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Starting & Maintaining a Postdoctoral Association (PDA)
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It is important to recognize the level of commitment and time it will demand to accomplish this. You will gain enormous experience in how to work within, and navigate the administrative hierarchy, but do not forget it is your science that will determine your future success in your chosen career.


*** Most important – Adopt a POSITIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE demeanor. Your initial demeanor will establish the overall position of the organization in the future and is critical to successfully rallying allies within the administration.

  • Speak about unlocking the potential of the postdocs and increased productivity
  • Win-Win attitude, happy well trained postdocs are less distracted and more productive
  • Acknowledge the current financial constraints facing universities – endowments reduced with stock market, government budgetary cuts – much can be done such as training and career counseling with minimal additional cost
  • Concentrate first goals on these positive issues to become ingrained in the administration before tackling more controversial and costly issues of benefits and salaries
  • Important to use these modest goals while you learn more about all sides of the issues, the politics of your institution, what is already being done regarding postdoc issues, and make institutional allies

Critical Threshold


A brief point concerning timeline. You must remember to move quickly in the initial phase to become established before the enthusiasm wanes. Postdocs and administrators will need to see some benefit occurring and real organization before you gain their buy-in. Remember not to let perfectionism prevent initial progress. Start small, but at least start. Then maintain progress.

Personnel


As in all organizations, many different personality types with different skill sets will likely be recruited. It is important to embrace this diversity if a robust PDA is to be formed. Each personality type brings with it unique advantages and potential weaknesses. It is important to encourage each of these types to contribute and recognize their strengths to focus their efforts toward the greatest effectiveness.

Examples of personalities (sample and not complete):

  • Bureaucrat - person who concentrates on the bureaucratic details such as formalized by-laws, meeting minutes etc. Advantage – useful in keeping the organizational details and navigating institutional rules and regulations. Caution – can keep a group focused on infinite details and hinder substantive movement forward.
  • Dreamer – person with ambitious goals for the organization. Advantage – provides creative and motivating goals for substantive effects. Caution – can become too distracted with over-ambitious goals and not attend to important details or make real progress towards realistic goals.
  • Activist – person driven by passionate emotions usually stimulated out of negative perspective and vague idea of “fairness”. Advantage – provides infectious commitment and motivation. Caution – negative demeanor can derail the process and emotional arguments can distract from the logical and collaborative discussions.

It is important that these and other personality types collaborate, each working to focus the others towards a common balanced goal. Critical to encourage each type to apply their skills in a constructive manner.

Starting a PDA


Hurdles

  • Identifying postdocs and establishing contacts
  • Stimulating interest and involvement of postdocs
  • Identifying and fostering relationships with faculty and administrators

Solutions

1. Identifying and Contacting Postdocs - Building an E-mail List


Human resources
Variably useful– many institutions have so many vague definitions of how postdocs are classified that they likely will be of limited usefulness but this may be a starting point. Some HR offices may be reluctant to help, it may be more useful to have administrators backing your efforts with HR and put some muscle behind your inquiries.

Departmental administrators
Many department administrators may have information regarding their postdocs if you provide them with the definition you are using. Expect a varying effectiveness from different departments. Don’t forget to enlist these administrators as your allies to disseminating your information to postdocs. i.e. ask about places to post your announcements for social and training events or ask for their e-mail list (remember they will respond well to the idea of training, not so well to activism).

Knocking on lab doors
Bottom line – the most effective and complete way to fill in the gaps is by recruiting postdocs to go to each lab and knock on the doors and write down postdocs names and preferred e-mail addresses – Try and divide the task and cover all departments within the university. A postdoc survey is a very useful additional way to illicit a response.

2. Stimulating Interest of Postdocs

Communicate the issues and potential of a PDA
Important to establish a positive and constructive stance at this stage and not stimulate activism or “victimization”. Career counseling and professional development are always safe and interest-stimulating topics to bring up.

Social events
Free food and drink is a sure winner. Often these events allow you to briefly convey your goals, get input from the postdocs about their concerns, and recruit postdocs into the PDA.
Communicate the benefits of becoming active in the PDA
Participation in the PDA gives valuable experience in working with the administration.

Subcommittees
Always motivating to enlist involvement in a specific area of interest. Provides opportunities to take a leadership role and have a vested interest.

3. Identifying and Fostering Relationships with Administrators and Faculty

Identify and meld currently existing related offices, faculty, and administrators
Graduate student organizations and/or offices, career development offices, career workshops, departmental programs such as alternative careers.

Formation of a Postdoc Counsel
Representatives from postdoc, faculty and administrators.

Identify administrators in higher levels who are sympathetic
Many will respond well to being viewed as progressive leaders, Deans, vice-provost etc.

Presentations to administrative leaders and faculty leaders
Prepare a brief presentation and seek to present to as many groups as possible, be BRIEF, be positive – stress how the organizations goals will benefit them.

Remember to start with non-controversial issues that are win-win issues, concentrate on becoming ingrained in the administration before tackling the controversial issues such as salaries and benefits. These two issues are best addressed after you have become established. Why?

  • It can set the administration against your organization before you have a chance to become well established,
  • It will take time for your organization to learn about the complex interplay of factors involved in these issues,
  • It will take time to learn how to navigate the administrative politics,
  • You will need powerful allies within the administration to address these issues.

Maintaining and Sustaining a PDA


Hurdles

  • Administrative resistance
  • Postdoc interest
  • Member turnover
  • Growth

Solutions

1. Administrative Resistance

Attitude/philosophy
Positive and constructive with a solutions-based attitude and desire to benefit the postdocs, faculty, administration and scientific community at large. Examples: Postdocs – Many benefits related to providing career counseling, mentoring, and benefits. Faculty – Better trained postdocs, job postings, positive recruitment tool. Administration – Postdoc training, orientation, postdoc alumni network, talent retention.

Administrative allies
Existing offices such as graduate student office, career counseling/development, human resources, individual deans/vice-provost etc. These allies will usually be far less transient than the postdocs and can be critical to maintaining the PDAs goals.

Representation on important University counsels and boards
Become part of the administrative network.

2. Postdoc Interest Maintenance

Results
Make sure postdocs are kept aware of the results of the PDAs efforts. Positive results of any kind will be the most motivating factor and be sure to always advertise your successes and results.

Social events and orientation
Regular events that allow an opportunity to communicate in both directions. Orientation events introduce the PDA to new postdocs and recruit new members.

Frugal contact
Listservs and e-mails are important communication lines but do not tax the attention of busy postdocs or you could lose their interest.

3. Maintain Contacts and Working Relationship with Other Related Groups such as International Student Organizations.

Member turnover
Organizational structure. Good to hold yearly elections, and have a defined and efficient method for officer promotion as members leave.

Pipeline
Use committee heads as a way to have a more extensive pipeline for new members to become involved in leadership roles while they become educated about the issues and are ready to move into officer positions.

Centralized Resources/Institutional Memory
Centralized computer with presentations, e-mail list. Use a letter head and logo, maintain a bulletin board. Construct a University-based website. Office space – possibly a space within an existing office may be the easiest initial option. (graduate student office, career advancement office etc.)

4. Growth

Philosophy of layering/steps
Start small, but at least start then build on this experience.

Incorporate pre-established programs
Skills programs.

Focus
Clearly defined and maintained.

Goals
Written with a timeline and prioritized.

5. Postdoctoral Association Networks

Draw on National Postdoc Association relationship
Advice, documents, resources, site visits.

Form contacts with other neighboring universities PDAs
Sharing of information.

Create regional networks of PDAs
Organize occasional area meetings.
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