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Postdoctoral program helps invest in emerging scholars

The program recruits highly qualified postdoctoral fellows who hope to become leaders in their fields

From research funding to leadership training to a monthly taco meetup, a program for postdoctoral scholars at The Ohio State University is helping boost the academic careers of emerging researchers.

“We’re in a book club and reading a book on lab management, which is really great, but that book club turned into a taco club and now we meet once a month for tacos. That’s awesome,” said postdoctoral scholar Nicole Pfiester. “Now we’re practicing job talks because a bunch of us are applying for jobs. It’s been a really great support network.”

Pfiester is a member of the President’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program. Like her book-club-turned-taco night, it’s part of the university’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

The program supports young researchers at Ohio State and recruits highly qualified postdoctoral fellows who hope to become leaders in their fields. President Michael V. Drake, who helped launch the program, honored the most recent cohort at a luncheon this month.

The program supports scholarly training of PhDs and terminal degree holders who are pursuing careers in research and creative expression. The selected scholars receive professional development and faculty mentoring. The Office of the President and the sponsor college of each scholar provide salary, benefits and program support.

“We initially envisioned this working with the Office of the President and the Office of Academic Affairs, to give an opportunity to bring top-notch, world-class scholars here to Ohio State to do their postdoctoral scholarship,” said Noah Weisleder, faculty director for the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. “The idea is that it would help accelerate them on a path towards being faculty members in the academies themselves.”

Pfiester is a member of the third cohort of 10 scholars. The program is now in its third year in existence. Drake said it is similar to a program developed at University of California, Irvine when he was chancellor.

Pfiester’s mentor is Sanjay Krishna, the George R. Smith Chair in Engineering. Krishna runs the university’s Krishna Infrared Detector (KIND) Laboratory. Pfiester is a nanofabrication specialist with experience in optoelectronic devices and metamaterials. Her efforts focus on designing the material, shape and size of the sensors so they perform better.

“The cameras in your phone, for example, take an image using visible light. When you get into longer wavelengths, now you’re starting to talk about infrared. We can’t see those, but we have cameras that can,” she said. “We use them for a lot of different applications. You can measure temperatures, you can identify certain proteins and different things based on whether they absorb or reflect light.”

In addition to helping the scholars advance their research at Ohio State, the program also provides mentorship encouraging the postdocs to grow as leaders in their field of study. Pfiester said it’s part of the program she really appreciates.

“It helps me to have concrete feedback. I’m really good at identifying ‘Okay, this is a skill I need to work on, how do we improve that?’ So it was important for me to know that if I came to Ohio State, being the way that I am, I was going to be supported and I was going to be helped in that endeavor because, ultimately, it just helps me in the long run,” she said. “[Mentorship] is very important to Sanjay, but it’s important to know that the university also supported it.”

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