Thursday, April 6, 2017

MIT EECS Postdoc Visiting Committee / postdoc issues

Since last Fall, I have been a member of the postdoc visiting committee, which is aimed to get some feedback about postdoc lives and their concerns/issues at MIT.
In the course of a few months, we collected information/surveys from postdoc. Rabia Yazicigil was managing our efforts and presented the result last Tuesday.
We were reporting to a group of MIT faculty/alumni, who seemed very willing to help postdoc lives. I think the postdoc management and leadership workshop that I attended on January 2016 was inspired by the last visiting committee report.
The main concerns that postdoc at MIT have can be summarized as follows (from my point of view):

  • A sense of ``belonging'' to MIT. Postdocs spend relatively short period of time in the institute, and at a relatively older age. It is harder for them to ``connect'' to an environment which already ``belongs'' to students and other staff. Postdocs are mostly occupied with doing research and planning for the future, and a result of this pressure, have little time to participate in activities which help them make a community and adapt to the new environment. Note that this issue is inherent in postdoc structure. MIT has done a good job to address this problem. But still it seems to bother many postdocs.
  • MIT has two concepts of ``postdoc-fellow'' and ``postdoc-associate''. I am both because I receive money from both MIT and outside MIT (NSERC). But if you want to ``partition'' postdocs into the two categories, I will be a fellow because most money that I receive comes from outside. Now, there are distinctions in benefits for these groups. In particular, me and other fellows do not receive any health benefits. A postdoc fellow pays around 300-400$ per month for health-related insurances, which I found astonishing. Health insurance has been the worst memory that I have from MIT (and arguably this country).
  • Postdoc Leadership Workshop has been great in helping postdocs to from a community in which they enhance their leadership skills in Endicott House, which is located outside Boston. This workshop takes two days, and many postdocs cannot attend it because they have a family. This reveals one of the main differences between a typical postdoc and a typical student. I think MIT is planning to hold similar workshops (but one-day workshops) in the near future. 
I have found the idea of Visiting Committees very exciting for understanding and solving the issues that students, postdocs, and other staff experience in an academic environment.  You can learn about MIT visiting committees here.

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