Careers to support the postdoc community

9/20/2018 1:17:59 PM

This week, the ASBMB celebrated National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week to recognize the important contributions of our talented postdoc members to advancing science.  

We feel one of the best ways to appreciate the talents of postdocs everywhere is to advocate year-round on issues that will improve the postdoc experience. As a prime example, the Public Affairs Advisory Committee and staff has contributed to work aimed at standardizing the job titles of postdoctoral researchers to ensure equitable pay and benefits.    

There also is a strong network of professionals advocating for postdocs at research institutions and nonprofit organizations across the country. And, if you’re passionate about helping postdocs succeed, you may be interested in following in their footsteps to a related career.  

In general, there are two types of postdoc support roles at institutions: postdoctoral affairs positions, which have administrative duties in setting polices and direction, and career services positions, which focus on professional development and training. For this week, we reached out to professionals in these areas to find out more on how to find such jobs.  

Thalyana Stathis, manager of the Office of Career and Professional Development at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, points out that postdoc support positions are becoming more prevalent and increasingly recognized in importance, but there likely would not be more than one position at any given institution. In other words, you may need to cast a wide net during your job search and be willing to relocate.  

In terms of qualifications for these types of positions, Sina Safayi, assistant dean for professional development and career planning at Emory University, says there are two general approaches to setting education requirements and the approach varies by institution. Some hire only candidates with Ph.D.s. In some cases, a Ph.D. is not necessary but a relevant academic background (e.g., counseling, organizational development, higher education) will be required. He further advises job seekers with Ph.D.s to look for positions that will put their advanced training to good use.  

Bill Lindstaedt, assistant vice chancellor for career advancement, international and postdoctoral services at the University of California–San Francisco, emphasizes that each person UCSF has hired in a postdoc support role also had experience working directly with trainees. This included significant college-level teaching experience, a leadership role in a postdoc or grad student organization, or relevant internship or volunteer work. “From my perspective,” he said, “the best thing a postdoc could do, if they want to start a career in postdoctoral services or career services, is reach out to their existing campus services and get directly involved!”    

Everyone agreed that hands-on experience organizing professional- and career-development activities is a necessary prerequisite for this career. This can be done by volunteering with local and national postdoc or Ph.D. career-development organizations or relevant campus offices.  

At the national level, the Graduate Career Consortium and National Postdoctoral Association were the two organizations most mentioned. These organizations also have job boards and other related career resources. (Note: Remember that the ASBMB early-career membership comes with a complimentary one-year NPA membership as well, which makes it easier to get involved!)  

Advocacy is another important skill set for this career route. Safayi said that people interested in working in postdoc affairs must be very passionate about what they do and learn how to navigate the political landscape of working within an administrative structure to advocate for postdoctoral resources and support. Volunteering with postdoc advocacy groups like Future of Research is a good way to learn these skills. Additionally, the ASBMB’s PAAC provides opportunities to get involved with advocacy campaigns.  

Erica Gobrogge, postdoctoral affairs specialist at the Van Andel Institute and former ASBMB education and professional development manager, also mentioned working with committees of science societies, such as the American Society for Cell Biology’s Compass committee, which enables early-career scientists to get involved with both advocacy and career-development activities. Also, see this previous blog post on volunteering in the sciences that features more advice from Gobrogge.  

In addition to skills development, volunteering also puts you in contact with a whole network of professionals who can provide career advice and may know of upcoming job opportunities. Stathis mentioned that the leaders within professional volunteer organizations may be hiring and/or know about positions via word-of-mouth.  

Gobrogge echoes this advice: “The Ph.D. career- and professional-development community is extremely welcoming and helpful. Many of the GCC members are on Twitter, and all of the ones I met would be happy to talk to someone interested in this career path and provide advice. Networking really helps in this field.”  

Tracy Costello, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Moffitt Cancer Center and board chair of the National Postdoctoral Association, shared this sentiment and noted that networking may be the best way to get into this field. For example, she actively connects qualified candidates with open job searches that she is alerted to from colleagues. Overall, she advised in a recent tweet, “Volunteer for an organization that mirrors your values. As a postdoc, I was involved as a leader in my local [postdoctoral association], but I also became involved at the national level with the [National Postdoctoral Association]. That volunteer experience led me to my current career and I couldn’t be happier!”  

On a side note, there may be opportunities to get paid experience as well. As Lindstaedt pointed out, the UCSF’s Office of Career and Professional Development offers paid internships for postdocs and students to get more experience in program design and evaluation. Also, Gobrogge said that she periodically sees postdoctoral training fellowships in career development advertised. See the weekly jobs roundup for an example of such an opportunity.


Weekly jobs roundup  

We searched for current openings in postdoctoral affairs and career services on a number of generic (e.g., SimplyHired) and academic-focused (e.g., HERC Jobs) job boards, using combinations of keywords that included “postdoctoral/postdoc” and “professional development” or “program manager/coordinator.” Costello also recommends using search terms related to “manager/director” and “postdoc affairs, “career development,” or “student affairs” to find relevant results. Here is a quick roundup of jobs that we found. Jobs were not limited to academia and included the government research and nonprofit sectors as well.

  • The Indiana University School of Medicine is in search of a director for the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs to oversee all administrative functions that include career and professional development programming and advocating for the postdoc community on the medical campus. Minimum qualifications include a Ph.D. degree and postdoctoral experience. No application deadline is provided. (Note: I reached out to the contact listed in the posting who quickly responded that this position is still accepting applications. Plus, they are very enthusiastic to connect with qualified candidates.)  
  • The University of California–San Diego is hiring a career and professional development program manager with lead responsibility for postdoctoral education and training needs. The job qualifications listed are focused on the applicant having relevant experience in areas such as adult learning theories, program development and postdoctoral training. The application deadline has been extended to Sept. 20; however, the posting states the position is open until filled.  
  • North Carolina State University is recruiting for a postdoctoral affairs program manager to coordinate the development and administration of services to enhance the postdoc experience at the university. Minimum qualifications include a master’s degree in the STEM fields and experience with career advising and professional development programming. No application deadline is provided, but the proposed hire date is Oct. 1.  
  • There are two opportunities to work on an NIH-funded project to develop an online professional development training course for postdoctoral researchers called the Postdoc Academy, along with other training materials. The project is a collaboration among Boston University, Northwestern University and other affiliates. BU is hiring a program manager (application deadline is Oct. 15) and Northwestern for a postdoctoral fellow (the priority application deadline was Sept. 15 but applications are accepted on a rolling basis) to support the project. See the postings for details on qualifications.  
  • The government contractor Medical Science & Computing (Bethesda, Md.) is seeking a postdoctoral and visiting fellow program coordinator to support the National Institutes of Health. Tasks include research participant recruitment and onboarding and coordinating professional development training for postdocs. Minimum qualifications include a master’s or Ph.D. degree and five years of related experience. No application deadline is provided.  
  • The New York Academy of Sciences has an opening for an associate director of the Science Alliance program, which provides career advancement opportunities for early-career scientists from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels. The incumbent will implement programs and events for grad students and postdocs, grow its network of institutional members and create sustainable funding avenues. Minimum qualifications include a Ph.D. in the sciences and one to two years of program management experience.  

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Author’s note: A sincere note of gratitude to the contributors for this post. I received such a positive response and everyone was so willing to provide advice, which demonstrates how supportive this community of professionals really is. And, for even more relevant advice about careers in career development, check out this recent article in Science that also features Costello.


Donna Kridelbaugh is a contributor to the ASBMB Careers Blog. She holds an advanced degree in microbiology and is a former lab manager.   

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