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Supporting Minority Postdocs

Nearly 50 years ago, the National Academies described postdocs as the “invisible university,” because their contributions to cutting-edge research often went unrecognized. Or, as Adam Ruben bluntly describes it in Science: the postdoc is “a time-honored tradition of academics, research, and stagnant purgatorial nonprogression.”

Although the postdoctoral experience has improved quite a bit from years past, it’s still considered a particularly tough period in the journey from graduate school to the professoriate. And it’s even tougher for minority, low-income, and first-generation students, who face unique barriers to obtaining a postdoc, surviving the experience (with its characteristically long hours and low pay), and translating it into a tenure-track faculty job.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to recent NSF data, only about 8 percent of postdoctoral scholars in STEM fields were from underrepresented backgrounds (defined as Blacks, Latino/as, and American Indians/Alaska Natives). The picture is even bleaker at the faculty level: a 2007 study found that only slightly more than 2 percent of all STEM faculty were from underrepresented backgrounds. It’s clear that despite investment in diversity policies and programs, our nation’s scientific research workforce remains predominantly white (and, in some STEM disciplines, male).

If we want to improve faculty diversity, we must examine the postdoctoral experience. Unfortunately, there is very little data on minority postdocs and the challenges they face.

On Tuesday, April 18, from 1:00-2:00pm Eastern Time, the USU/APLU will hold a webinar on supporting minority postdocs (register here). During this webinar, we will explore known barriers to minority postdoc success as well as the efficacy of national programs designed to advance them to the professoriate (such as NIH IRACDA). Speakers will also highlight successful regional programs, such as the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity. We’ll conclude with a proposed action item to evaluate the impact of diversity programs on postdoctoral scholars, in collaboration with national stakeholders.

The speakers include:

  1. Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, Ph.D., Director of Postdoctoral Affairs, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  2. Kathleen Flint Ehm, Ph.D., Director, Office for the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development and Director, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Stony Brook University

  3. Jessica Faupel-Badger, Ph.D., Director, NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program, National Institutes of Health

  4. Frances Leslie, Ph.D., Vice Provost and Dean, Graduate Division, University of California, Irvine

Anyone who is interested in the success of minority graduate students and faculty in STEM fields will find the webinar of value, including university leaders and administrators, deans, academic affairs staff, diversity professionals, and faculty themselves.

We hope you will join us on April 18, and look forward to a robust discussion around improving minority postdoc success.


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