Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

Annual Report 2020-21 | Special Issue

Year-at-a-Glance

February 2020 to January 2021

Big Ten Academic Alliance Postdoc Offices Group

Our Mission

Reporting to the Office of the Executive Vice president for Academic Affairs, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs supports postdoctoral researchers and their faculty mentors by providing a central hub for professional development, resource distribution, knowledge sharing, and community building.

About Us

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) helps our nearly 740 postdocs make the most of their time at Rutgers by providing central coordination of information and opportunities relevant to the universitywide postdoctoral community.

Specifically, we act as the main contact for postdocs, host career development workshops and other professional development activities, offer individual career advising sessions and help postdocs build community and expand their professional networks, starting internally, by creating opportunities for postdocs to connect with their peers and faculty across the university.

Team Values

The year 2020 presented everyone with enormous challenges as we battled a global pandemic and were forced to reckon with social injustices that continue to plague our society. During this most challenging year— which significantly impacted our sense of well-being—we saw an opportunity to come together as a team and reflect on our values and unique contributions, to empower ourselves and help us to propel forward more intentionally. Through the development of our Team Values, we were able to reflect on our practices and lean on our collective values and strengths to better serve our postdoctoral community, particularly through these challenging times.

Team Diversity Statement

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs values the richness of a diverse and inclusive community, and we believe this is the main element of innovation and excellence. To reinforce this commitment, our team prepared a Diversity Statement that reflects our collective core values and our dedication to modeling inclusivity and respect across our teams, committees, and the communities we serve.

Responding to COVID-19

In March 2020, as the world faced an unprecedented public health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership of Rutgers University, prioritizing the safety of our community, made the decision to suspend all in-person activities on campus. Our office immediately responded by creating a series of initiatives and by adjusting most of our programming to a virtual space. We refocused our events to prioritize and welcome discussion around self-care, wellness and mental health, and building a sense of community. These initiatives and accomplishments are listed below.

Initiatives & Accomplishments

COVID-19 Special Message

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs team drafted a special message expressing our solidarity with our postdoc community and sharing tips to help them navigate this unprecedented challenge. The special message was widely distributed and posted on our homepage.

NIH Conference Train the Trainer

In July 2020, the OPA team participated in the NIH’s Office of Intramural Training & Education Virtual Train-the-Trainer 3-day program which focused on promoting the mental health, wellness, and resiliency of the biomedical research community. The multi-day event provided postdoc office and graduate program administrators, as well as faculty advisors, valuable tools and strategies for supporting trainees through common challenges they face that may hinder their success as scientists. Navigating the stressors of a pandemic and other current events this past year was a common theme, and participants were able to better equip themselves to support their trainees’ well-being. The program also offered opportunities for small group discussions among faculty and administrators on a variety of issues affecting graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Other topics covered during the 3-day program included career advising for trainees and self-care strategies for administrators.

Mental Health and Wellness Page


The OPA created a Mental Health and Wellness webpage to help disburse relevant information and resources to postdocs struggling with their wellness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The page provides resources specific to Rutgers, such as internal counseling services and mindfulness meditation workshops led by some of our professionals. The webpage also houses external resources like helplines, mental health apps, downloadable content, and local and federal resources.


Postdoc Peer Support Network

From August to October 2020, the OPA led a new initiative titled the Postdoc Peer Support Network, a virtual group for postdocs across the university to make connections and friends, share resources, and provide one another with support and advice specific to postdoctoral researchers. Postdocs had once-monthly open-forum discussions centered around Gratitude and Finding Joy, Work/Life Balance, and Transitioning Back to Campus. The last session consisted of a Stress Management workshop facilitated by Marianne Kunze from Rutgers Faculty and Staff Counseling.

Slack

The OPA created a Slack workspace for postdocs university-wide. The workspace is a safe place for postdocs to foster connections, collaborations, and friendships in response to feelings of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We now have nearly 140 postdocs on our workspace, connecting over 12 channels such as Writing Accountability, Social, Collaboration, and Advice.

Special Communication


In addition to a special communication to faculty mentors regarding recommendations for managing postdoc remote work and telecommuting, the OPA worked with the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research and Economic to ensure the Rutgers postdoctoral community was in receipt of important announcements related to time-sensitive COVID-19 Continuity of Research and NIH Mentoring Plan updates.


Needs Assessment Survey

In May 2020, the OPA launched a needs assessment survey to identify the top professional and career development needs of Rutgers postdocs in order to provide more targeted career development opportunities that reflect the needs of Rutgers postdocs. A total of 136 postdocs completed the survey. It revealed a high interest in networking opportunities, connecting as a community, and developing their management, mentoring, and writing skills. During the Fall semester, we offered events and opportunities covering these topics.


FAQs for International Postdocs


In partnership with Rutgers Global-International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), the OPA recently developed FAQs tailored specifically for our international postdoctoral scholars. We recognize the complex needs and challenges faced by our international postdocs—which represent 50% of our postdoc community—particularly during these times of uncertainty. The FAQs address issues pertaining to visas, travel, onboarding, and other pertinent topics. We look forward to further enhancing our available resources to better serve international postdocs and their faculty advisors. Please check out the FAQs for International Postdocs to learn more.


2019 NSF NIH Data Collection

In January 2020, the OPA committed to collecting and reporting postdoc data for the 2019 NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS). The results of these surveys are used to assess national shifts in postdoctoral appointments and trends in financial support.

Moving Forward

As we move forward, we recognize the need to embrace the challenges that lie ahead as we continue to recover and repair from the various devastating personal and professional impacts of COVID-19 on us all, and on the postdoctoral community in particular. Internally, we are committed to converting current and future obstacles into gifts and opportunities for postdocs, especially in the forms of providing increased psychosocial support, faculty mentoring for advanced postdocs, customized orientations for new postdocs in the humanities, and creating a more formal partnership with the School of Graduate Studies to offer academic career development opportunities for graduate students interested in pursuing postdoctoral training. Beyond Rutgers, we will maintain our commitment to formalizing a new Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) group of postdoc office directors to leverage best practices and resource-sharing across universities in the network.

Rutgers' Universitywide Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA)