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May 9, 2006
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Sigma Xi Publishes National Postdoc Forum Report Online
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - A report of highlights from a two-day national forum on postdoc policies and issues has been published online by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. As a result of the forum, at least 24 research institutions are planning to establish new policies for postdoctoral training, or modify existing practices, according to a follow-up survey of participants.
The 20-page report, Professionalizing the Postdoctoral Experience, is available in a PDF format. It summarizes discussions by more than 80 research administrators and postdocs from around the country, who gathered at the Sigma Xi Center here in January to address issues raised by the landmark Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey.
"Postdocs do much of the scientific research in this country," said Geoff Davis, principal investigator for the survey and one of the forum organizers. "Not enough has been done to make sure that they are as productive as possible. This conference changes that."
"The forum served as an important catalyst for action in implementing the National Postdoctoral Association's (NPA) Recommended Practices," noted NPA Executive Director Alyson Reed. "The NPA is pleased to have served as a co-sponsor for the forum and we look forward to working with forum participants as we move ahead with implementing policy changes at the local level."
Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and completed last year, the Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey was the most comprehensive study of its kind. More than 7,600 postdocs at 46 American research institutions were asked about such issues as pay, working conditions, benefits and other factors. The survey was designed to improve the training and research environments for postdocs by providing a better understanding of their experiences.
A 16-page summary of survey highlights, Doctors Without Orders, appeared as an insert in the May-June 2005 issue of American Scientist, the magazine of Sigma Xi. Among other things, survey data suggested that administrative oversight and structured training can significantly enhance the quality of postdoctoral experiences and may bring about increased research productivity.
This was an important insight, since scientific advances in the nationís laboratories have become increasingly dependent on an army of more than 50,000 Ph.D. researchers-in-training. The difficulties and disappointments postdocs encounter could have a profound impact on the future of U.S. research.
The Sigma Xi-NPA Postdoc Forum in January was designed to facilitate the sharing of policy strategies and to foster networking between postdocs, postdoc office personnel, funders of postdocs and policymakers. Major support for the conference was provided by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
At the forum, administrators and postdocs discussed the main survey findings and then worked together to address them. They came away with a better understanding of survey results at their own institutions and insights on implementing postdoc training and policies.
Plenary sessions were devoted to case studies, leveraging existing resources and management and leadership training. Case studies focused on developing and implementing effective postdoc-related policies; effective training workshops, materials and ideas; and the needs of vulnerable populations, such as underrepresented minorities, women and non-U.S. citizens.
In small group discussions, participants came to general consensus on some guiding principles for designing and implementing postdoc policies. Topics included individual development plans, postdoc evaluations, exit surveys, letters of appointment, authorship policies and strategies for recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities and women. Sessions were also held on how to go about establishing a postdoc office at an institution and how to maintain funding for it.
"What made this conference better than the others Iíve attended," one participant said, "is that other institutions are now far enough along in establishing postdoc policies that I am learning from their successes and failures."
Sigma Xi is the international honor society of research scientists and engineers, with about 65,000 members and 520 chapters in North America and around the world. The societyís administrative offices are in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The National Postdoctoral Association is a member-driven organization that provides a national voice for postdoctoral scholars. Its mission is to advance the U.S. research enterprise by maximizing the effectiveness of the research community and enhancing the quality of the postdoctoral experience for all participants