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The Daily Tar Heel

OPA hosts national postdoctoral appreciation week

Morehead Planetarium stood tall on Sept. 12, 2023.

In Morehead Planetarium on Wednesday, UNC postdoctoral scholars and their families gathered to celebrate the 2023 National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW).

Postdocs are scholars who have already finished their doctoral degree, Essie Torres, the interim director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, said. Beyond personal research and discovery, she said scholars have innovative ideas, provide different perspectives and assist faculty with their research.

Free headshots, a board game social and a “Postdoc Planetarium Show” were some of the events the OPA and the UNC Postdoctoral Association organized in celebration of NPAW. 

The UNC PDA is a peer-led volunteer organization that supports UNC postdocs. 

In a campus-wide email, Penny Gordon-Larsen, vice chancellor for research, said that NPAW is a “nationally recognized celebration of the contributions postdoctoral scholars make toward U.S. research and discovery.” 

The email also encouraged faculty mentors to celebrate their postdoc scholars on Thursday, Sept. 21. 

Larsen said that there are 950 postdocs working in a range of disciplines across the University. 

“Our postdocs really contribute to Carolina being one of the leading research institutions in the U.S. and globally,” she said.

During NPAW, to recognize these contributions, the OPA helped organize a career panel in the social sciences and a panel for postdocs who are interested in career paths in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. 

Jasmine Edwards, a UNC postdoctoral research associate, said NPAW was “a great week to have in general” largely because of networking events that are a part of the celebration. She studies early life vaccination strategies for infants and adolescents and immunological factors contributing to preterm births in Sub-Saharan African women. 

“It's good to have an organized time every year where postdocs can go to network, socialize and just meet other postdocs,” she said. 

Edwards is also the co-chair for UNC’s BIPOC Postdoctoral Alliance, which she said provides resources and training for BIPOC postdocs. The alliance hosted a mixer coffee hour on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re trying to create a safe space —a community within the postdocs for underrepresented scientists, especially at this level,” she said. “Usually as you go further in your career, you see less and less Black and brown folks in faculty or administrative positions.” 

Edwards also said additional groups within the PDA work to uplift specific postdoc demographics such as parents and international students. But the success of these support groups "fell off" during the pandemic.

Matthew McPeek, a postdoctoral research fellow in his last year as a postdoc researching bacterial and viral pneumonias at the Marsico Lung Institute, said he felt the decreased support from the PDA as a result of COVID-19. 

McPeek said the pandemic made it harder to network and form connections at a larger university like UNC. He said he appreciates the campus community and validation from the University that NPAW has now brought.

Torres said that building a community of support was one the goals for the OPA. She said the NPAW was a small “token of appreciation” for their scholars.

“It’s just a really important way to say thank you, thank you for all that you do, thank you for being a part of our research teams and for bringing your innovation and your perspectives to Carolina,” Torres said. 


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