Center Established to Support Postdoctoral Trainees in the Health Sciences

Issue Date: 
November 21, 2011

An innovative guidance center has been created to help postdoctoral trainees at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences receive regular evaluation from their faculty supervisors as well as develop and achieve their career goals.

The Center for Postdoctoral Affairs in the Health Sciences was established Oct. 1 within the Office of Academic Career Development, Health Sciences. The new center is directed by Darlene F. Zellers, who also was appointed associate dean of postdoctoral affairs in the School of Medicine.

A postdoctoral appointment provides recent PhD graduates with opportunities to continue developing their research skills while working under the supervision of senior research faculty members. These new postdoctoral trainees, usually called postdocs, can make significant contributions in a university setting, including discovering new knowledge and providing research guidance to graduate and undergraduate students.

Pitt’s Health Sciences’ postdocs will have three months to develop a career-development plan with their faculty supervisor, and will have a formal evaluation after nine months as part of the process of renewing the position. Trainees who are already in the program will enter the goal-setting and evaluation procedure at the time of renewal, so everyone will be in the new system within a year, Zellers said. As of the end of September, there were more than 650 postdocs in the health sciences, and 90 percent of them are in the School of Medicine.

“Postdocs are somewhat in limbo between student life and the workplace,” Zellers noted. “This center is intended to serve as a human resources office that will manage administration and payroll, but also will address career development, including building skills for jobs in sectors other than the academic community.”

Some experts predict that fewer than 30 percent of postdocs will find work in academic settings, which means the majority must consider a future in industry, government, or another field, Zellers said. Those prospects must be taken into account when structuring a postdoc’s training experience.

The center will also assist faculty members in implementing evaluation strategies to provide constructive feedback using a new, standardized format called the Postdoctoral Progress Assessment—which will assess core competencies and progress toward stated goals, and provide conflict resolution when required. Postdocs will have a mentoring team that will include two faculty members or professionals in addition to the supervising faculty member, and the option of developing a plan for an independent research project. An advisory committee also has been established for ongoing oversight of postdoctoral affairs in the health sciences.

“We have very talented early career investigators in our postdoc community, and this focused effort to support their career aspirations will attract other promising trainees to the University,” Zellers said.

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).