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Professionalizing the Postdoctoral Experience

A forum to be held at the Sigma Xi Center January 13-14, 2006

Summary of the Forum Professionalizing the Postdoc Experience:
PDF available here.

Data from the Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey suggests that administrative oversight and structured training can significantly enhance the quality of postdoctoral experiences and may bring about increased research productivity. Sigma Xi, in partnership with the National Postdoctoral Association, will host a forum entitled “Professionalizing the Postdoctoral Experience” in January 2006 to promote action on these findings at institutions that employ postdocs.

Workshop participants will discuss the main findings of the Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey and then work together to address them. The workshop will be devoted to (1) case studies about developing and implementing effective postdoc-related policies, (2) case studies about effective training workshops / materials / ideas, and (3) case studies about particularly vulnerable populations, such as underrepresented minorities, women, and international citizens, and (4) working to develop a set of baseline basic administrative documents for use by organizations employing postdocs. The workshop will be designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas and materials and to foster networking between postdocs, postdoc office personnel, funders of postdocs, and policy makers. Participants should come away from the meeting with a better understanding of the survey results at their own institutions, a set of baseline policy documents that can be used in developing their own local policies, a set of training materials from other institutions, and insight into how to get training and policies implemented.


1) Baseline policy documents We are planning a set of small group workshops in which participants come to (rough) consensus on a set of principles that should be embodied in basic postdoc policy documents (e.g., strategies for recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities and women, forms for individual development plans, regular evaluations, exit surveys, letters of appointment, authorship policies, and so on). We will then have a team of writers distill the consensus principles into a set of baseline policy documents. Participants will have the opportunity to revise and refine these documents. The goal is, by the end of the workshop, to have a set of documents that can serve as a starting point for institutions that have not yet implemented postdoc-specific policies. The documents may also offer ideas for improving existing documents at institutions that already have implemented such policies.

2) A repository of training resources As part of a separate initiative, we will be developing an online repository for sharing postdoc policy documents and training materials. We will use part of the workshop to populate that repository with content from participating institutions. The 2-day forum will include plenary presentations, working sessions on designated topics, poster presentations, and networking activities. The Sigma Xi Center in Research Triangle Park will host the event.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation are funding the forum.