Postdoc Town Hall 3/22/16: Notes

Notes from the Postdoc Town Hall are below. The presentation by Chelsea Stillman, UPPDA Advocacy Chair can be found here.

Meeting Notes Postdoc Town Hall - 3/22/16


I. Intro by Chelsea Stillman, UPPDA Advocacy Chair:

·      Format/ground rules for Town Hall

·      Introduction to UPPDA

·      Relationship between UPPDA and OACD (OACD a valuable resource/liaison to Pitt higher-level administration)

o   Event attended by Darlene Zellars (Director, OACD) and Stephanie Hoogendoorn (Office of Provost)

·      Focus areas/Upcoming events:

o   Advocacy - Salary issues (NIH standard vs. Pitt policy); FLSA Act updates (currently in Congress); will lay low on this major issue until we see how FLSA plays out.

o   Career paths- trend for more PhDs awarded vs. faculty positions available; several major upcoming career-development events (Judy Cameron talk, Data Blitz, Data & Dine); see emails or pdf of slides for dates

o   Social/Networking- upcoming bowling, happy hour events (dates TBD)

o   International-upcoming international faculty panel event (date TBD)

o   Outreach-outreach/volunteer opportunities on website under Resources > Outreach tab


II. Group Discussion: Participants asked to write down issues related to several starter questions on index cards; also presented a list of issues generated from postdocs who had emailed us prior to event. Below are some examples of topics discussed:


·      Benefits available to postdocs: fringe benefit calculations - PDAs get health care, paid sick days, etc. - that are a certain percentage of our salary; postdocs have the same fringe calculation as staff, though we’re not considered staff (and they get paid more); staff also get additional benefits like short term and long term disability and also matched retirement. Based on this info, we feel it’s reasonable to advocate for postdocs to have the same benefits as staff since we have the same fringe rate.


·      Advocacy Committee working on a proposal to: (1) extend parental leave (currently 4 weeks paid for Pitt postdocs; NIH standard is 8 weeks paid); (2) Have postdoc benefits match those of staff in terms of short-term disability and retirement matching. And (3) bring minimum salaries up to NIH standard (*waiting for news about FLSA for this one). These things are all done by our peer institutions, putting Pitt at a disadvantage.


·      Lack of stability being on one-year contracts, it would be nice to have some security (e.g., with retirement, unemployment benefits).

o   Postdoc Associates ARE eligible to apply for unemployment (same as every Pitt employee); same for worker’s comp, COBRA -- this information is under “Benefits” tab on OACD page


·      Not a lot of non-academic opportunities for postdocs (e.g., industry, government); would like to know more about these types of jobs in the form of UPPDA-sponsored events (e.g., panels on Institutional/government research). Also, would like to see more junior faculty on UPPDA-sponsored panels.


·      Lack of clarity on postdoc salary/raise policies: In the Health Sciences, your PI CAN raise you up to NIH standard based on your level of experience, regardless of how big of a raise this would be from your current salary -- Dept. Chairs/administrators aren’t supposed to be able to cap salary but often do so; self-advocacy is important because most departments aren’t aware of the policies.

o   UPPDA and OACD now have link on their website regarding the salary/raise policies for postdocs in and outside of Health Sciences. This info is now easily accessible and more clearly written. Hopefully this can be used as a negotiation resource for postdocs.


·      How to recruit more people to engage in things, like the postdoc survey?

o   Make them shorter and very direct.

o   Multiple rounds of shorter surveys rather than one lengthy one

o   Reach out to the departments to ask them to advertise UPPDA/OACD (and our resources) on their websites as well to increase exposure to materials that are available


·      Holding PIs accountable for being good mentors - difficult power struggle; OACD hosts workshop on maximizing trainee-mentor relationships, but it is not well-attended; IDP can help - show them the document and discuess


·      Information about taxes, insurance would be helpful - tshough the University cannot give tax advice, we could point postdocs in the direction of resources/guidelines for taxes


·      Contact faculty records for signing up for classes; again under the benefits tab on OACD website