Postdocs happy to get a seat at the table for shared governance


With their newfound representation in shared governance, postdocs are in a better position than they were a year ago to make their voices heard on campus.

The Senate Council approved a resolution over the summer that will allow David Gau, president of the University of Pittsburgh Postdoctoral Association, to join Senate Council. In addition, a postdoc representative will join each standing committee in the Senate.

Gau is no stranger to shared governance. He previously served on the Student Government Board and was a two-term president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government.

Postdocs have been pushing for stronger representation for years, Gau said, adding shared governance will help university policymakers keep their unique needs in mind.

Gau said he and the other postdoctoral association members are determined to improve the quality of life for the nearly 800 postdocs on campus who are a “driving force” for the research done at Pitt.

However, postdocs are caught in between the classifications of staff and students, which could create confusion when it’s time to change policies

“We’re kind of in flux, in between the two,” Gau said. “It’s good to know that now we can represent that voice of this population of people here at the University that are kind of between trainee and staff status.”

Gau said he and other postdocs are working hard to make the Pitt community more aware of their needs, especially since there aren’t many outside of the Schools of Health Sciences. The six schools account for more than 70 percent of postdocs on campus, Gau said.

These postdocs also have support from the Office of Academic Career Development Health Sciences to get information about benefits and grievance processes. The 30 percent of postdocs outside the Schools of Health Sciences don’t necessarily have this resource, Gau said. It can be difficult to learn all the guidelines in place for postdocs in various schools, especially when it comes to grievance situations. 

Some schools may not have a system in place at all, Gau said, and if they do, some of the guidelines haven’t been updated since the early 2000s.

“We, as an association, are still learning about how does each school handle postdoc grievances,” Gau said. “And again, we’re just trying to level the playing field to make sure that postdocs in Schools of the Health Sciences aren’t having all these great resources and postdocs in the non-health sciences kind of get left behind.”

Nathan Urban, vice provost of graduate studies, said the addition of postdocs to shared governance could help clear up policy issues.

“Postdocs play a big role in the research life to the university, and we have a lot of policies that influence them and affect their lives,” Urban said. “And so, we want to make sure that they have the ability to make their voices heard when discussing the policies ….  Quite frankly, we have a lot of policies that don’t directly address postdocs.”

Some of the policies, Urban said, include policies on intellectual property and conflicts of interest, which often show up in shared governance discussions. Postdocs also are unsure about whether certain benefits apply to them such as the software that faculty, staff and students have access to through Postdocs need this software to conduct their research

“Those, in some way, have to take into account the fact that … the postdocs are a part of the University,” Urban said. “We want to make sure that the policies that we have, that we put forward, that come through organizations like this call out and address the questions of how is it these apply or don’t apply in case of postdocs.”

When the Pitt Postdoctoral Association successfully negotiated increased parental leave last year, it prompted a number of conversations about how guidelines for them should be updated, Urban added.

Senate Council President Chris Bonneau welcomed postdocs to Pitt’s shared governance process.

“Our view is that every constituency should be represented in the University Senate,” Bonneau said. “And so from our perspective, it was a pretty easy call to change our bylaws to give them a seat at the table, because we think their interests aren’t necessarily the same as graduate students and faculty.”

Bonneau said Urban and Gau approached him a year ago to express their interest in getting postdocs involved in shared governance. He hopes postdocs are active and provide new perspectives.

“We’re happy to have more voices at the table,” Bonneau said. “And we’re happy to ensure that their views get heard.”

Donovan Harrell is a reporter for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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