News: AAAS News & Notes
AAAS Helps Launch National Postdoc Group
From the moment they formed their new organization, the founders of the National Postdoc Association (NPA) have had a sense that their timing was right. They knew it for sure on January 14, when Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, made a spontaneous appearance at a meeting the postdocs had set up with NIH officials.
"He walked in to tell us how important postdocs are to the scientific enterprise, and that he had heard about our efforts," said Orfeu Buxton, a member of the NPA's Steering Committee and a sleep and neuroendocrinology researcher at the University of Chicago.
Earlier this month, the NPA was launched with a $450,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation that will allow the group to hire an executive director and to push for action to address the plight of the more than 60,000 postdocs working in the United States.
"The NPA is a long-overdue response to some of the United States' most intractable science and technology workforce issues," said Shirley Malcom, director of the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources and co-principal investigator for the Sloan grant. "There are many things that the postdocs want and need; they will now have a voice in helping to improve their lot."
The drive for creating the NPA surfaced during a meeting of Science's Postdoc Network at AAAS last April (http://nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2002/01/17/1), which drew postdoctoral and administrative representatives from academic institutions across the country.
A component of Science's career mentoring Web site, Next Wave, the Postdoc Network (http://nextwave.sciencemag.org/pdn) provides a forum for people interested in improving the experience of being a postdoc. Under the terms of the Sloan grant, AAAS sponsors the NPA, and its leaders are receiving guidance from AAAS staff on how to set up and operate the new advocacy organization. Malcom noted that the project fits in well with AAAS's plans for a Center for Careers in Science and Technology, aimed at increasing the S&T workforce and addressing the needs of young scientists early in their careers.
In the last 15 years, the number of postdocs in the United States has more than doubled, and funding agencies have described their plight in well-documented studies. "The culture of science is undergoing a paradigm shift, and solutions will require changes to the overall system," Buxton said. "We need to come to a clear understanding of what a postdoc [position] is and should be. For example, if significant work' is being accomplished during a postdoc, the culture and terms of employment should reflect the realities of on-the-job training' and the concept of lifelong learning. If a postdoc is exclusively a training period, standards for training should be substantially augmented and the duration [of the postdoc experience] curtailed."
The nature of the challenges led the NPA leadership to recognize that "solutions must involve the entire scientific enterprise, including institutions, funders, and professional societies," said Buxton. This approach impressed the Sloan Foundation. "These are thoughtful, mature scientists who believe they can bring about improvements in the situation," said Michael S. Teitelbaum, Sloan program director. "Everyone knows that this is a problem that needs addressing, and the association is being taken very seriously."
Plans for Expanding AAAS's Policy Role
Responding to the growing need among scientists for information about policy, and among policy-makers and their staffs for understanding of the science that underlies much legislation, AAAS plans to expand its Center for Science, Technology, and Congress (www.aaas.org/spp/cstc).
"As science and technology become ever more central to modern life, and as the need for appropriate science-related policies grows, policy-makers are asking AAAS for our views on these issues with more frequency," said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner. "Expanding the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress will help us do a better job maintaining that important dialogue between the scientific community and members of Congress and their staffs."
The expanded Center will give congressional staff improved access to high-quality information on science and science policy through more frequent briefings and white papers on science-based issues. Electronic newsletters will provide policy information to scientists, and the latest scientific news to policy-makers and their staffs.
AAAS Fellows who are current members of the Association are invited to nominate members for election as Fellows. A Fellow is defined as "a Member whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished." A nomination must be sponsored by three AAAS Fellows, two of whom must have no affiliation with the nominee's institution.
Nominations undergo review by the Steering Groups of the Association's sections (the Chair, Chair-Elect, Retiring Chair, Secretary, and four Members-at-Large of each section). Each Steering Group reviews only those nominations designated for its section. Names of Fellow nominees who are approved by the Steering Groups are presented to the AAAS Council for election.
Nominations with complete documentation must be received by 15 May 2003. Nominations received after that date will be held for the following year. To request a nomination form, please contact Linda McDaniel at the AAAS Executive Office, 1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC, 20005, at 202-326-6635, or at Lmcdanie@aaas.org.
A list of current AAAS Fellows can be found on the AAAS Web site at www.aaas.org/about/aaas_fellows.