Postdoc Appreciation Week Highlights Significant Role in Baylor Research

September 22, 2020
Each year, the week of September 21-25 is designated as National Postdoc Appreciation Week by the National Postdoctoral Association. Baylor is among many leading research universities celebrating their important contributions as they advance knowledge and discovery through scholarship and research. As Baylor University pursues Tier 1/R1 research status, we recognize the impact postdoctoral scholars have in achieving this goal.

Throughout Baylor University, a group whose work is often unsung makes significant contributions to research and scholarship. Postdoctoral scholars—professional research staff who, after receiving their terminal degree, focus on high-level research and scholarship at top-tier universities across the nation—are growing in numbers and impact at Baylor, spurred by an intentional focus and investment.

Their role may be less-well known outside of those with whom they closely interact, but their contributions are deeply appreciated by professors and students, and by Baylor University more broadly. While individual professors have their own unique setup and expectations, the fundamentals are the same—postdocs conduct research, provide management and oversight within labs, mentor students and enable professors to focus attention on additional areas of high importance.

“Postdoctoral scholars bring so much to Baylor,” Daniel Romo, Ph.D., the Schotts Professor of Chemistry and co-director of Baylor’s CPRIT Synthesis and Drug-Lead Discovery Laboratory, said. “They bring in a new set of experiences and a new set of viewpoints. It’s like a fountain of new knowledge when a postdoc comes into my group and infuse what they know.

“Beyond that, they provide mentorship to students and a strong work ethic as they demonstrate by example through their own research projects. In my group, they are in the lab when I’m not, which is most of the time, and I view them almost like an extension of me. I also think there’s a multiplication effect, similar to discipleship, when they come to Baylor and then take what they’ve learned at Baylor into the world.”

Last year, Baylor announced the launch of a postdoctoral researcher hiring program. Coming weeks after the official announcement that the University is pursuing Tier 1/R1 research recognition, the program represented an investment of more than $10 million to accelerate the recruitment, hiring and support of these professional researchers. While Baylor has enjoyed the contributions of postdocs for many years, the hiring program provides a framework for expansion, with more than 65 planned postdoc additions over a three-year period.

“It’s incredibly exciting to see the growth in this area and the significant impact of welcoming more senior-level research staff,” Kevin Chambliss, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Research, said. “Postdoctoral scholars partner with our faculty and students to help grow their specific research efforts, and their contributions have a positive effect on all of the metrics we look at in research. The most important thing is, they assist our faculty in taking their research to the next level.”

Key metrics testify to Baylor’s high-level research commitment. Guided by the strategic plan of Illuminate, Baylor has exceeded ambitious early goals in research expenditures—achieving 30 percent growth over the last year, well beyond the goal of 10 percent growth. Additionally, submitted proposals grew across the university, and research awards totaled $22 million—an increase of 21 percent over the previous fiscal year.

Many factors play a role in sustaining and accelerating growth in externally funded research, including postdoctoral scholars. Recognizing the importance of their contributions and the significance of the postdoc years in the life of the individual scholar, Baylor’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) has built resources to serve them in a variety of ways through the Baylor Postdoctoral Scholars Program. The Baylor Postdoctoral Scholars Program provides training and development, networking opportunities, a postdoctoral scholars association and more designed to help position them for success while they’re at Baylor, and when they pursue their subsequent careers as academic and research professionals.

“We want to provide postdocs with the level of support that we provide our students and faculty, because they are such an important part of our research enterprise,” Chambliss said. “It’s critical to us to provide these resources and a framework for development to help them be successful beyond Baylor.”

Baylor OVPR staff view the expansion of services to postdoctoral scholars as a natural extension of Baylor’s caring campus community—a cultural hallmark of the University embodied in the relationships, mentoring and investment that faculty make in their undergraduate and graduate students.

“Baylor has really been a very nice place for me and my family,” Venkata Kovvuri, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in Baylor’s CPRIT Synthesis and Drug Lead Discovery Laboratory. “Dr. Romo has created a good atmosphere. I feel like I have his full support, and he’s always available to help me tackle issues or provide guidance for my future. I’ve been able to publish a paper here in Organic Letters, an influential journal in organic chemistry, which is leading to more interest and opportunities for me. My wife and children love the people and the campus. It is really a blessing to be a part of the Baylor Family.”

Click here to learn more about Kovvuri and other postdoctoral scholars’ contributions to campus laboratories, classes and research groups, and here for video features on Baylor postdocs in their own words.
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