Postdoctoral fellows seek career services

Postdocs don’t have access to career guidance in their nonstudent status.

Benjamin Farniok

At the University of Minnesota, postdoctoral fellows and associates have trouble accessing career services, which provide students with resume critiques and mock interviews. 
 
But school officials said postdocs — people who do research and teach after completing a Ph.D. — don’t receive those services because of their status as employees instead of students.
 
Geoffrey Rojas, president of the University’s Postdoctoral Association, said the group has received multiple complaints from postdocs from various University 
departments.
 
“The rationale they are using on the topic is that they don’t have the resources to [provide career services to postdocs],” he said.
 
There are nearly 800 postdocs at the University. Rojas said resource coverage should be expanded because of the relatively small number. 
 
Xaiofei Zhang, a research associate in the agronomy department, said he went to the career center on the St. Paul campus to get his curriculum vitae and cover letter revised for two job applications.
 
Once he arrived at the center, he said he was kept outside before eventually being told the service is only for students. He said the center appeared to be empty, and they could have helped him with his documents.
 
“When I got there, there was nobody there,” he said, “They definitely had time.”
 
Zhang said he sent a message to the PDA after the exchange and turned to a coworker and staff from the Graduate School for assistance.
 
The Senate Faculty Affairs Committee is looking into re-adjusting its charter to more explicitly state its support for postdocs, who are not represented by a senate 
committee.
 
An emailed statement from the Graduate School said it occasionally reviews professional documents, but it is not a service generally provided to postdocs or graduate 
students.
 
The Graduate School does not have a distinct career services program, like the College of Liberal Arts or the College of Biological Sciences.
 
Still, the Graduate School does offer services benefitting postdocs, like job fairs and workshops.
 
Ongoing problems
 
Postdocs have problems getting their voices heard due to the fleeting nature of their time at the school, said Scott Lanyon, head of the SCFA.
 
“We may have put them in a three-year position, but we really hope they get a job offer elsewhere within a year or so, and they can be gone,” he said. “It’s really hard to have continuity.”
 
Earlier this semester, the PDA started campaigning to get postdocs access to the U-Pass system after it had been revoked. The change was due to an update to the job classification system.
 
The issue sparked a movement for greater involvement in student government, so postdocs have more input on policy.
 
While postdocs are not students, they’re also different from faculty or staff members, Lanyon said.
 
Support could include adding an additional postdoc to the panel to give them a stronger voice, he said.
 
“These kind of issues will probably always come up,” Lanyon said, ”so we shouldn’t be unhappy when we run into them, but we need to find a way to fix it.”