Virginia Tech postdoctoral associate community thrives
Producing cutting-edge research, mentoring other researchers, and expanding knowledge and insights, postdoctoral associates are critical to Virginia Tech’s vibrant research ecosystem and represent the next generation of diverse leaders in research in academia, industry, and civil service.
Amid the pandemic, 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.
Most recently launched this spring, the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship program seeks to prepare postdocs from various fields and disciplines for the next step in their careers, providing a two-year appointment with nationally competitive salaries and benefits, $10,000 for training- and professional development-related expenses to be used over the two-year fellowship, in addition to mentoring and professional development support. The first cohort of fellows will begin this fall, with application cycles available throughout the academic year.
In January, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs was established and Chris Smith was named program administrator. Over the past few months, Smith has led the development of new postdoctoral associate career programs and held town halls. Early program topics have focused on career exploration, creating an individual development plan, and job search resources. Future workshops centered on promoting the welfare and advancement of the postdoctoral population are being planned for the fall semester.
“One item that became clear from listening to our postdoctoral community through town halls in March and from a postdoc climate survey is the desire for more connection amongst this population,” said Smith. “We are planning to launch a new quarterly orientation program coupled with a larger postdoc community gathering event to facilitate connection and community for our postdocs in Blacksburg. Plans are also underway to offer options in Roanoke and virtually for our postdocs located across the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
In addition to the new office, Cristina Miliano, postdoctoral associate at the School of Neuroscience in the College of Science and postdoc representative on the Commission on Research, led the charge to establish the Virginia Tech Postdoctoral Association (VTPA), formed in April 2021.
The association began to communicate opportunities to postdocs via a newly established platform that includes a listserv, Slack group, Twitter account, Facebook page, and updates made available on a Google calendar.
Providing a deeper connection to the broader network of postdocs, Smith also serves as a board member of the National Postdoctoral Association, where he engages with a variety of stakeholders that represent postdoctoral communities across the nation, and locally as chair of the campus association’s strategic planning committee.
Celebrating its one-year anniversary in May, the association's mission is to create a postdoctoral community to enhance postdoctoral life at Virginia Tech and advocate for postdocs to have the resources they need to achieve career goals. Currently, more than one-third of the postdoc population at Virginia Tech have joined the association with the desire to grow this community of members.
New leaders of the VTPA were announced this summer. They include:
- Megan Vogt, co-president, postdoc in biomedical science, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
- Sina Niazi, co-president, postdoc in civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering
- Alex Cumbie, communications officer, postdoc in entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
- Petar Mlinaric, secretary, postdoc in mathematics, College of Science
- Nico Naus, international support chair, postdoc in electrical and computer engineering, College of Engineering
- Karthikeyan Chandrasegaran, diversity, equity, and inclusion chair, postdoc in biochemistry, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The association held its first social event at Blacksburg Municipal Park in June 2021 with 25 postdoc associates in attendance. Other social events organized in the last year by the VTPA have included hiking excursions to Cascades Falls and Pandapas Pond, virtual and in-person game nights, pumpkin patch trip to Sinkland Farms, on-campus Thanksgiving potluck, day trip to Roanoke area museums, and a bowling night.
The group also began holding monthly virtual meet-and-greets in July 2021 on Gather Town, an online social platform. Currently, the meet and greets take place in-person at various locations in Blacksburg the first Thursday of each month from 6-8 p.m.
To celebrate Virginia Tech postdocs during National Postdoctoral Associate week, events in September 2021 included a coffee hour hosted by Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation Dan Sui, a cookout at Claytor Lake, and a luncheon at the Inn at Virginia Tech, also hosted by Sui, with university administrators and leaders, including the Dean of the Graduate School Aimee Surprenant, and associate deans for research. Upcoming National Postdoctoral Associate week events in September will be posted on the Postdoctoral Events and Programs webpage.
The VTPA also has worked to collate useful resources and offer career and professional development opportunities including a grant writing seminar in fall 2021 with Nani Pybus, a grant writer in the Office of Vice President for Research at Oklahoma State University.
Actively engaged with the association's board, Smith said he is excited for new opportunities in year two.
Postdoc associates who want to learn how to get involved with the community should email VTPA@vt.edu.