Campus News

New organization fosters training, support for postdoctoral associates

Executive Board of UGA Postdoctoral
Initial members of the 2010 executive board of the UGA Postdoctoral Association are back row

Postdoctoral research associates at UGA supply critical support for the university’s research mission. They help write grant proposals, generate data, provide insight and sometimes even take research in new directions. Despite this, they have long been overlooked as a group. They conduct research, yet aren’t represented on the University Council. They often work at the university for years, but until recently could not accrue vacation or sick days beyond one calendar year.

“They fall into this gray area. They’re not faculty and not students,” said Bob Scott, Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and associate vice president for research. “We’ve been improving the UGA postdoc policy-defining time limits and tying compensation to national guidelines-but we still have a ways to go.”

In January, postdocs formed the UGA Postdoctoral Association to address areas of concern. With support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, UGA also joined the National Postdoctoral Association. Membership gives the more than 400 UGA postdocs access to career resources, mentoring plans, publications on research issues, national meetings, seminars, and grant and fellowship news. The local chapter holds quarterly meetings, runs a listserv, lobbies for policy changes, and sponsors training and social events.

“We held our first ‘mock interview day’ earlier this summer, so that postdocs who were ready to apply for faculty positions could practice their interviewing skills,” said Amar Singh, executive board chair of the UGA chapter.

The organization also obtained a change in the vacation/sick leave policy, allowing postdocs to accrue vacation and sick days instead of losing them at the end of the year.

Health insurance for researchers on fellowships is another area of concern. Though national fellowships attract the best and the brightest researchers, federally funded fellows are ineligible for university-funded health insurance.

Many other universities have offices for postdoctoral training and funding, according to Singh.

“We don’t yet have such an office, but I think we are making huge progress to address our concerns,” he said.

In conjunction with National Postdoc Appreciation Day, the UGA Postdoctoral Association will host its first interdepartmentally sponsored event-a grant-writing seminar-Sept. 24 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Coverdell Center auditorium. The featured speaker is Shelley Payne, University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.