for 2020 Summer UMPDA Board Election

Get involved in shaping policy that directly impacts postdocs and improves the postdoc experience! Voting is now open for the UMPDA 2020 Summer elections until Friday, June 19 at 11:59 PM. We have 7 candidates running for 4 different positions. Please, read their statements and caste your vote to make a difference to your UMPDA experience. Please, refer to the UMPDA bylaws for a more detailed description of the position duties and responsibilities. It is important to note that this is a two-year term with a minimum one year commitment.

Co-president: Run monthly board meetings and Rackham postdoc orientations with University administrators

Caitlyn Holmes
Co-presidents of the UMPDA commit to open communication, reliability, and creating an inclusive environment for all UM postdoctoral fellows. I developed these skills in previous leadership roles, and aim to use these skills as co-president. For example, as a graduate student I was a board member of the Biology Outreach Club and was responsible for coordinating volunteer efforts between science outreach initiatives and graduate students. This position required online communication with a large number of individuals. Communication required email discussions with organizers to understand needs, online recruitment of volunteers, and generating spreadsheets to guide event preparation. The UMPDA must adapt in response to changing work and social norms in order to continue serving postdocs. This is critical in the midst of socially distanced work and working from home. We must increase initiatives aimed at welcoming postdocs to the university to enhance connectivity and inclusion from day one of the UM postdoc experience. Many postdocs relocate for their position with minimal local contacts, a particularly isolating situation in light of COVID-19. There are two ways to immediately implement welcome initiatives. First, I propose utilizing pre-existing postdoc communication channels to create a space for new postdoc connection. Here, they could build community by finding other new postdocs with common interests or ask questions about navigating the university. Second, welcome initiatives would be aimed at engaging postdocs after orientation, enhancing the postdoc experience and increasing participation within the UMPDA. I would establish a subcommittee to individually follow up with postdocs after orientation to address additional questions and send personal invitations to future UMPDA events. Importantly, the initiatives above do not require extra funds and can be implemented with existing infrastructure. We must also increase inclusion of current postdocs, among which feelings of isolation are high, especially for members of underrepresented populations. I will increase connectivity by expanding postdoc circle events, and enhance DEI programming to create a more inclusive environment for historically oppressed members of the UM postdoc community.
Additionally, co-presidents of the UMPDA commit to comprehensively assessing the needs of the UM postdoctoral community and making decisions with positive impacts. In a leadership role on my graduate program’s curriculumcommittee, I helped modify coursework that served the needs of students. This required evaluating feedback and presenting the needs of our program to faculty while advocating for graduate students, and I was successful in leading efforts to revitalize outdated courses. This position taught me how to listen to the diverse needs of students, engage with university administration, and implement plans accordingly. These experiences were highly rewarding and instilled an interest in community involvement and advocating for trainees that I aim to continue as a UM postdoctoral fellow. As a co-president I will commit to listening to the needs of our postdocs and taking positive, rigorous action based on community needs. Together, the execution of these initiatives and others will ensure the UMPDA contributes to an inclusive postdoc experience in which members from all communities can connect and find support in unprecedented times.

Joseph Mastron
In addition to currently serving as co-chair of PR and acting chair of ethics of the UMPDA, I have had the privilege to be involved in volunteer service organizations for almost 2 decades, including serving in the local Beta club chapter in middle and high school, as an executive board member of the Queer and Allied Student Assembly in College, and as chair of marketing operations for the Graduate Council, member of the Student Health Advisory Board, and member of the Provost’s Committee on Graduate Education in grad school. Volunteer service has been a major part of my life, and through service I have developed my skills in leadership, event planning, and social media and marketing. I hope to use these past experiences to continue to serve UM postdocs, the UMPDA, and our surrounding community. As the author of the first major set of amendments to the current form of the UMPDA bylaws to improve our conflict resolution policies and increase transparency in our process, I believe I am qualified to serve as co-President of the UMPDA. As a 2ndyear postdoc, I have enough time left here at UM to do so effectively.
My goals for what I want to accomplish as UMPDA co-president broadly include coordinating with university administrators to improve the UM postdoc experience and providing our postdoc community with opportunities to engage with and improve our surrounding community. I believe that it is not enough to just continue on a steady trajectory – rather, we must adapt and grow in our efforts to best represent UM postdocs. Recent events have stressed that, like the rest of our society, the UMPDA needs to be proactive to increase our support for diversity in the postdoc community and the communities around us. UM postdocs need to leverage our academic privilege to make our postdoc spaces, and our UM community, safer and more inclusive for all postdocs, including postdocs of color, postdocs with disabilities or accessibility needs, postdocs with family obligations, postdocs with economic hardships, and LGBTQ+ postdocs. I applaud the efforts of current UMPDA Board members to identify the needs of UM postdocs and find ways to address them, and I want to expand upon their hard work. One area for growth at UM that I am passionate about is the establishment of a Central, Campus-Wide Administrative Postdoc Office to rival those already in existence at our peer institutions.
But none of us can do any of this alone. Even if you don’t vote for me, please remember to vote in the UMPDA elections and encourage other postdocs to do so! Get involved with our association in whatever way you can. Come to events. Volunteer to help out. Give us suggestions. You can help build a better future for all UM Postdocs.

DEI: Organize and co-host events that promote diversity, equity and inclusion
Arianna Miles-Jay
My name is Arianna Miles-Jay, and I am a second-year postdoc in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. I earned my PhD in Epidemiology at the University of Washington in 2019. My research focuses on the genomic epidemiology of healthcare-associated bacterial infections. I am nominating myself for the position of chair of diversity, equity, and inclusion on the UMPDA board.
I view this position tohave two main roles. First, to listen to and amplify the voices and concerns of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other underrepresented or underserved members of our postdoc community in order to inform the development of programs and advocacy priorities that support them. Second, to find, promote, and potentially create opportunities for all postdocs to participate in initiatives aimed at making our university and surrounding community a more equitable and just place. My past experiences promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion have centered around speaking to and encouraging diverse young people to pursue training and careers in science. While I am passionate about this angle, I am also eager to expand my efforts to include supporting postdocs, and I am confident that the vast experience and institutional knowledge on the UMPDA board will facilitate that growth.
I identify as both White and Latina. Half of my family tree is rooted in Puerto Rico, and thus, part of my history carries the scars of discrimination and structural inequities born from White colonialism. At the same time, my lived experience is that of a cisgender, heterosexual White woman. I know that structural racism, gender and sexual identity discrimination, and ableism have supported my professional advancement while hindering that of my BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized colleagues. I nominate myself humbly and with acknowledgement that I have much to learn, and also fueled by a deep belief that advancing diversity and equity in our community is not only the right thing to do, but that it dramatically enhances the richness and robustness of our scholarship and service.
The recent protests against structural racism and amplification of the anti-racism cause have led to collective calls for accountability and reflection from academic institutions regarding how institutional policies are promoting or interfering with the advancement of equity and justice. I believe that we, as postdocs, have a role to play in this conversation and in this movement at Michigan. I would be honored to be elected to help ensure that the UMPDA does everything in its power to support both equity-oriented agendas and marginalized members of our postdoc community.
Gustavo Caballero Flores
I am Gustavo Caballero Flores, a 4-year Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Pathology and I would like to be part of the University of Michigan Postdoctoral Association (UMPDA) board serving as the appointee for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) affairs. Although I have mostly focused on my research during my postdoctoral training at the UM and have no previous experience in leading advocacy positions, I have always felt the need to be actively involved in shaping policy and other activities that positively impact my community and I consider that this position is the perfect opportunity to help me build, strengthen and apply such skills and personal interests.
As a Postdoc at the UM, I have attended multiple events organized by the UMPDA including the Postdoc Appreciation Week, Networking Lunch, Postdoc Soccer Group, Coffee and Happy Hours, and various Family events. These activities have had a major positive impact in my life by promoting the highest quality experience personally, professionally and socially, which have allowed me to feel fully involved, accepted and valued at the UM.
Likewise, as a Mexican immigrant in the US, I consider that DEI is an inherent part of myself. Thus, during my stay at the UM, I have always been aware of the initiatives that the University establishes on DEI and I am a regular attendant of talks, seminars and workshops on this topic. I was also selected for a DEI Spotlight by the UM-Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, which will be officially published online soon. I truly believe that minorities can make a difference, and thus, should be listened to and valued.The reasons I am voluntary applying for this position are to give back a bit of all that UMPDA has given me over 4 years away from home, but also to ensure that the equity and diversity of all UMPDA members is protected, promoted and valued.Should I get elected for this appointment, I will be fully willing and committed to perform all duties and responsibilities of the position and as a member of the UMPDA board. I will work closely with the current chair, Cynthia Gerlein, to allow a smooth transition in this appointment and to learn and be familiar with all the specific activities, duties and skills required to successfully lead this position.Therefore, I kindly encourage the UMPDA election board to consider my volunteered application for this appointment.

International Affairs: Create programming focused on international postdocs

Isha Verma
My name is Isha Verma and I am running for the UMPDA international affairs chair position. I am working as a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jack Parent in the department of Neurology. My research work is focused on studying the role of genetic mutations in epilepsy using patient-derived neural cells and brain organoids and investigating the efficacy of interneuron transplantation therapy for the treatment of epilepsy. I finished my Ph.D. in stem cell biology from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, and moved to the University of Michigan as a postdoc last year. Being an international postdoc myself, I have had first-hand experience of the various issues faced by international postdocs, and by working as a chair of international affairs, I want to make efforts to resolve these issues.
I have been working as an interim chair of the UMPDA international affairs since April 2020 and  I am a member of this committee since November 2019. The international affairs committee has taken many initiatives for the benefit of the international postdoc community. These include organizing a visa information seminar, in collaboration with the international center, to educate international postdocs on J1 and H1B visas as well as an international potluck to facilitate networking and cultural exchange between international postdocs. If selected as the chair, I plan to work forward to organize more of such events. I also plan to organize green card information panels where international postdocs can learn from the experiences of other international postdocs who have successfully acquired a green card. Funding is another major issue for international postdocs as the funding opportunities for them are limited as compared to the other postdocs. Therefore, I plan to organize funding information panels where international postdocs can educate themselves about eligibility criteria, timelines, and requirements of various grant applications. Additionally, I will focus on organizing frequent networking events where international postdocs can connect, discuss their issues, and develop a support system and a sense of community.
I strongly believe that I am well-qualified for the international affairs chair position. I served as a group leader for the Association of Women in Science mentoring circle at the University of Michigan. Last year, I was selected as a participant in the You3 postdoctoral leadership and management program organized by OGPS at the University of Michigan, where I got trained in various aspects of leadership, team-building, budgeting, and conflict resolution. During my Ph.D., as a member of the ‘Ph.D. Career Support Group’-a US non-profit 501(c)3, I organized several networking events for researchers in Bangalore, India. Working together with other members of UMPDA, I hope to serve the needs of international postdocs and make their stay at the University of Michigan memorable and comfortable.

Manaswini Sarangi
Hello, I am Manaswini, would like to express my interest in the International Affairs Role for UMPDA and the opportunity to help international postdocs at the University. From the time I joined the university as a postdoc I joined UMPDA as a member and have realized the relevance of the information, resources and above all the support the community provides to postdocs.
Our university has a rich proportion of internationals working in various departments, among which international ‘postdocs’ do constitute a substantial number in gearing and driving research. With the expertise, the internationals also bring diversity and inclusiveness to our research community and I feel there is a need to understand them now more than ever before. In addition to the visa agonies, internationals also come across other problems such as grant writing eligibility/securing funding, among other things; therefore I would like to propose that we as a community can provide (a) listening ear to the struggles and achievements throughout the journey of being an international postdoc (b) Identify issues that trouble the majority at some point of their work and stay here, voice them (c) Work towards channelizing these issues in a more systematic way to find solutions. To provide example of what I can do for each point I suggest above: have a one on one audio-recorded conversation, write about each of their stories (both of these can be posted on UMPDA website) and discuss them with the board members and other appropriate officials at the university to seek answers to pressing concerns. In addition to this, I would be happy to assist and take up the roles of this position as expected in its current form.
About me: I am working as a postdoc in the department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; studying the parental effects of high dietary sugar consumption on offspring, using Drosophila as model organism. Since 2012, I have been actively involved in education and outreach activities for school and undergraduate students from my masters through my PhD. I find happiness in peeling off the technical part of research but still present the science to an audience who is not expert in that subject or field. So far, I have primarily done this through writing, hence excited at the prospect of bringing my communication skills through UMPDA International Affairs position that offers an exciting opportunity by the means and resources, to have meaningful dialogues with our postdoc scientists, and be a bridge between the board and its members.

Connections: Find opportunities for the UMPDA to work with outside entities

Nabih Haddad
I’ve completed my Ph.D. in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program at Michigan State University. I am currently serving as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Rackham Office of Institutional Research at The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. My research interests include higher education policy, institutional philanthropy, and student success for underserved and underrepresented communities.
My dissertation empirically investigated the influence of major foundations in the college completion agenda. I have worked on projects which investigated the influence of philanthropic foundations on nonprofit organizations, the role of funders in academic labor markets, and the relationship between intermediary entities and educational systems. I’ve worked on grant-funded projects exploring the contributory role of scholarly associations advancing foundation-led interventions in the humanities, with a focus on the American Council of Learned Societies during the Great Recession of 2008. More recently, I am examining factors that promote doctoral student success, with a focus on a sense of belonging and social networks. I believe that fostering a sense of belonging for doctoral students is a basic need, where all students want to feel accepted, valued, and recognized.
Beyond this, I’ve been involved in action-orented research at the Julian Samora Research Institute. There, I’ve worked with the director, Dr. Rubén Martinez, on projects that promote postsecondary access and success for underrepresented youth in Detroit. As a member of the “Promoting Latinx and African American Collaboration through Dialogue and Engagement” task force committee, I’ve worked with academic leaders, nonprofit representatives, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation officials on a series of summits that address racial/ethnic disparities in Michigan. In our latest event, we expanded the groups, inviting stakeholders from the Native American/Indigenous, Arab American, and LGBTQ+ communities. For one of our reports, see here. For the latest event release, see here.
One goal for this role would be to leverage relationships with internal as well as external entities to promote mutually beneficial initiatives that can support postdocs, including research centers, national membership associations, philanthropic foundations, and disciplinary groups. Graduate education and the faculty labor markets are changing. Initiatives sponsored by the graduate school, such as the National Symposium to Reimagine Graduate Education, have outlined how foundations, academic associations, and university leaders responded to structural challenges to tenure-track positions. Much of this is summarized in a Mellon Foundation commissioned report, “Reforming Doctoral Education, 1990 to 2015” (Weisbuch & Cassuto, 2016). Connecting with such entities could expose UMPDA to new scholars, funders, research, and national policy agendas. Moreover, collaborations could be cultivated to launch new initiatives and projects that can give a unique voice to postdoc concerns. This could include inviting a panel of national experts with expertise on postdocs, graduate education, and education policy to events to speak on central issues.
References: Weisbuch, R., & Cassuto, L. (July 2, 2016). Reforming Doctoral Education, 1990 to 2015 Recent Initiatives and Future Prospects. A Report Submitted to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Robert Weisbuch and Leonard Cassuto with contributions by Peter Bruns, Johnnella Butlet, and A. W. Strouse.