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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 3, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 13
New Group Gives Postdoc Population a Voice

Association will serve nearly 200 fellows in Arts & Sciences, Engineering

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Postdocs unite could well be the rallying cry for the new Homewood Postdoctoral Association, an organization that seeks to support the thriving community of nearly 200 postdoctoral scholars at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering.

The association was founded in September to foster a sense of community, provide information and offer resources for career and personal development for all postdoctoral scholars during their time at Johns Hopkins. Surprisingly, such an organization had never existed at Homewood.

The group will officially launch this month with a "meet and greet" event to be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12, in the Sherwood Room of Levering Hall.

Judith Mitrani-Reiser, a postdoctoral fellow in Civil Engineering and co-founder of the association, said that the entire effort began with a modest question.

"I wanted to know how I could use the [O'Connor] Recreation Center. It was difficult to get a straight answer, and I was getting frustrated because I was not officially staff or faculty and they didn't even consider me a student, either," said Mitrani-Reiser, who came to Johns Hopkins in February. "I felt stuck. But it was not the only case; there were a lot of issues like this that come up for us fellows, like where are we allowed to park, and can I get a JHU e-mail alias? Nobody seemed to know how postdocs are categorized."

A postdoctoral fellow is a research position, typically lasting two or three years, held by a person who has completed doctoral studies. Fellows, who are often supported by grants, have several responsibilities, primarily teaching courses, conducting research and mentoring students. They are legally considered students and fall into that pay category.

Currently, no orientation service is offered for this group. Unlike undergraduate and graduate students who arrive at the beginning of an academic term, postdoctoral fellows come to Johns Hopkins at all times of the year.

Mitrani-Reiser, who also had questions about health insurance and commuter tax breaks, approached her adviser, Engineering Dean Nicholas Jones, about the concerns she had, and he encouraged her to form a group. She followed through.

The association, co-founded by Alessandro Rettura, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has received support from the Dean's Offices of the two schools, including guidance from Edward R. Scheinerman, associate dean for education at the School of Engineering, and Eaton Lattman, dean of research and graduate education at the School of Arts and Sciences.

Scheinerman said that a postdoc association at Homewood is long overdue.

"Postdoctoral fellows need a way to communicate with each other and share information, experiences and advice," he said. "There is no natural mechanism that would bring postdocs together with other postdocs from different departments or centers. There's a great benefit to them to be able to connect with their peers, so this organization creates that venue."

The group recently launched a Web site that will provide a forum for postdocs to find answers to common questions and share concerns and opportunities. The HPA will also host events, both social and professional, and operate an e-mail listserv and Facebook group.

Mitrani-Reiser said the Dec. 12 event will be an opportunity for people to meet one another and learn about the association and its goals. The meeting organizers will also lead discussions about possible governance structures and how the organization can meet the needs of the community.

"We're hoping it will then build a life of its own and go on for many, many years," Mitrani-Reiser said. "We want to provide a source of information for postdocs, and an association like this can help make it easier for all of us. It will hopefully give us a sense of community by bringing together people who are all in the same situation."

Rettura, an Italian national who did his graduate studies in France, arrived at JHU in September 2006. He said he struggled to find information needed to settle into a new country.

"The only way out was to ask other foreign postdocs in my department that could have possibly already been through similar issues, such as getting health insurance and a driving license," he said.

Determined to find answers, he created a "mini astronomy postdoctoral association" that has its own mailing list and weekly morning coffee meetings, mostly for scientific discussion. It was through this group he connected with Mitrani-Reiser and they discussed creating a campuswide postdoctoral association.

"We're hoping the association will be instrumental in improving the personal and professional experience of the existing postdocs and be a primary source of information for all the upcoming ones," Rettura said.

The Homewood Postdoctoral Association is not the first such group at Johns Hopkins. In 1992, postdoctoral fellows at the School of Medicine formed the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association to improve the daily life and morale of fellows at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. The JHPDA supports clinical and research fellows by bringing their concerns to the attention of the administration and by sponsoring various events to facilitate the social integration and career development of the population it serves.

Mitrani-Reiser envisions some future interactions between the two associations.

For more information about the Homewood Postdoctoral Association, go to

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