Postdoctoral scholars join new fellowship program from UI Provost’s Office

The University of Iowa announced the first four fellows in the Office of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Faculty Fellowship Program April 9. The fellows will join their respective departments in the fall to launch programs that aim to guide them into tenure-track positions.



Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

Four postdoctoral scholars will comprise the inaugural class of the University of Iowa Office of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Faculty Fellowship Program, created as an avenue to train and retain postdoctoral students at the UI.

UI Provost Montserrat Fuentes has been working toward establishing the fellowship since she started at the UI in June 2019. The program focuses on creating a track for postdoctoral scholars toward tenure positions in academia.

Fuentes said fellows will begin with individualized training and mentorship in fall 2020. The overall goal of this program is to ensure the postdoctoral scholars create and maintain the skills they need to be successful in academia, she said.

“The cohort will be participating in different training programs to prepare them all to become excellent teachers, leaders, and researchers,” Fuentes said. “There will be opportunities for leadership development and training on how to write successful grants and publish research. The focus will be on balancing their training with the mentoring they will receive from faculty.”

One of the four postdoctoral fellows is already a Hawkeye. Guifeng Xu, a Ph.D. candidate in the UI Department of Epidemiology, will be hosted in the fall by the Department of Pediatrics.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Xu said she looks forward to focusing on neurodevelopmental disorders while expanding her leadership and teaching skills. Xu has been studying at the UI for almost four years and said she is excited to continue contributing to the interdisciplinary and collaborative environment the university has.

“This is an [incredibly] perfect opportunity for me,” she said. “…I envision this postdoc fellowship as an avenue for me to bridge my broad training background in medicine, public health, psychology, behavioral science, and epidemiology to my future career as a physician scientist specializ[ing] in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Related: UI fellowship program aims to assist postdoctoral students

Xu said that some postdoctoral opportunities exist in her field of study, but few programs intend to create a pipeline to tenure-track positions, which is what makes the UI’s program unique and appealing from her point of view.

Lisa Ortiz is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the UI, a position she started after finishing her PhD in educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in spring 2018.

In an email to the DI, Ortiz said she looks forward to engaging with other scholars in the UI Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies, which will host her, and the Latina/o Studies Program.

Ortiz applied when she saw the UI was offering a unique opportunity for any postdoctoral scholars and would improve the diversity of faculty members in academia.

“Postdoctoral opportunities are important for both individuals and institutions,” Ortiz said. “ …I applied because of the holistic design [this] fellowship offers in terms of research, professional development, mentorship, and teaching. I believe an increase in scholars of underrepresented backgrounds enhances the understanding and experience of higher education for students, scholars, and the community at large.”

Shamar Chin will come to the UI from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is currently finishing her Ph.D. in micropaleontology. Chin said she is ready to embark on new research in the fall and knows that she will be challenged by her future colleagues’ research.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on my masters and my Ph.D., but change is good,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to working with a new team and on a new project. My future advisor [in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences] works in a different part of the geologic column than I do, so I’m interested in being able to compare parts of the older stratigraphic column to my field of research.”

The fourth fellow who will join the Provost’s program is currently completing her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California. Michaela Curran will join the College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Behavioral Health this fall.

Curran said in an email to the DI that postdoctoral fellowships are uncommon for sociologists like herself.

“Many of my faculty colleagues did not obtain postdoctoral fellowships,” she said. “However, recently, I see more sociologists embarking on postdoctoral training … I believe that [fellowships are] part of a wider trend where scholars pursue training to increase competitiveness on the academic job market.”

Curran said that she is extremely excited to join the Health Equity Advancement Lab at the UI and be part of a university that has a strong focus on public health and its global impact. She said a major reason she applied to the program was because of its promotion of diversity in academia.

“I feel a strong commitment to doing what I can to ensure equal access to and promote inclusion in the academy,” Curran said. “Representation matters. This postdoctoral opportunity is important because it encourages different perspectives in higher education and helps the next generation of a diverse pool of scholars, who might [be] hesitant to go to graduate school, see themselves in academia.”

Overall, Fuentes said, this postdoctoral opportunity focuses on the university’s steadfast commitment to increasing the diversity and enhancing the training of future faculty members.

“Investing in our postdoctoral fellows and the structures that are needed to facilitate their success is core to our mission,” she said. “We are going to continue with an unwavering commitment to the training and mentoring of these postdoctoral fellows … to make them successful in any work environment.”

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