History of the UBC Postdoctoral Association

The UBC PDA was founded in spring of 2006 by a group of likeminded postdoctoral fellows working in the Life Sciences Centre on the Point Grey campus. This initial cohort – Sonia, Danielle, Tim and Louise, as well as a mysterious Frenchman – met socially once a week to discuss postdoc issues and air their grievances over coffee or beer. Over time, they were able to secure a modest annual budget with the help of Prof. Julian Davies, and began reaching out to the UBC community to provide a platform for networking, professional development, and postdoc advocacy. Then, as now, the PDA was a place where postdocs could meet to develop and enact their ideas, whether it was hosting a career symposium, organizing a hike, or engaging the UBC administration on matters of policy. Adopting a logo inspired by the Guinness toucan, they also began publishing a regular newsletter, highlighting news and commentary geared toward the UBC postdoc community.

Over the next two years the PDA email list grew and became a popular forum for discussing pressing matters of the time, including taxes, benefits and apartments for rent. Key members during this era – Ana, Manue, Angelina, Matt and Heather – were instrumental in maintaining a diverse calendar of events that included seminars by invited speakers, an annual Whistler ski trip, regular lunch and evening socials, and an initial effort to address UBC policy issues that impacted postdocs, focusing mainly on the issue of benefits. At the time, only postdocs hired as staff were eligible for extended health insurance, so anyone who received a fellowship had to pay out of pocket for private coverage. This policy injustice and others like it was often the main subject of conversation at social events, and no one was really sure if anything could be done to change things.

By definition, postdocs aren’t around for very long, and the high turnover meant that the PDA lacked the continuity to create lasting changes. By 2009, the PDA had dwindled down to three members, the future uncertain. But the grassroots network built over the previous three years helped catalyze a handful of determined postdocs into a new collaborative effort with the UBC administration. As a result, the PDA was eventually able to negotiate a series of victories that included full health benefits and parental leave for all postdocs, an extended appointment limit of up to five years, and a new central office to administer postdoctoral affairs at UBC.

Members of the PDA task force took this opportunity to formalize the PDA executive structure, draft a constitution and hold elections for officers in 2011. The first formal executive team – Andy, Dawn, Geraldine, Cordula, Mary and Nirupa – worked closely with the nascent Postdoctoral Fellows Office to develop and launch a series of initiatives including orientations, monthly professional development workshops, travel awards and fellowships. Since then, the PDA has remained in close collaboration with the PDFO, while independently providing numerous social outlets and promoting exciting new events such as our annual Postdoc Research Day and Three-Minute Postdoc Slam.

The rest, as they say, is history.