Postdoctoral researchers are vital members of laboratories and other research spaces, not just here at UGA but in research universities around the country. I began my full-time research career as a postdoctoral fellow at a medical center, and the position provided a vital bridge between the completion of a Ph.D. and the obtainment of a tenure-track faculty position.
My postdoc fellowship allowed me to immerse myself in a clinical setting, giving me time and opportunity to better understand my “customer” (e.g., clinical personnel and patients) while becoming a more independent researcher and developing my project management, networking and mentoring skills. A high-quality postdoctoral experience of this type can be career shaping—even career changing.
It is imperative that we offer UGA postdoctoral researchers the highest quality experience while they are engaged with us in the UGA research enterprise. Indeed, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA), under the direction of Associate Vice President Shelley Hooks, is committed to supporting the needs of UGA’s postdocs, from their hiring to their professional development to the other needs and challenges they encounter. Increasing the number of postdocs and their impact on UGA research is not just our Office of Research (OoR) goal—it’s a strategic goal of the entire university.
In the four years since 2019, spanning the COVID slowdown, we have made significant strides toward that goal, realizing a 30% increase in the number of new postdoc appointments. We currently have slightly upward of 260 UGA postdoctoral fellows. In addition to appointment processing and policy development for postdocs, last year OPA staff members developed updated policies for postdocs, including simplifying separation procedures upon the end of funding.
Shelley’s team also develops and delivers professional development programming for postdocs, and these activities have increased substantially for FY23. Check out the UGA Postdoc Portal for more information about these opportunities.
Already this year, we have offered many new programs and events, including an academic job search panel discussion, an industry job search panel discussion, an international scholar webinar series, an intensive mentoring workshop series, a grant writing panel discussion focused on National Institutes of Health K awards, and an NIH/National Science Foundation grant writing workshop. We are always open to suggestions of topics, so please do let us know as you think of additional subject areas of postdoc importance.
By way of special activities and support, I’m excited to report that OPA is hosting a day-long Life Sciences Career Day, in partnership with the graduate school, to be held March 30. Over the 2022-23 academic year, 21 postdoc travel awards totaling $18,300 have been awarded through OPA.
Another OPA focus—a priority for all of OoR, just as it is for UGA—is to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion among our postdoc community. That community already is exceptionally diverse in terms of international culture, and OPA activities actively celebrate this point. The OPA office is home to a world map displaying countries of origin, and OPA was host to a multicultural potluck winter holiday celebration.
However, like many academic populations, the domestic postdoc population does not fully reflect the diversity of our nation or state. We are developing programs to ensure that postdoctoral training opportunities are available, apparent, welcoming and appealing to diverse scholars. For example, OPA partnered with the Graduate School to select and support postdocs and graduate students in the SEC Emerging Scholars program, which seeks to increase diversity among SEC university faculty.
Next year, I’m very excited about the launch of a pilot program, the UGA Postdoctoral Scholars for Innovation, Diversity and Excellence (UPSIDE), which has the goal of recruiting exceptional postdoc talent to drive UGA’s strategic research missions; to enhance innovation, diversity and excellence throughout our domestic postdoc community; and to create a pipeline of diverse, innovative scholars prepared to join and lead the next generation of faculty. Participants in this two-year fellowship program will engage in both faculty-mentored research/scholarship in strategic priority research areas and academic career professional development.
The postdoctoral community isn’t the only specialized research community we serve. OPA is embedded within the broader Office of Research Personnel (ORP), which also supports visiting scholars/researchers, research scientists and research affiliates through resource development, oversight, advocacy and the creation of appointment/registration policies and procedures.
In FY22, the ORP staff led or facilitated the appointment or registration of 25 new research scientists, 234 visiting scholar/researchers and 62 research affiliates, as well as 139 new postdocs. The ORP staff have extensively reviewed visiting research scholar and research affiliate polices to address research security concerns; updated the research scientist promotion guidelines to reflect new Board of Regents annual review requirements; and administered the university-level review for eight research scientist promotions.
Research of the caliber found at UGA necessitates a community of committed professionals, as well as adequate administrative structures behind those professionals. In the Office of Research, we will continue to do everything we can in support of all our research communities, both for the benefit of those community members but also for everyone whose lives are positively impacted by UGA research.
My sincere thanks for your support as we build a diverse research community.
Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research