Benefits of joining the National Postdoctoral Association

Emilie Purvine

I recently returned from the National Postdoctoral Association’s (NPA) 2019 annual meeting which means I’m extra hyped up about the NPA and what it can offer to the community of postdocs nationwide including resources to help build PDAs and PDOs, postdoc advocacy, career development advice and the POSTDOCket newsletter, and a network of engaged postdocs. In this short article I’ll describe each of these benefits, and hopefully convince you to join!

A Postdoc Office (PDO) is an institutional office that manages postdoctoral affairs. It’s not necessarily human resources, and it’s not tailored to your individual group or department. Some institutions have PDOs, while others do not. And when they do not, it can be difficult to know where to turn if you are having problems. PDOs can be responsible for postdoc onboarding and orientation, mentor matching, mentor training, alumni tracking, career development events, and much more. In short, PDOs are responsible for supporting the non-research work life of a postdoc while they are at the institution. A Postdoc Association (PDA) on the other hand is a network of postdocs which can suggest and organize events, lobby for change with management, and generally try to enhance the postdoctoral experience from the perspective of the postdocs. PDAs are much like university student body associations. When both PDOs and PDAs are present at an institution they can work together to make sure that postdocs feel support from the institution and have events and resources that align with what the current postdocs need. The NPA provides its members with comprehensive toolkit resources for starting PDOs and PDAs. Together these toolkits provide over 100 pages of advice and best practices compiled from active PDOs and PDAs, as well as NPA members.

The NPA also has a strong postdoc advocacy component through their Advocacy committee which develops NPA recommendations for postdoc best practices and policies. Some of the issues this committee is concerned with are diversity, interests of international postdocs, and postdoctoral training. They monitor policy issues and publish recommendations. They also seek public opportunities to advocate at the national level including testimony and comments on federal notices. Advocacy at the level of the NPA ensures a well-researched and coordinated response to postdoctoral issues. If you are interested in postdoc advocacy, membership in the NPA would allow you to volunteer for this committee and help shape these policies.

If you are at an institution which does not have many resources for career development, the NPA is there for you. In addition to resources mentioned above to help start PDAs or PDOs, the NPA provides career resources including guides for a postdoc timeline, career development, and mentoring, and tips for applying and interviewing. For international postdocs, the NPA provides an international postdoc’s survival guide, a quick visa guide, and other lists of resources. The NPA also publishes a monthly newsletter, the POSTDOCket, with articles relevant to both postdocs and PDOs.

Finally, I think one of the best things that the NPA offers postdocs is a network of other engaged postdocs. Knowing that you’re not alone in your postdoctoral experience can be a big help. Attendance at the NPA’s annual meeting can introduce you to other postdocs around the country, workshop facilitators who can give you invaluable advice on topics like mentorship and negotiation, and NPA leadership. Ultimately your postdoc experience should be about building up your career, not your supervisor’s career. It’s a time for you to figure out what you want for your future and drive towards it. Resources from the NPA can help you set yourself up for success.

Note: Emilie is an NPA member but otherwise not affiliated with the organization.

Dr. Emilie Purvine is
a data scientist at Pacific Northwest National Lab

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