All for One, and One for All: Creation of a UC-wide Postdoc Association

Bringing together postdocs on a single campus is no easy task. Imagine organizing a postdoctoral council with representatives from the nine University of California (UC) campuses! Considering estimates that there are 5000 postdocs in the UC system, about 10% of the national postdoc population, we believe that UC postdoctoral policies and practices have a significant impact far beyond the UC campuses.

An early experience while a postdoc at UC Davis spurred me to get involved in developing postdoc policies. My appointment status changed from employee (postgraduate researcher) to nonemployee (unclassified) when I was awarded an NIH National Research Service Award fellowship. It was then that I learned that not all postdoc positions are created equally. The change in my status resulted in the loss of several institutional benefits including health insurance and new limits to my library access. During my year-long struggle to regain full library privileges, I realized that we postdocs needed to take a more active role to improve our situations. With several other postdocs, I formed the UC Davis Postdoctoral Scholars Association (PSA).

Tom Peavy will be a speaker at the 2nd National Postdoc Network Conference, held 20 April 2002 in Washington, D.C. There is more information here.

As chair of the PSA, I served as the postdoc representative on the UC Davis Graduate Council, the academic faculty committee responsible for postdocs. In February 2001, the PSA presented the council its recommendations to improve postdoctoral policies and practices at UC Davis. While the council's review was favorable, it became evident that some of our recommendations could only be addressed at the UC system level. For example, we recommended that a single title code be adopted for all postdoctoral appointments. We knew that UC Davis postdocs are appointed under a multitude of titles (e.g., postgraduate researcher, visiting postdoctoral scholar, and unclassified) but learned that in the UC Title Code System, there are even more titles used to code postdoctoral appointments. These different title codes are significant not only because they make it very difficult to identify and track postdocs but, more importantly, they define attributes such as benefits offered and salary ranges.

And thus it became my mission to organize a meeting of postdocs from all of the UC campuses and to create a postdoc association that could represent the interests of all UC postdocs to administrators and faculty.

The timing of the national postdoc meetings sponsored by the COSEPUP Convocation on Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience of Scientists and Engineers and the first national Postdoc Network meeting sponsored by Science's Next Wave couldn't have been more perfect. During the COSEPUP Open Microphone Session, I invited other UC postdocs to join me in exploring the idea of forming an UC-wide organization. Mary O'Riordan, president of the UC Berkeley Postdoctoral Association and Teresa Dillinger, past chair of the UC Davis PSA, joined me in organizing the meeting.

Upon returning to California we set about contacting postdocs at the other UC campuses. Only Davis, Berkeley, and San Francisco have postdoc associations. On the other campuses, we contacted both postdocs and administrative offices responsible for postdocs (i.e., Graduate Studies, Graduate Division, or Office of Research). A date was set, and the UC Davis PSA offered travel grants to those needing assistance getting to Davis for the meeting. In the end, we brought together postdocs representing seven of the nine UC campuses, as well as a postdoc representing the Stanford University Postdoc Association.

At the meeting, we found that almost all of our issues and concerns were common to every campus. Our discussion included examining the processes by which policy is made within the UC system and how we might develop a strategy to address our issues. We unanimously decided to form a UC-wide postdoc association, the Council of Postdoctoral Scholars (CPS), to which I was elected founding chair.

The goals of CPS are

  • to foster communication between UC postdocs, administration, and faculty;

  • to work with UC to ensure equitable treatment of postdocs; and

  • to facilitate a productive climate for postdoctoral training on local campuses.

My first duty as chair was to seek contact with and recognition by the Office of the President and two UC-wide committees responsible for postdoc policy and practices: the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs (CCGA), which handles academic affairs, and the Council of Graduate Deans (CoGD), which deals with administrative affairs. CPS has now participated in meetings with both CCGA and CoGD to discuss postdoctoral issues. All were in support of the development of new policies and practices to enhance the postdoctoral experience. In 1998 CoGD had issued recommendations to improve postdoctoral education and has since been working on proposals for implementation. After our meeting, CoGD's current chair, Davis's Dean of Graduate Studies Cristina Gonzalez, assigned the creation of postdoctoral title code(s) as a priority.

CPS now has representatives from all nine UC campuses. We have had two meetings that have included representatives from the three UC administrative branches. Our first priorities have included the establishment of a minimum salary and full insurance coverage, without regard to funding source. In principle we have agreed on many issues, but there is much to be done as we work out the specifics. Fortunately, there is a desire on all sides to do so.

CPS has made great strides within a very short period of time. We provide a needed conduit between UC administration, faculty, and postdocs. Although policy implementation often moves at a glacial pace, moving through committee after committee, I am optimistic about positive change within the UC system in the near future. Please visit our Web site to find out more about CPS, to view our recommendations, to see who have helped us get where we are, and to remain updated on our progress.

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