Ever thought that it could be useful to form a network with other research staff in your department – for social activities, to discuss science, department culture or career progression?
We ask two postdocs, Danila from Chemistry and Jean–Michel from Biology & Biochemistry, to share with us why they started a postdoc society in their departments.
Biology & Biochemistry Postdoctoral Society: PostdocBio by Jean-Michel Carter (Founder) & PostdocBio Committee
Postdocs in the sciences are known to be notoriously busy. We juggle experiments, analyses, writing, meetings and students across multiple research projects in the hope that at least one of them will lead to great results.
"It’s really easy to get completely absorbed into the drama of the research you have been contracted to do and lose sight of where you’re heading. You may even miss out on valuable training or networking opportunities that can help you find or develop your ambitions beyond postdoc days."
It can take real effort to go against our immediate priorities (and often introversion) to reach out for these opportunities or even approach improving our work environment. Many of us may even get caught in a state of apathy towards our situations.
The Postdoc Societies we are developing are working to make these actions as attainable as possible for us all in a goal to improve the overall postdoc experience within our departments. We focus on stimulating and supporting three key areas of the postdoc experience:
- Cohesion: bringing more social and networking opportunities to foster ideation, collaboration and prospects.
- Development: raising awareness of training and career development opportunities.
- Activism: providing a forum for voicing concerns about work environment and research culture.
With support from our Department, we have been able to organise events focusing on these areas. For example, we have organised social Check-In events to welcome and meet new postdocs. You may have heard of our Career Paths series where ex-postdocs come to talk about their career journeys into various sectors (remember, only a minority of postdocs secure academic tenure). We have even facilitated round tables to influence national policies such as the new Researcher Development Concordat which stems from a growing movement to improve research culture, including the publishing process.
Founding the society was a step towards enacting such change from the bottom up, and the good news is that you can get involved with shaping it too! Running the society is also a rewarding experience, you learn more about how academia functions and funnily enough, planning events that benefit your peers also benefits your own postdoc journey. Most importantly, it also stimulates you to connect with your peers. For example, we are collaborating with the Chemistry Postdoc Society for joint events and look forward to collaborating with many more. If like us, you feel the postdoc experience can be improved in your Department, why not start your Departmental Postdoc Society today!
Chemistry Postdoc Society by Danila Gasperini
It is a great opportunity to become a postdoc in Chemistry, opening up lots of possibilities. It is also a role of great responsibility; we start exploring our own research interests, we follow students in their paths, and start teaching and mentoring. We are constantly absorbed into our research, our passion to the extent that we sometimes forget to look around.
"As postdocs, we are part of a bigger picture: a community, an ensemble of people and minds that enable higher education and research to be a fundamental part of our society."
As Chemistry postdocs, we rarely sit around and think much about the importance of our contribution to the academic community. There are more than 50 Postdocs in the Chemistry department alone. And what about all the other postdocs at the University?
We want to connect postdoctoral researchers and network with colleagues and students; this helps us to consider future career possibilities and to get to know professionals like us within the University’s walls. We want to contribute to life in the department for a healthy and cooperative work environment. We want to be more involved in teaching and have a voice in departmental matters. We want to consider and improve our working conditions. We want to eliminate gender imbalance and reduce the percentage of women leaving academia after a postdoc. We want to be at Bath and to be aware of it!
These are some of the reasons why we decided to start a PostDoc Committee in the Department of Chemistry. And it is still going!
Want to set up a postdoc network or society in your department/division/faculty or school?
- It is probably easiest if you find one or two other postdocs who will organise it with you. That way you won’t have to do all the work! If there aren’t many in your department/division you might want to consider setting up a network in collaboration with another department/division (Departmental Research Staff Coordinators can put you in touch with postdocs from their departments)
- Decide who the network/society is for – just postdocs or which other groups and why?
- Think of a good time for everyone for an initial meeting and the best way to contact everyone - many departments will have a postdoc email list, but make sure they are up to date! Going from office to office to invite/remind people might be helpful on the day!
- If you can’t find a suitable space in your department you could try booking a room close by using room bookings.
- Also get in touch with your Head of Department –they might have a small amount of budget so you can provide some catering at the first meeting – and could support you in getting the message out to postdocs and their managers.
- Possible agenda for a first meeting: meet each other, find out what people would like the network/society to do (e.g. for social events, career events, both or something else).