Join   |   Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In
Postdoc Advocacy: Learning from Peers
Share |


Volume 15, Issue 2 (February 2017)

Kate Brown and Antoine de Morrée


Postdoctoral scholars across the country need leadership at their institutions that can organize and advocate around issues pertinent to the local postdoctoral community. Often local leaders are postdocs who volunteer. While they have the skills and attributes fitting community leaders, they face the challenge of organizing and advocating at the institutional level. In response to this challenge, we discuss two new resources for postdoc leaders: a white paper on postdoctoral association (PDA) governance and our blog, Postdoc Leaders, for communicating between different postdoctoral organizations. These resources will position postdoc leaders to learn from each other and advocate more successfully.


Postdoc leaders face the daunting task of learning how to run an organization within an institutional environment while building relationships with university administration. This is even more challenging in institutes without a formal postdoctoral office and/or PDA. Four generations of former co-chairs of the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS) co-authored a white paper describing best practices for running a successful postdoctoral organization. Based on their combined experiences and supported by research in social psychology, the white paper provides suggestions for how to structure a postdoctoral organization from the ground up, foster and maintain relationships between the association and the larger postdoctoral community at an institution, and advocate effectively by establishing long-term working relationships between the PDA and administration. This white paper will help postdocs to organize a PDA, govern, and advocate for themselves.


Postdoc Leaders is a pilot project that offers a publication space for PDA leaders. This grassroots effort, for and by postdocs, is designed to be a storytelling blog where postdoc leaders can learn from one another through short posts. Each post briefly details a specific challenge, what was done to meet that challenge, and lessons learned in the process. Topics can include organizing an effective symposium, starting a new PDA, advocating for postdoc benefits, and much more. When postdoc leaders learn from the successes and missteps of others in similar positions, they can be more effective in their own advocacy.


One common challenge for postdocs is starting a PDA. The white paper offers guidelines on how to establish bylaws and decision-making processes, as well as how to recruit volunteers. Specific experiences can be found on the blog. For example, one post tells how postdocs in the late 1990s formed what later became SURPAS. At the time, statistics about postdocs on campus were scarce and disorganized, making diagnosing real issues for postdocs problematic. In response to this challenge, a few action-oriented postdocs organized town halls and distributed surveys to gather data. With this data in hand, they were able to focus their organization and advocacy efforts. The importance of hard data, as well as selecting a focal point for advocacy, was crucial to the eventual success in improving the postdoc experience at their institution. Moreover, it offered a foothold to build a PDA. This example illustrates a set of problems, the actions that were taken to resolve the problem, and the lessons that were learned - for better or for worse. Although the initial blog posts are sourced from Stanford postdocs. Postdoc Leaders wants to include the experiences of postdocs and postdoc affairs personnel from more institutions to contribute to the pool of knowledge. Postdoc Leaders wants to make these experiences available for the larger postdoc leadership community – building the community in the process.


While it is not likely that every issue facing postdocs will be resolved soon, it is clear that grassroots organization and advocacy offers an alternative to waiting for top-down policies from governmental agencies and institutional administrations. We believe in the ability of postdocs to organize, articulate what postdocs contribute to their institutions, and address the changing needs of their institutions’ postdocs. Despite the frustrations of postdocs, our experiences show that this advocacy can be positive, resulting in long-term working relationships with institutional administrations. SURPAS has, itself, had several recent successes in improving the postdoc experience such as negotiating for subsidized public transit (the GoPASS for CalTrain) and negotiating for an increase in postdoc base pay (now $50,000) to help offset the astronomical cost of living in the Bay Area. Our successes, in part the result of applying the principles and best practices outlined in the white paper, show the power of effective advocacy and organizing in establishing and attaining goals on behalf of the postdoc community.


Kate Brown, PhD, and Antoine de Morrée, PhD, are leaders within the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association. Brown and de Morrée worked together to create


Back to the Table of Contents | Next article

Membership Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal