National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week — get to know a postdoc
I read recently that there are 37 different titles used for “postdoc” across U.S. institutions. 37!
A common frustration among postdoc program office leaders at universities is that they often do not know who their own postdocs are. I imagine having so many different titles adds to the confusion. Because they do not know who all of their postdocs are, my colleagues worry about whether they are reaching everyone they could be reaching. When these institutions want to better understand how they are doing with providing a valuable experience for their postdocs, not knowing who they are is quite a roadblock.
Having a single appointment type for postdoctoral appointees as we do here helps us keep track of who our postdocs are, where they work and how to find them. We also have many postdocs who come to Argonne as visiting scholars or through joint appointments who are also part of our postdoctoral community. I worry about reaching them as well. I encourage everyone to send postdocs who might not be on the “postdoctoral appointee” roster my way so I can welcome them into our program.
Knowing names, titles and divisions is just the first step in getting to know our postdocs. The next step is providing the support for building a community. The Postdoctoral Society of Argonne (PSA) has played an important role in helping us engage postdocs over the years. I know from my predecessor, Giselle Sandi-Tapia, who stood up the Postdoctoral Program Office 10 years ago, that the PSA was instrumental in informing her of postdoc needs, interests and in helping get new initiatives launched. It was PSA that sparked discussions around mentoring and the need for a mentoring program almost seven years ago. And it was PSA who took it a step further and proposed the mentor and supervisor awards. PSA leaders continue to advise me on postdoc matters and bring new ideas to the table.
Beyond this small group of motivated individuals, lies a large, diverse community of researchers paving the way to the next step of the career ladder. A recent look at postdocs over a 5-year period revealed that during that timeframe (2009-2014), our postdocs came from 60 countries, 298 universities and represented 60 STEM disciplines. Our postdocs have taken their careers in every direction you can think of in industry, academia and the national labs.
Again, though, knowing this about our postdocs is just another step in getting to know our postdocs.
During this National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, I encourage us to have engaging conversations with postdocs. What are their interests? What do they see as exciting about their life at work and outside of work? What do they value? What do they see as challenges in getting to the next step? How can we help?
I am willing to bet that we’ll find that our postdocs have aspirations and attributes just as diverse as their cultural and scientific backgrounds — that who they are goes beyond their titles and metrics. We’ll find that they are parents and caregivers. That they have families who care about them. That they care about the world, at large. That they appreciate being included and engaged in the Argonne community.
So go ahead and take a coffee break. Have a conversation. Get to know a postdoc.