering committee was created to form and official UVM Postdoctoral Association (UVM PDA). After a couple of initial meetings, we were off and running (or rather skiing – it was mid-winter). From the beginning, it was paramount to address the concerns and fulfill the needs of all postdocs at UVM. Thus, we developed a survey to ask the UVM postdoctoral community their opinions on career training, compensation and benefits, and how a PDA could best serve them. Sending it out took a lot of coordinated administrative effort to identify all current UVM postdocs, but the results were definitely worth it.

postdoc survey resultsAt UVM, postdocs are pursuing diverse research interests with affiliations across all colleges, although the majority of us are in the Larner College of Medicine. Overall, the postdoc community is happy with the training we are getting in mentoring students and academic careers. Some areas to improve include mentorship in non-traditional careers, career progression, and formal teaching opportunities (see graph). All postdocs are concerned with their nebulous institutional role where we are defined as faculty in some situations and staff in others. Although the survey showed that the available insurance plans and university-related perks like tuition remission are well-received by post-docs, 26 percent of UVM postdocs earn less than NIH recommended starting salaries. The results from our survey, available on our website (July Newsletter), reflect the status of postdocs at institutes around the U.S. and Canada, based on similar surveys conducted by institutional PDA/PDOs and the NPA.

From these survey responses, the UVM PDA adopted a mission reflecting the UVM Common Ground philosophy: to facilitate professional development, broaden the training experience, and enhance quality of life for all postdoctoral members at UVM to better serve the community at large. We will be advocates for postdocs with the administration and promote adoption of competitive salary and benefits in-line with national guidelines. We will expand professional/career development opportunities for postdocs, promote collaborations within the research community, and foster the interaction between postdocs and local professional and academics institutes, societies, and organizations. Most importantly, we will build a strong, well-defined postdoc community through professional and social networking.

To celebrate our semesters’ work, the steering committee hosted a Postdoc BBQ on a beautiful evening in June. The food was delicious and the high attendance highlighted a continued interest in building this community. For our next event, we are organizing a career development symposium on Friday, September 22nd tailored for postdocs, but open to the UVM community. The afternoon will include a workshop on effective communication and a career panel with Ph.D.s that transitioned from postdoctoral training into non-traditional career paths (i.e. not tenure-track academics). Our keynote speaker, Alan Dove, Ph.D., has made a career as a freelance science journalist, with publications in Science and Nature, and co-hosts the podcast “This Week in Virology.” We are excited to be providing this opportunity for our fellow postdocs and anticipate the symposium benefiting all of UVM.

Look for more to come in the future. We will be featuring monthly interviews with UVM postdocs on our website, www.uvm.edu/postdocs/ and starting a community blog to give people informal looks at our careers and research. Feel free to email us at postdocs@uvm.edu or tweet @UVMPostdoc.

PDA Interim Steering Committee: Nicholas Farina, Heidi Malaby, Andrew Malaby, Menalaos Symeonides, Kirsten Tracy, Juan Jose Uriate, Franziska Uhl

Faculty advisors: Chris Berger, Jason Stumpff, Delphine Quinet

Additional Support by: Erin Montgomery

 

 

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