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Post-Doc Life: Hurdles During a Global Pandemic

Megan Douglas, PhD
Megan Douglas, PhD

Megan Douglas, PhD
SfHP Postdoc Representative
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Rehabilitation Research Center
Baylor Scott & White Research Institute

As a post-doctoral fellow, I knew I would be in touch with my state licensing board whilst applying for clinical licensure in psychology. What I was not anticipating was needing to contact them to explain how the post-doctoral program I had just received approval for was no longer in existence! Due to COVID-19 economic impacts, the entire behavioral health department containing my clinical position and supervisors had been eliminated. I am fortunate enough to have multiple grants contributing to my position and my research director was able to re-allocate funding to cover the lost 30% of my salary from my clinical position. However, like many post-doctoral fellows and trainees my training plan was suddenly up-ended due to the pandemic.

I have had several colleagues experience differential impacts in their own postdoctoral position, including halting of numerous training and study activities, as well as delays and cancellations of job offers. These impacts not only affected postdocs, but students, trainees, and professionals alike are all facing changes in their roles as future or current health psychologists. Unfortunately, trainees who are “in-between” might be most vulnerable to short-term and long-term negative effects. According to a self-selected survey conducted by Nature, 80% of postdoctoral researchers report that COVID-19 has impacted their ability to conduct research and nearly 66% worry that the pandemic will negatively impact their job prospects (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02548-2). My research training was also impacted as my team worked to transition our studies to virtual platforms and generate creative ways of collecting biomarker data amidst quarantine orders and new safety procedures.

Another post-doc specific concern is the time-limited nature of positions. A survey of postdoctoral needs conducted in Spring 2019 reported that 49% of health psychology postdocs were in 1-year positions and 46% were in 2-year positions (https://div38healthpsychologist.com/2019/11/26/not-a-student-and-not-yet-an-independent-psychologist/). For many, postdoc positions represent the last chance for pre-professional training and support, which may be disrupted by the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, the needs survey also highlighted that some post docs also face a lack of connection and many would benefit from additional support and resources. Now, more than ever, there is a great need to support post-doctoral health psychology fellows. Thus, I am excited to accept the position as the new SfHP Postdoctoral Representative.

I am looking forward to continuing the work of my predecessor, KayLoni Olson, as the next SfHP Postdoctoral Representative. My goals for this position, newly organized under the Early Career Professionals Council are to:

  1. Secure SfHP funding opportunities: We have received approval for post-doc specific awards that we are hoping will provide much needed financial support for post docs who can no longer apply for student funding, yet might not be competitive enough for early career funding. I am currently in the process of seeking board approval to finalize details of these awards, which we then hope to roll out for applicants next year.
  2. Increase resources and visibility of existing resources: Many resources exist for “How to Apply for or Find the Right Post Doc,” but few resources assist trainees once they are in the post doc position. I will work to develop SfHP resources and support to bridge this gap in training resources.
  3. Increase communication and social support platforms: Separate resources such as a post doc list serv or social support group may help reduce the lack of connectivity and support reported by post docs. Given the pandemic the focus will primarily be on virtual resources, with future aims to incorporate in-person conference activities or meet-ups.

As I continue to work on these goals, I encourage future or existing post docs to reach out with additional ideas about how to best support post docs. For those whose training might have also been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, please see the links below for helpful resources related to addressing questions and concerns about the impacts of  COVID-19 on training. Finally, please be on the lookout for announcements about postdoc funding opportunities.

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