Postdocs play key role in university success

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Given the wide variety of roles they play across colleges and departments, there’s little debate about the value postdoctoral appointees add to Washington State University.

From important lab work and data collection to evaluating research, teaching and offering diverse perspectives on scholarship, postdocs enrich the academic environment and advance WSU’s land grant mission.

“Postdocs bring so much value to me in developing a strong program of research,” says Sola Adesope, Boeing distinguished professor of STEM education and educational psychology. “It’s a symbiotic relationship that is great for advancement of our scholarship, and great for (the postdoc’s) scholarship too, as they get mentorship and start thinking about landing tenure track positions of their own.”

In reporting to the National Science Foundation, WSU recorded 181 postdoctoral fellows or appointees in 2018, though that number does not capture the full picture as not all colleges and programs are counted.

A key Drive to 25 metric that has moved in a positive direction over the past five years, postdoc appointees indicate a healthy research enterprise and academic reputation. Postdocs are also usually inclined to work with faculty whose research resonates in their respective field.

“Having an increasing number of postdocs shows that we are serious about our research,” Adesope says.

Courtney Kurinec began working as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology earlier this year with professors John Hinson and Paul Whitney. She’s a member of the WSU Postdoctoral and Research Professional Association, which currently has about 35 members. The group holds events and shares information about funding opportunities and professional development, but Kurinec says more could be done to create a supportive environment.

“We have our group, but there’s not really a sense of community among postdocs,” Kurinec says. “We’re not faculty and we’re not students so we’re not always sure what’s available to us.”

Faculty Senate is working to refine postdoc titles and roles, so that WSU can better support them and facilitate further engagement. Steve Hines, associate dean for teaching and learning in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Affairs committee, is involved in the effort to organize and bolster postdocs. It’s an ongoing discussion, but one that is vital as WSU carries out its mission.

“Postdocs are often well-trained, very independent, very focused and they can drive research programs,” Hines says. “They can be tremendously impactful for our University.”

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