Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience

The Office of Academic Affairs and the Department of Trainee and Alumni Affairs at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have taken a proactive position, as appropriate for a leading research institution and the 25th largest postdoctoral training site in the United States, to enhance the postdoctoral research training experience.

Stipends, Monetary Opportunities, Special Fellowship and Award Programs

Over the past five years:

  • We have established a mandatory minimum salary for postdoctoral research fellows, tied to the NIH NRSA minimum salary PGY-0, and have ensured that the fringe benefits are competitive and that research fellows have access to all institutional services including retirement savings plans and health insurance
  • We have established the Odyssey Program, which is a nationally competitive, endowed fellowship program for postdoctoral research fellows and scholars
  • We have established the Altana Pharma Award, a competitive award for a current postdoctoral fellow who has first-authored and published an outstanding research article in a peer-reviewed journal
  • We have encouraged and helped our faculty pursue external review of the quality of our research training environment and currently have 66 competitively funded training and education grants awarded to our institution
  • We have sought donor funding and now award approximately 10 donor-specific monetary fellowship awards annually
  • We have established a special task force to review and create greater accessibility to funding and grant-writing opportunities for all postdoctoral fellows
  • We have established a formal Trainee Recognition Day and Research Exposition wherein all trainees’ research can be displayed in poster presentations and is eligible to be judged and awarded institutional and financial recognition for excellence
  • We have established a Trainee Excellence Award Program wherein 12 awards are given annually in the amount of $500 each for abstracts presented at scientific or medical society meetings
  • We have created a Web page where internal and external funding opportunities are listed
  • We have established an agreement with a residential and apartment leasing firm to provide cost-free travel to and assistance with finding appropriate housing
This agreement also extends to assistance for international trainees prior to their arrival.
  • We have established a mechanism for providing internal short-term, no-interest loans for trainees faced with an emergency funding issue at first arrival
  • We have negotiated an agreement with Parking Services and received approval through the Parking Advisory Committee to allow half-price after-hour parking fees

Extra-Curricular Career Development

  • We have established a maximum term for postdoctoral research training at MD Anderson
  • We will continue to formally survey the postdoctoral community to solicit input on postdoctoral career development needs
The Faculty Development Office and the Department of Trainee and Alumni Affairs have added significant career development seminar opportunities, including the Scientific Excellence Series and the Lunch and Learn Series, based on trainee input.
  • We have established a Web discussion board whereby postdoctoral fellows can communicate on-line with each other and administrators.
  • We have presented to and await review from the Postdoctoral Fellows Advisory Committee a new assessment tool that will encourage dialogue between the mentor and the postdoctoral fellow, providing the following:
    • A means to evaluate the short- and long-term goals of the postdoctoral fellow throughout the postdoctoral appointment
    • A sample plan that recommends a structured career development curriculum
    • The opportunity for the fellow to experience a similar evaluation tool that faculty must complete for their reviews, thus training the fellow for a potential junior faculty review
  • We have created a postdoctoral positions database, a centralized listing of postdoctoral positions throughout the institution
  • We have established relationships with other postdoctoral associations within the Texas Medical Center (TMC) and have plans to collaborate bi-annually on the TMC-wide career day for Ph.D.s in Biomedical Sciences
  • We have a task force which is exploring the needs of trainees as they relate to writing and have already offered many excellent writing courses
  • We have budgeted for and have planned to offer a six-hour ESL writing series

Councils, Committees, Staff Support, Communication Forums

  • We have included the importance of educational trainees and their educational experience in the MD Anderson Mission Statement
  • We have revitalized the Postdoctoral Association (PDA) and have continued to provide staff assistance for this effort by providing a PDA budget, which allows funding for career development seminars, travel to national PDA meetings and social events
  • We have created Fast Track Orientation and Common Exchanges, orientations and quarterly forums for fellows to discuss concerns and share ideas with faculty and administrators from all institutional areas
  • We are planning a Trainee of the Month initiative to begin in spring 2006 wherein outstanding trainees will be identified and acknowledged
  • We have hired additional staff to assist with postdoctoral fellow programs, including establishment of an associate vice president for academic affairs position held by a tenured professor with 30% compensated effort for the task
  • Staff in the Department of Trainee and Alumni Affairs are addressing the issue of "wellness" and partnering with the Department of Health and Well-Being to provide a wellness program to trainees
  • We have established numerous councils and committees to support, assess and make recommendations for trainees’ education:
    • Education Council
    • Postdoctoral Fellows Advisory Committee
    • Education Week Committee
These, along with the Faculty Achievement Award for Education, elevate the visibility and quality of education as a mission area. The Postdoctoral Fellows Advisory Committee has representation from research faculty, postdoctoral fellows and training support departments and staff.
  • We have created and distribute a quarterly trainee newsletter

Mechanisms for Formal and Informal Dispute Resolution

  • We have created Mentor Line, a confidential on-line query system that allows trainees the opportunity to confidentially submit questions to academic affairs executives and staff
  • We have created an Ombudsman Office where postdoctoral fellows can come to issue concerns and seek informal conflict resolution
  • We have created a Dispute Resolution Policy available to trainees who want to formally grieve via formal action taken against them
  • We have implemented a mandatory confidential on-line exit interview survey

The aggregate data from this survey is analyzed quarterly and used to improve support services, career development opportunities, mentoring and the educational trainee experience.