On 4 September, a new force joined the struggle for the rights and interests of postdoctoral scholars and fellows. On that date, Alyson Reed was appointed executive director of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), the first national organization to represent postdocs across the United States. I interviewed Reed by phone to get a sense of who she is, what she brings to the table, and where she intends to take NPA.
Reed is an energetic, insightful leader with a confident, responsive demeanor. She took the position, she says, because of the opportunity it offers to build on her previous experience. ?I like to speak, I like to write, I enjoy managing projects, and I enjoy working with the membership,? said Reed in our interview. She added that she also enjoys working at the grassroots level, and that she looks forward to working with local postdoc associations and organizations to address their needs.
Members of the postdoc community tout Reed's abilities--and her 14 years of nonprofit experience at the National Kidney Foundation, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the National Committee on Pay Equity, and the Maryland Commission for Women--as just the right combination to help her, and NPA, to become effective advocates for postdocs.
?Alyson Reed brings the experience needed to lay a strong foundation for the new NPA,? said Claudina Stevenson, NPA executive board member and chair of the search committee. Reed was selected by the NPA executive board because of her experience, especially the experience she gained as executive director at the Maryland Commission for Women and the National Committee on Pay Equity. ?Alyson?s experience with membership-based organizations, strategic planning, and fundraising will be important assets in guiding our organization toward a strong and independent future,? added Arti C. Patel, NPA executive board member.
?I?m very excited about the arrival of an NPA executive director who has strong experience in working with nonprofit boards and the skills to take the association to the next level,? said Shirley Malcom, head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of Next Wave), who has supported NPA?s formation. ?Alyson Reed?s arrival will allow NPA to make the critical transition from a volunteer- to staff-run organization. This will free the volunteers from organizational burdens."
Reed aims to follow the direction set out by the NPA executive board, while providing ways for volunteers to become more effective. "The vision of the [founders] remains," said Reed, in our interview. "I am not here to change, but to implement the vision and strategies and goals that [the NPA board] have established.?
Why does NPA need a full-time staffer? Reed thinks the answer is two-fold: continuity, and time. ?One of my jobs as executive director is to create institutional memory, firmly establish the continuity of the operation, create consistency of products, services, and publications, and be responsive to membership needs in a timely way. My appointment will allow full-time representation at meetings and conferences, and on Capitol Hill, if necessary. Up until now, this has only been available in a voluntary manner with part-time staff support from AAAS.?
?Postdocs have a lot of demands on their time," she added. "Finding ways to keep them engaged without overburdening them is important. I will strive to be well organized so as not to waste their time and allow this to fit into their lives."
Another thing that makes Reed suitable for her new job is what she learned in her previous work about being an effective advocate for the interests of undervalued professionals, a category that some would suggest includes postdocs. In this respect, her time at the American College of Nurse-Midwives was especially valuable. ?I have a perspective on professionals that feel they are undervalued. They want a living wage, and to be able to support their families, repay student loans, and improved status in the community. They want their economic status improved.?
I asked Reed what she hoped to see a year from now and this was her list: renewed funding from the Sloan Foundation in recognition of the work that has been done, increased membership, and a well-attended annual meeting. In short, Reed said, ?incremental growth; a steady upward path, in terms of ... awareness, clout, [and] financial stability.?
?Postdoctoral researchers are a tremendous national scientific resource," says Reed. "I look forward to working with the postdoctoral community to ensure that this vital resource is nurtured and protected,? said Reed. ?Postdoctoral researchers face many challenges as they straddle the worlds of academia and professional scientific research. I intend to be an outspoken advocate in addressing these challenges.?
Xenia Morin, Ph.D., is a Keck Postdoctoral Teaching and Research Fellow at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, speaker at the First Annual Meeting of the National Postdoctoral Association, and member of NPA.