Setting up the Virginia Tech postdoctoral community for success
For more than a year, the Office for Research and Innovation convened stakeholders from across campus to explore ways to further improve the postdoctoral researcher’s experience and provide more assistance through a combination of building community, mentoring, and professional development.
“The postdoctoral years are formative and an opportune moment for the researcher to develop independence, hone technical skills, and focus interests,” said Dan Sui, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. “We are working to provide postdocs with enhanced care and guidance to help them reach their full potential through training in a particular field of research in academia, government, or industry.”
Since 2009, the National Postdoctoral Association has sponsored National Postdoc Appreciation Week to recognize the significant contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to research and discovery. In 2010, this week was officially recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives.
In honor of this celebratory week that begins on Sept. 20, the Office for Research and Innovation has invited postdocs to a luncheon on Sept. 28, 12 - 1:30 p.m. at the Inn at Virginia Tech. For more information on this event and other upcoming postdoc events and programs, visit the events and programs webpage.
In addition to holding regular events, the Office for Research and Innovation is working to establish a new Postdoctoral Affairs Office with the position for a Postdoctoral Affairs Program administrator to lead the office, now open. Serving as a central point of contact for all postdocs, the inaugural leader will work with partners in colleges, institutes, and administrative offices across Virginia Tech, coordinating orientation, resources, and events; and developing professional development, career advising, and community building programs specific to the needs of postdoctoral associates and their mentors.
As a senior advisor to Sui, Wayne Scales, the J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering, has supported the initiative to strengthen infrastructure for postdoctoral researchers.
“Furthering our support for the postdoctoral community at Virginia Tech is critical as we become an even more highly regarded research university,” said Scales. “Postdocs produce cutting edge research and are an integral part of the pipeline of diverse individuals necessary to expand the research enterprise.”
Cristina Miliano, postdoctoral associate at the School of Neuroscience in the College of Science and the postdoc representative on the Commission on Research, has led an effort to establish the Virginia Tech Postdoctoral Association. Virginia Tech postdoctoral scholars can obtain their own membership to the National Postdoctoral Association through Virginia Tech’s sustaining membership.
“Through organizations like the association, we are working to improve the postdoctoral experience at Virginia Tech by facilitating professional growth and collaboration,” said Miliano. “We want to help as many postdoctoral researchers in every stage of their professional development at Virginia Tech.”
The association elected its first leadership council and held several meetings and social events in its first few months of existence, earlier this year. The mission of the association is to create a postdoctoral community to enhance postdoctoral life at Virginia Tech and advocate for them to have all the resources they need to achieve their career goals. Currently, one-third of the postdoc population at Virginia Tech has joined the association with the desire to grow this community of members.
Additionally, several new opportunities and improvements have been implemented with more on the horizon.
Ratified at the August Board of Visitors meeting, the maximum term for postdoctorals was extended from four to five years allowing this group to pursue fellowships, while maintaining the postdoctoral status as a fundamental traineeship. This term increase is in alignment with national trends, peer institutions, and funding agencies, most of whom have five-year limits for postdocs.
In April, the Office for Research and Innovation hosted a virtual webinar for postdoctoral researchers, Exploring Diverse Postdoctoral Career Paths, on career opportunities in government, industry, and research management sectors. A panel of experts, including former postdocs, shared their experiences as leaders in federal policy, entrepreneurs, and researchers in industry and federal labs. The objective was to showcase career pathways outside of academia.
Also, launched by the Office for Research and Innovation is a new section of research.vt.edu dedicated to providing assistance and opportunities for the postdoctoral associates community including resources and professional development.