Last October, MIT postdoctoral researchers launched the campuswide MIT Postdoctoral Association (PDA). This organization has since grown from a handful of founding members into a vibrant organization. In addition to hosting four well-attended social events this year, the PDA has been very active behind the scenes. Key goals include fostering a sense of community among postdocs at MIT, amplifying postdocs’ voice and profile on campus, helping to bring about improvements at the Institute, and supporting postdocs in all aspects of their professional research training and career development.
Role models for the PDA include the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council, and the governing body now consists of elected officers, committees and departmental representatives. Obtaining equal representation for MIT’s diverse pool of postdocs is no easy task: MIT has nearly 1,300 postdocs (69 percent postdoctoral associates and 31 percent postdoctoral fellows) in more than 50 different departments, laboratories, centers and programs; 63 percent of MIT postdocs are international.
The PDA’s Community Building Committee organizes campuswide social events for postdocs, with a record attendance of roughly 200 postdocs at the summer barbecue. The Professional Development Committee initiated a conference travel grant for postdocs, and five grants have already been awarded for postdocs to attend conferences. In addition to professional development events, the PDA launched a successful vendor fair, generating revenue for future social and educational events. The PDA’s Alumni Association Committee has been instrumental in getting postdocs access to MIT’s Infinite Connection, an online tool for MIT alumni that includes an alumni directory and career tools. The Advocacy Committee is working on several fronts, including benefit equality for postdocs in areas ranging from athletic membership fees to the cost of health insurance.
Founding postdocs sought a postdoc-led organization with strengthened collaboration with MIT faculty and administration. They wanted a more effective vehicle than the former Postdoctoral Advisory Council (PAC), with more self-direction, more uniform and coordinated engagement among MIT’s departments, and strong institutional support. With the help of founding PDA president Paulina Hill, this new organization formed a governing body, built relationships with the MIT postdoc administrative staff, and most importantly had the continued support and financial backing of Claude Canizares, vice president for research and associate provost. An exciting new organizational structure is the Faculty Postdoctoral Advisory Committee (FPAC), which will bring PDA leadership — including current PDA president Wiljeana Jackson Glover — together with Canizares and faculty members Hazel Sive, Cathy Drennan, Gareth McKinley and Andrew Whittle. This collaboration is expected to help the PDA implement postdoc-related improvements in years to come, while also providing faculty support for critical issues affecting postdocs.
The PDA will keep building its active member base, including the network of departmental representatives. As it moves into year two, members are ambitious and excited about the future for postdocs at MIT, and are actively seeking to add departmental representatives from all of the departments and centers. For more information, see the PDA website.