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Not A Student And Not Yet An Independent Psychologist

Creating space for the postdoctoral trainee along with the joys and hardships that come with this unique phase of professional development.

KayLoni Olson
KayLoni Olson

KayLoni Olson, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Albert Medical School of Brown University

“Feels like I’m caught in the middle, that’s when I realize, I’m not a girl, not yet a woman”—was pop starlet Britney Spears  singing about the plight of the postdoc when she sang these words in 2001? Probably not. But developmental angst is a tale as old as time and The Society for Health Psychology is hoping to address some of the unique challenges that come with being stuck in the middle of training and early career independence.

The Student Activity Council (SAC) is excited to announce that it has expanded to include a new position specifically designated to support postdoctoral trainees within the Society for Health Psychology (SfHP). This new position is a result of an initiative spearheaded by the SAC with strong support from the Early Career Professional Committee. Below we share some of the results from our postdoctoral needs assessment conducted Spring 2019. We were thrilled to hear from over 60 SfHP postdocs. Below is an excerpt of the results taken from the Student Council Newsletter (Authors: Claire Conley and Ke Ding). We thank the individuals who took time to share their thoughts with us, as we now have a preliminary road map for creating more support for postdocs within the Society.

Who you are: About half (49%) of respondents are in clinical postdocs, and 27% are doing a combination of clinical work and research. That means that the majority (76%) are doing at least some clinical work during their postdoc!


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What we heard: Providing resources for licensure will impact a large percentage of our postdocs!

Where you’re going: 65% of respondents would like to secure a clinical job in an academic medical center after completing their postdoc.

What we heard: While there is some variability in where you hope to land, 100% of postdocs hope to secure a job! Providing resources for navigating the job market will be greatly beneficial.

Time is of the essence: Postdoc programs are pretty short! 49% of respondents are in 1-year postdocs, and 46% are in 2-year postdocs.

What we heard: There is a lot to be done and not much time to do it. Seeking mentorship for professional development is helpful, but that doesn’t always leave much time to discuss job security. The SfHP can help with this challenge by building a repository of resources that postdocs can access on their own time and when it is most relevant for them.

It can get lonely: A large minority (30%) of postdocs do not feel connected with or have access to other individuals in postdoctoral training.

What we heard: The SfHP has an opportunity to build connections and a support system at a time that many individuals feel disenfranchised.

Postdocs would benefit from more resources: Over 50% of respondents indicated that they would benefit from more support regarding 1.) the job search, 2.) support for clinical licensure, 3.) pilot funds for projects, 4.) support for grant writing and 5.) for navigating the transition from trainee to early career professional.

What we heard: There is work to be done! The SfHP has the opportunity to better support our postdocs.

So what are we doing about it? We used this information to advocate for new leadership that will be able to devote time and resources specifically to the postdoctoral trainees within the SfHP.

infographic for postdoc articleThe Position

The Postdoctoral representative is a new position within the SAC and represents the fourth subcomittee (including membership, communication, and diversity). Although formally housed within the SAC, the position is being structured so that the postdoctoral representative works closely with both the student council and the early career professional committee. Just like the postdoctoral trainee, we wanted the structure of this position to reflect the developmental space between training and early career independence.


Creating space: The Postdoctoral representative position was developed out of the realization that there was an unmet need within the Society for Health Psychology. The postdoctoral phase of professional development is unique as it represents a transitional phase between training and independence as an early career professional. To date, the postdoctoral trainee has not had a formal space or identity within the society. The development of this position is the first step forward in creating representation and visibility for health psychology postdoctoral fellows.

Creating resources: A first initiative undertaken by the postdoctoral representative along with support from the SAC and Early Career Chairs has been to advocate for funding with the Society that is specifically ear-marked for postdoctoral trainees. The postdoctoral trainee is tasked with the challenge of becoming fully prepared to launch an independent career, whether it be focused on research, clinical care, administration, policy, or a combination of the aforementioned. Without a doubt, it is costly to launch independent data collection or to pursue clinical licensure. Yet the postdoctoral fellow is often a poor fit for existing awards (within the Society and elsewhere) as the postdoc is often viewed as ‘too senior’ to be considered for student funding, yet is unlikely to be competitive when competing with early career professionals who have had up to 10 years to be productive. The proposal submitted to the executive board includes two scholarships, one focused on pilot funds for research and a second focused on defraying the costs of clinical licensure or board certification. Stay tuned!

Creating Leadership opportunities: We spent quite a bit of time considering alternatives to developing a postdoc specific position—could the current student council committees spend more time and energy supporting postdoctoral members? Could the Early Career council focus on integrating postdocs into their structure? At the end of the day, we decided it seems like postdoctoral trainees are best suited to know what postdoctoral trainees need. Creating a new committee/position has the added benefit of creating new leadership positions with the SfHP. This provides our postdocs with developmentally appropriate opportunities to engage with professional service, while growing the number of young leaders within the Society who will be able to step into more advanced leadership roles in the future.

We thank the executive board for their support of this new position, and I am thrilled and honored for the opportunity to step into this role during its inaugural year. This year I will be focusing on infrastructure—building a position with resources that is well-integrated into the current SfHP structure in order to promote the growth of the postdoctoral role within SfHP leadership. We will be having a formal call for applications for Postdoctoral Representatives in Spring 2020.We will be seeking SfHP members who are currently in (or about to matriculate into) a postdoctoral position who are eager to take on a leadership role and excited by the challenge of developing priorities and initiatives to support fellow postdocs. In the meantime, we would love to hear from SfHP postdocs about any ideas you might have for developing this role and the resources it will provide.