Did you know that it’s National Postdoc Appreciation Week? Probably not, if I had to guess from the lack of mention on various social media, but it’s a real thing– in 2010, the House of Representatives even passed H. Res. 1545, officially recognizing the event. Postdocs, do you feel appreciated?
I haven’t been a postdoc long enough to have encountered anything other than the benefits, but when I interviewed for several positions, I talked to a number of postdocs about what their experiences were like. Common themes– at a range of R1 institutions, public and private– were isolation, and a sense of falling through the cracks. Postdocs aren’t grad students, and they’re not really staff, and they’re not faculty. They’re often not represented in unions, or explicitly acknowledged as members of departments. Compared with grad school, there’s more money, but not as much free food. It’s difficult to get added to list-servs and websites, and postdocs are often overlooked when it comes to invitations to department events.
If you’re an undergrad or a graduate student, I urge you to network with the postdocs in your lab. At UW Madison, the postdocs in my lab were an amazing resource, as well as good friends. They helped me with mentoring questions, gave feedback on job applications and talks, and were basically my own private R tutorial in a box (no, really, our office had no windows). They’ll likely be some of my first collaborators. During the incredibly isolating experience of finishing my dissertation, it wasn’t my fellow grad students who were the most sympathetic and supportive– it was the postdocs, who had just been there themselves.
I say this not to encourage everyone to take advantage (in the exploitative sense) of the already overworked and underappreciated postdocs in your lab, but to highlight the fact that they do so much invisible work, beyond the seminar organizing and researching and publishing and job searching they’re already doing. I wish I’d done a lot more to show my lab’s postdocs how very much I appreciated them.
Is your lab doing anything to celebrate National Postdoc Appreciation Week? Consider bringing cupcakes, a growler of good beer, or some flowers to lab meeting, to show your appreciation (I don’t actually recommend hugging your postdoc, unless it’s something you’ve done before!). Undergrads, pitch in a couple of dollars each and take your postdoc out to lunch– you’ll probably even learn something! Make sure your postdoc is on the department website and e-mail lists. Ask them if there’s anything they need– even something as simple as server space, a bookshelf, or a better office chair.
It may not be much, or as much as they deserve, but it’s a start. Happy Postdoc Appreciation Week to all the postdocs, and the labs who love them.