Career Support for Postdocs, Research Scientists, and Instructional Staff
Career Support for Postdocs, Research Scientists, and Instructional Staff Refinement and Implementation Committee (RIC) 7
Nergis Mavalvala and Bolek Wyslouch (Co-Chairs); Fikile Brushett, Maha Haji, Paulo Lozano, Joe Paradiso, Ann Skoczenski, and Idulia Lovato (Staff)
RIC 7 recommends that the Vice President for Research (VPR) lead efforts to expand opportunities for postdocs to do consulting and externships, to obtain principal investigator (PI) status, and to develop leadership/professional certificate programs. For research scientists, the VPR and Provost should work with schools to develop more structured review, feedback processes and promotion processes, to create more granular career progressions with clear responsibilities and privileges, and to foster a broader sense of community among research scientists from across the Institute. Finally, the committee recommends the appointment of an ad hoc committee to review various aspects of career advancement opportunities for instructional staff.
The charge for RIC 7 was to evaluate career advancement opportunities for three distinct groups at MIT: postdocs, instructional staff, and research scientists. The research scientists component of this RIC was strongly influenced by the work of a committee with nearly identical charge for improving research scientists’ career advancement in the School of Science. For postdocs and instructional staff, the RIC solicited input in separate meetings with each group. The postdocs were invited in coordination with the MIT Postdoctoral Association; the instructional staff were invited by soliciting names from each school, college, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC). The RIC also received some input via email. While there was significant overlap, we report on these three groups in separate sections.
- Lack of clarity on how postdocs can request PI Status, and in some cases the hurdles that need to be overcome with such a request, was seen as a significant impediment. Relatedly, postdocs see the need to get more experience with writing proposals.
- Postdocs highlighted the need for opportunities (and permission) to do externships and consulting. These were seen as especially important for broader training for non-academic careers.
- The need to improve the economic conditions for postdocs, e.g., through consulting, higher pay, etc. There was strong support for expanding access to professional training, such as the LEAPS certificate. The Kaufman Teaching Certificate was also lauded, though long wait times to access the program were cited as problematic.
- VPR should work with the schools and college to evaluate and mitigate the lack of opportunities indicated in findings 1, 2, and 3 above.
- The schools and college should develop additional leadership/professional certificate programs, such as LEAPS.
- There was a strong desire to create a broader sense of community among research scientists from different units.
- There was strong support for creating more granular career progressions with clear responsibilities and privileges.
- There was a strong desire for more structured review, feedback processes and promotion processes, which could also help to avoid some stagnation issues that these positions can be prone to.
- The lack of underrecovery support for research scientists is problematic. In addition to loss of significant funds that could come to MIT, it further compounds research scientists’ ability to find support for their soft money positions.
- VPR, in partnership with Human Resources and the schools/college, should evaluate and adapt the proposals from the School of Science on Career Ladders to all schools at MIT (findings 1, 2, 3).
- The Provost should evaluate finding 4.
- There was a pervasive feeling among instructional staff of not being valued at MIT, which is further exacerbated by the lack of clear systems of recognition and reward.
- Unequal pay between the areas/departments was noted.
- There was strong support to explore a more granular career ladder, similar to that being proposed for research scientists. This could also lead to improving the situation in finding 1.
- There was strong support for more structured review, feedback, and promotion processes.
- Some areas were identified to work well, which could serve as a model and should be studied.
- As with Research Scientists finding 1, there is a strong desire for establishing a broader instructional staff community.
- Set up an ad hoc committee to look at career advancement opportunities for instructional staff, paying particular attention to the items above. Since the circumstances for instructional staff vary greatly across MIT, and our RIC only surveyed a tiny fraction of that population, gathering more data from a much broader swath of instructional staff is very important. To that end, we recommend that the committee be assisted by staff in the Chancellor’s Office to help in the data gathering process, as its outcome will be important for the work. The committee should also tackle the systemic issue that there is no one entity at MIT that is responsible for the career advancement and professional well-being of instructional staff. They are appointed in home departments with large variations in pay, mentoring, and career opportunities. Any future committee should also study if this is really the best way to organize a core constituency of MIT’s mission of education. We expect that the initial data gathering will take 4–6 months, and following up the committee will need another three months to study the data and prepare its recommendations.