Progress for Postdocs

Friday, August 23, 2013

Brewing beer, playing guitar, kayaking and camping; Blake Butler, PhD, dabbles in many things. This year, he can also add politics to his list. The postdoctoral fellow, studying the effects of deafness on the auditory cortex with Dr. Steven Lomber, is the incoming president of the Postdoctoral Association at Western University (PAW), and has a lot of ideas for the coming year. As a former Vice President of the Graduate Student Association at McMaster University, where he completed his PhD, Butler is well positioned to take on the presidential role.

The goal of PAW is to provide a liaison between the postdoctoral community and the administration at Western, while also providing a venue for postdocs across campus to meet and collaborate. Butler believes postdoctoral scholars and fellows have a lot to offer the University community, and having narrowed down his big ideas into three achievable goals, he is ready for the challenge of promoting postdocs on campus. With Postdoctoral Appreciation Week taking place in mid-September, there is no better time to build awareness of the capabilities of the 400 postdocs across campus, 100 from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alone.

Through community engagement and fostering partnerships, Butler is hoping to raise the profile of postdocs on campus, and contribute to the sense of community all students, faculty and staff at Western enjoy. Previously, this was done though research exhibitions aimed at bringing postdoc research to the forefront. While Bulter finds value in this tactic, and will continue it, new strategies will also be developed this year. “We want to try to make some sort of contribution to the community here, and that comes with establishing some sort of presence through a charity event. We are still in the planning stages of what we want to do, but we are going to engage with the community and really foster some partnerships with other large groups on campus.”

His most ambitious project for the next year is to coordinate activities to facilitate the transition from postdoctoral fellow or associate to academic. Academic positions are limited, so Butler’s goal is to make Western University postdocs the best candidates for academic positions, where they exist. One way he plans to do this is through a mentorship program where early-career faculty mentor postdocs on finding job postings, successfully applying for jobs, and building a CV that really speaks to an academic position. As a way to bring this back to community engagement, the postdocs will then mentor graduate students, helping them with skill development. “I think there is so much to learn by just identifying the strengths of a mentor. For example, as I was doing my PhD, I really learned how to write because my supervisor was a fantastic writer and gave good criticism. You can pick up training skills you would list on a CV from everyone. I think there are great skills you can really pick up by working closely with a mentor."

While research is a big focus for postdocs, keeping a balance and getting out of the lab for some social activities is also important. PAW runs various activities throughout the year which all postdcos across the University are welcome to attend and include monthly socials at the Grad Club, dinners around the city, a Potluck in the Park, a trip to the beach, and a camping trip. “It is a great way for postdocs to come and just relax a little and engage other postdocs in discussion. It is particularly nice for our international postdocs to get out, meet and greet others and make friends. New postdocs can find out more about what to see and do around London from those who have been here a little longer.”

PAW is also planning many festivities and activities to celebrate Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, beginning on September 16. Soccer games, movie nights, bowling and professional development workshops are in the works.

If you are a postdoctoral associate or fellow and are interested in finding out more about PAW, please email