One year in the books
Amazingly, today marks the one-year anniversary of my arrival at Michigan State University. The past year has been a whirlwind of projects and relationship-building, and while there remains much to be built, we have made a fair amount of progress towards our goals. Postdocs at MSU have been supported for many years by the Graduate School, and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs was not created from nothingness (footnote: if anything, it was created much in the way that the bible describes the creation of Eve—from one of the ribs of Adam, although in this case, it would be Tony’s rib).
When I arrived, there was a strong Postdoctoral Association (MSU-PDA), which managed and updated a listserv and distributed weekly updates for news and events such as the professional development opportunities coordinated by the PDA and Grad School. Michigan State was heavily involved in the creation of the Postdoc Academy, which has delivered a structure and framework for postdoctoral success in a broader reach than any other program I’ve seen. Groups around campus had already initiated programs to attract and recruit postdocs from underrepresented backgrounds, such as the Dean’s Postdoctoral program in the College of Social Sciences. There were also ongoing movements around campus to address the issue of unequal benefits for postdocs on individual fellowships vs those seen as employees. These areas are all being addressed, and I have provided assistance wherever I could to share the load.
Some of the priorities I identified early on are still priorities today. Relationship building is a slow process, and I have been getting to know the very different needs of the individual postdocs and faculty throughout our many colleges and departments and locations. I have wanted to make it easier to attract external funding for our postdocs and bring top talent to MSU by providing an outstanding environment to enable their success. Some of the problems in our ability to do this are tied to regulations and rules that are handed down from external sources, and those are the most difficult to navigate. We have dealt with crises as they arose, including the many issues tied to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
For our current postdocs, I have been coordinating a variety of initiatives to help organize and support their work. We have monthly orientations for postdocs that introduce our postdocs to resources at MSU and offer some pointers on structuring their work. We have an evolving website that highlights some of the same information found in the orientations. The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs offers advising for individual postdocs and faculty to help resolve issues and find solutions to a variety of problems. We have a Microsoft Teams group for MSU Postdocs that highlights opportunities and allows for some community building, and a new Teams group for administrative staff who process postdoctoral appointments. We have invested in some new programs that will bring more opportunities to focus on transferrable and professional skills. We have worked on bringing events and awards to acknowledge the hard work of our postdocs in areas of research, teaching and mentoring.
There are still areas I see that need improvements. I want to find more ways to engage with the community and deliver relevant information. I want to make sure our policies and opportunities are more clearly defined and communicated. I want to keep increasing the attractiveness and competitiveness of MSU as a place where postdocs can gain the necessary skills to launch their independent careers. Given this past year of successes and support from university leadership, I am optimistic that we can keep making outstanding progress and continue to strengthen our outstanding programs.