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Building relationships with postdocs

By Kelly Foss | April 15, 2009

Memorial University is reaching out a welcoming hand to its postdoctoral fellows. With about 45 people taking up such positions across campus, Dr. Faye Murrin, associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies, says in the past the group has often fallen through the cracks and that’s something the university is hoping to change.

A postdoctoral fellowship is an academic or scholarly research position held by a person who has recently completed his or her doctoral studies. According to the Canadian Association for Postdoctoral Scholars (postdoctoral fellows) are a critical piece in the framework of research that is done at research focused academic institutions in Canada and around the globe.

Postdocs have become a hot topic nationally. There are legal issues surrounding their employment status and the university is currently awaiting a decision from the Canadian Revenue Agency that would address taxation concerns.

“It’s interesting because they’re neither fish nor fowl, neither students nor employees,” said Dr. Murrin. “So the question is what are they? In reality they fall somewhere in between. At Memorial we state in our guidelines that postdoctoral fellows are trainees and not employees of the university. However their status varies across the country.”

The School of Graduate Studies is hoping to address some of the other questions surrounding postdoctoral appointments at Memorial with a review of the university’s current guidelines and policies.

Postdoctoral fellows are very important to Memorial,” said Dr. Murrin. “They contribute so much because they’re highly trained, motivated and focused. It’s looked at by some as the best time of their career because they can concentrate on research.

“It’s important that their supervisors and the labs they work in treat them well and that the work is exciting and gives them lots to do,” she added. “But it’s also important to make sure they feel welcome here at the university. We need to show them how much we appreciate their efforts and recognize how much they contribute to our research and teaching.”

Recently, postdoctoral fellows were treated to a luncheon sponsored by Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president of Research, and Dr. Noreen Golfman, dean of the School of Graduate Studies. Dr. Murrin says the lunch was an opportunity for everyone to get to know one another better and give the researchers the chance to raise issues of importance.

“We haven’t had regular meetings with postdocs before, so this luncheon was our first opportunity to get feedback from them,” said Dr. Murrin. “Approximately three quarters of the university’s post docs attended and that is a wonderful response. It certainly shows how much interest there is.”

Dr. Liam Herringshaw, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences, attended the event.

"It was very enjoyable and informative, and really good to meet many of Memorial’s other postdocs," he said. "During the lunch, I was interested to hear the discussion about postdoctoral status in Canada. I’ve only been in St. John’s since January, having previously been a PhD student and then postdoc in the U.K."

The School of Graduate Studies has also added a new area on their website strictly for postdoctoral fellows like Dr. Herringshaw, and has created a directory to help the researchers link with one another.

“We want them to feel welcome and at home, but we also want to open doors for them,” said Dr. Murrin. “We want to offer them access to some exisiting professional development opportunities and develop some specifically for them. The more we can do for our post-docs, the better reputation we will have so more of these valuable folks will be interested in coming here and contributing to the university."