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Home » Discover Rackham » Rackham, OVPR Establish New Central Office to Support Postdoctoral Fellows

The University of Michigan is establishing a new Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) that will serve as a hub to support postdoctoral fellows across the university.

U-M has more than 1,400 postdocs who work across all the schools and colleges and play a key part in the university’s research enterprise. The OPA will not only support these postdoctoral fellows as they prepare for their future careers, but will also guide and advise departments and programs about best-practice policies, processes, and services related to the employment and well-being of postdoctoral fellows. 

The office, which will launch during the winter 2024 term, will have four staff members, one of whom will be a faculty director. It will be supported jointly by Rackham Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR). Services the OPA will offer include orientations for new postdocs, professional development and career counseling, policy implementation and oversight, emergency funding, and conflict resolution.

In addition to these offerings, the OPA will work with U-M partners, including Rackham for training opportunities and OVPR for a series of skill-building workshops.

“Postdoctoral fellows are both trainees and research staff,” Rackham Dean Mike Solomon said. “Establishing a centralized office to support them will best meet the needs of this large and diverse group.”

“Our global impact and our reputation as a leading public research university is, in part, a direct reflection of the hundreds of postdoctoral fellows whose commitment to excellence and creativity plays a critical role in advancing innovative research and discovery across disciplines,” said Vice President for Research and Innovation Rebecca Cunningham. 

“It is imperative that we continue to provide our postdocs with the services and resources necessary so they can thrive, generating new knowledge technologies for the betterment of society.”

In response to a 2021 report and request for a centralized office from the U-M Postdoctoral Association (UMPDA), Rackham and OVPR partnered to conduct a benchmarking study and needs assessment for a postdoctoral office during the early part of 2022. This effort included in-depth discussions with units with the highest number of postdoctoral scholars, a meeting with the co-presidents of the UMPDA, a meeting with all research associate deans, a comprehensive benchmarking exercise across 24 peer institutions, and feedback from representatives from multiple schools. The goal was to identify characteristics needed to create an environment in which postdoctoral scholars can excel, as well as the critical factors necessary to support the success of such an office.

This study identified the preponderance of centralized postdoc offices among U-M’s peer institutions, the variable levels of support currently available to postdocs at U-M, and the value of a central office in the competitive postdoc recruiting environment following the pandemic.

In addition to the support of Rackham and OVPR, the OPA will also work with a steering committee composed of faculty members and postdoctoral scholar representatives from the schools and colleges that have an interest in postdoctoral training. Similarly, an advisory committee made up of associate deans from these same schools and colleges will be formed. These committees will serve as an ongoing resource and will also consult with the OPA director if changes in the structure, staffing, or programming of the OPA are required.

“A dedicated office supporting our postdoctoral fellows will further elevate rewarding postdoctoral experiences across our schools and colleges,” said Provost Laurie McCauley. “We are confident this will empower our fellows to thrive and achieve their aspirations.”