The Wayne State University School of Medicine has established a new Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and has named Dr. Ambika Mathur its director.
Dr. Mathur, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, will retain her role as director of the School of Medicine’s MD/PhD program. In her new position, she will report to Dr. Kenneth Palmer, associate dean of graduate programs.
The School of Medicine has approximately 250 postdoctoral trainees in various categories of appointment and classification. The goals of the OPA are to create a unified appointment and classification process for all postdoctorals; provide guidelines for salaries, stipends and benefits; and provide centralized career development and skills development workshops for all trainees. These career development opportunities will be in accordance with the National Institutes of Health’s recommendations for establishment of OPAs in institutions applying for training grants, as well as with the U.S. House of Representatives’ new provision calling for federal funding agencies to require all grant applications that include postdoctoral support to include a description of mentoring activities such as annual evaluation, career counseling and development, and training in grant applications for postdoctoral trainees. The OPA will work closely with research mentors and postdoctoral trainees toward these goals.
As director of the OPA, Dr. Mathur’s role will be to create a central office to coordinate non-research related training of postdoctoral trainees. She noted that while individual research mentors provide the real research training, they are often stretched for time to provide opportunities to develop other areas of professional development.
“I consider my role to be one in which we complement the research mentors' training with our training in these professional development areas such that the student emerges from the training program with the complete skills set required to be a competitive independent researcher at the national level,” Dr. Mathur said. “This will require working closely with the postdocs, their mentors and chairs of their departments. I will also work at the national level with directors of other postdoctoral offices to establish policies that benefit postdocs, across the country.”
Dr. Mathur said her goal with the OPA is to establish a series of career development opportunities for all postdoctoral students in training so that they can be competitive for the best faculty positions at premier institutions, and to promote a positive view of Wayne State University as a great institution at which to train. Such career skill workshops or classes would include training in grant writing, teaching, mentoring, lab management, resume preparation, negotiating skills and time management. That will allow mentors to focus on research training for their students and provide uniform training opportunities for all postdoctoral trainees.
“I trained as a postdoc at a time when postdocs were really considered more like apprentices to perform research, and research alone” Dr. Mathur said. “While I was fortunate to have extremely enlightened mentors who helped me develop in other aspects of my training on the path to establishing an independent career, I observed that my colleagues were not as fortunate. Thus, the majority of postdocs were not given the opportunity to acquire career skills such as teaching, grant writing, lab management and opportunities to speak at national conferences. A number of these colleagues were not able to obtain competitive faculty positions, and therefore did not advance as much as they could have had they had access to such training skills, even though they had excellent research skills.”
Dr. Mathur received her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa. After a post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Minnesota, she became assistant professor and then a tenured associate professor of tumor immunology at the University of Minnesota.
She has mentored several postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students, masters students and undergraduate students, as well as medical fellows, medical residents, medical students and dental students.
The published author of a series of books for children, her passion is promoting literacy among children. She and her husband -- Deepak Kamat, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of education in the Department of Pediatrics – serve as director and associate director respectively of the Institute of Medical Education at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where they have developed new educational programs for medical residents, fellows and faculty. They are the parents of 17-year-old twins.