Tips for Establishing a Postdoc Office

This brief guide outlines the necessary steps and goals for establishing a postdoc office. Each university or institution faces a unique set of issues regarding postdoctoral appointments and training, but a universal concern will be balancing the needs and expectations of faculty, postdocs, and administrators. Achieving a reasonable balance between all three constituencies poses a political challenge, especially with respect to financial and human resource constraints. The following steps and goals allow for the development of an office, which attempts to meet the needs of all.

Initial Steps to Form a Postdoc Office

  • Develop an institutional policy on postdoctoral appointments. Adapt examples and resources (AAU, COSEPUP, GREAT Group, etc.) to your needs.

  • Staff office with individuals having both research/academic and human resources expertise.

  • Develop advisory committees comprised of faculty and postdocs.

  • Identify the role of postdocs at your institution and sources of data about them (e.g., payroll, department files, training grants).

  • Assess challenges and deficiencies in current systems by meeting with staff, postdocs, and faculty.

    By using policies and procedures to clarify relationships and build an effective administrative foundation, a postdoc office can begin to change the current research environment. An institutional postdoc office must be more than just a compliance office. The most important role of the office is to provide necessary support and services, such as advising departments on the appointment process, assisting faculty with recruitment and training of quality postdocs, and providing postdocs with training and career development resources. These ongoing interactions will allow the office to become a vital part of the university as well as a respected advocate for postdocs.

  • Develop collaborative relationships with key university offices such as payroll, tax, human resources, international programs, and tech transfer.

  • If your institution has a large postdoc population, designate a contact person in each department/division whom you can educate and train, and who will help you resolve issues.

  • Establish a database, including contact information (e.g. lab addresses, e-mail addresses, mentor names), to track and monitor postdoctoral appointees.

  • Establish a Web site with resources for each of your constituencies: postdocs, faculty, and staff.

  • Use postdoctoral programs and associations at other institutions for benchmarks.

Primary Goals for a Postdoc Office

  • Identify key policy and program issues by assessing the current environment.

  • Create advisory committees.

  • Create postdoctoral policy.

  • Establish postdoctoral appointment process.

  • Develop orientation handbooks/sessions for postdocs.

  • Develop a standardized postdoctoral training program for your institution.

  • Establish annual timeline--audits, surveys, council elections, training programs, orientation, education campaigns.

Elizabeth Ellington graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, with a music major and chemistry minor in 1998. She has worked in the Office of Postdoctoral Programs at the University of Pennsylvania since the fall of 1998 and has appreciated the experience of helping to build a postdoctoral program in an academic environment. She enjoys politics, great food, and has plans to attend medical school.

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