An organization formed last year to represent the interests of post-doctoral scholars at the UW has continued to grow. The group is now seeking official recognition and, if possible, the creation of an Office of Post-Doctoral Affairs on campus.
The members of the new University of Washington Postdoctoral Association stress, however, that they have no political agenda to meet or grudge to settle. It’s not that they feel oppressed by working at the UW — far from it. They’re just a little isolated, professionally speaking.
This shines through the creative language of a statement about the group’s formation — sparked by a retreat of post-docs in 2004 — by Lindus Conlan, a post-doc in biochemistry and one of several promoting the new association. “Like emperor penguins huddling together for warmth,” Conlan wrote, “so too did the post-docs seek each other out to share valuable lessons about career training and life after a graduate degree.”
Christiana Dellorusso, a post-doc in the the Department of Medicine and founder of the Post-Doc Association, said of the impetus for forming the group, “We want to create a network of post-docs, to allow us to support each other and pool resources and information. It will improve the experience and the likelihood of landing a job.”
Post-doctoral positions are a sort of stepping stone between a graduate degree and the outside job market, whether in academia or in other areas of research. Post-docs don’t make a lot of money compared with their permanently employed colleagues, and don’t always get medical or other employment benefits. There are an estimated 1,200 post-doctoral scholars at the UW right now, and most don’t know about each other or the association, said Erica Smith, a post-doc in biochemistry.
“We currently sit in this nether region between faculty and students,” said Brian Dilkes, a post-doc, or research associate, in biology and a vocal member of the new group. “We’re not really a political organization in any of the campus senses.” Conlan also noted that the group was formed with the general support of the administration.
Many on campus support the cause, knowing of the situation in which post-docs work. Barbara Wakimoto, a biology professor who works with post-docs, said of the association, “It’s a grassroots movement, and it’s incredibly impressive.
“We’ve been running workshops and that’s how this group got together,” Wakimoto said. “It’s the first and, as far as I know the only, program for post-docs. I think the program is filling an important niche.”
In May, the association submitted a proposal to the UW administration calling for the creation of an Office of Post-Doctoral Affairs, citing benefits to both the institution and the post-docs..
On the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 28 in the HUB auditorium, the new UW Post-Doctoral Association will hold a symposium for the campus community and public. The afternoon will feature presentations from post-docs about their research at the UW and a presentation by Suzanne Ortega, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. The talks will be followed by a reception designed to allow the UW’s post-docs to meet and socialize.
Smith said the association has met with support on campus. “Everybody seems to think this should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “People say, ‘We’re glad you guys are taking charge.’”
For her part, Wakimoto said that to support post-docs is to support future faculty. “I give them an incredible amount of credit and they are going to help us as a university provide a really good, supportive environment for post-docs to thrive.”
Wakimoto said the UW’s 1,200 post-docs “are among our most productive researchers and contributors, and are doing some of the best work.”
The association’s request is under review by the administration. Suzanne T. Ortega, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, said, “Conversations are well under way as to how best we can meet the needs of our post doctoral fellows. We recognize the important contributions they make to the University and we are commiteed to providing them with the highest quality experience and training while they are here on our campus.”
To learn more: The UW Post-Doctoral Association will hold an information meeting from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, in the HUB Auditorium. For more information, visit online at: http://depts.washington.edu/uwpa/.