How to Form a Postdoc Association

A version of this list first appeared on the University of California, San Francisco, Postdoctoral Scholars Association Web site. With the help of Arti Patel and Debbie Swope of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Trainees Assembly and Melaine Leitner of Neuroscience Postdoctoral Fellows Association at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the Next Wave Postdoc Network has updated this very helpful checklist for nascent associations.



I dentify a core group of five to 15 postdocs interested in forming an association.

Find faculty members and administrators who would support a postdoc association. These key individuals can be invaluable as resources and as advocates for the association within the institutional hierarchy.

Learn the administrative structure within which the postdocs at your institution fall. For example, at a large university with a medical school, the postdocs on the medical campus and those on the main campus may fall within different institutional hierarchies. Knowing more about the administrative structure will help you identify the postdocs on your campus and will help you determine whom to approach with questions and ideas.

Use e-mail to create a communications network. This may be difficult at first, because many institutions do not have complete lists of all postdocs on campus. An excellent alternative is to approach the administrative staff of each department; these people often have up-to-date information on their department's postdocs.

Develop a regular meeting schedule and define a mechanism for conducting business (e.g., monthly general meetings, use of working subcommittees, and election of president and other officers).

Delegate tasks and responsibilities to individual members (e.g., Web master, communications director, seminar coordinator, etc.). Allow members to gravitate toward tasks that hold a natural interest for them. Stress a team approach.

Advertise meetings and other association events. Use e-mail, campus flyers, and vigorous personal recruitment (i.e., peer pressure). Publicize your organization in the campus newspaper if you can. And don't forget to trumpet the association's achievements.

Conduct a survey to determine the needs and issues of postdocs at your institution. These data will strengthen the association's proposals to the institution and will help prioritize issues you wish to address.

Set a few clear, achievable goals. Depending on the situation at your institution, these goals could relate to professional development, mentoring, or quality of life. Stay focused on your agenda.

Demonstrate what the association will bring to the institution. This can be especially important in the beginning, as the association builds relationships with key members of the institution's administration. For example, consider organizing events, such as seminar series on career opportunities and grant writing, that can benefit postdocs as well as other members of the institution.

Consider carefully your requests and demands. The first impressions you make with the institution will be the ones that stick. For example, if you plan to ask for postdoc representation on key administrative committees, first make sure that the association has enough committed members to fill those positions.

Approach the administration and the faculty for monetary assistance (e.g., food for seminars and funding to attract seminar speakers) and technical assistance (e.g., support for a Web site or a listserv).

Consider partnering with your institution's organization for graduate students if this would be a good match.

Last but not least, check out other postdoc associations' Web sites for contact information and ideas. The Postdoc Network's Resource database is a good place to start! Talk to your fellow postdocs to get answers to your questions--they have probably already struggled with similar issues.

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