Full circle for Blackie

27 July 2009

Dr Blackie "... it may be helpful to train academics to use postdocs effectively" - Dr Margaret Blackie.

Dr Margaret Blackie of the Faculty of Science says postdocs who have been given real responsibility - and recognition for it - tend to have better experiences.

"At the end of my short postdoc in Lille, France, I worked in a spiritual retreat in the UK, but four years out is a very long time. Returning to UCT was really the only way to get back into the field, returning to a place I was known. I came back to do a two-year postdoc in chemistry in 2007 and moved to engineering and education research at the start of 2009.

"Education links my passion for chemistry, for teaching and for human development. I feel I have finally found a research interest that will carry me into an academic career.

"Education is absolutely vital for any society. The particular history of South Africa has led to a deep impoverishment of the majority of the society. In addition, with the internet and the instant access we have to information now, the purpose of education may be shifting. It's crucial that we address questions about what we should be teaching and how we train teachers and academics in today's world.

"With increasing pressures on academics in terms of time, postdocs serve as a very useful resource. We are experienced, knowledgeable and motivated; and as such, postdocs are an invaluable asset to any research group.

"I do think that postdocs could be used more broadly. We are frequently seen as useful students who don't have the pressure of producing a thesis. Postdocs should be given access to the kind of development programmes aimed at junior academic staff. Because of equity issues, it is not uncommon to have postdocs who are much more experienced than some junior staff.

"There's very little interaction between postdocs in different research groups, never mind different departments! If postdocs had a more defined role, association might happen more naturally.

"I've been very fortunate that I have taught a couple of first-year courses. This has been time-consuming, but very useful to me. I now have experience that few of my peers have. In one sense, the postdoc experience is closely tied to one's supervisor.

"The postdocs who have better experiences tend to be those who have been given real responsibility and are recognised for it. This could sound rather strange, but it may be helpful to train academics to use postdocs effectively. My own experience has improved, as I have been able to take more responsibility for my own research trajectory.

"I also think that doing a postdoc with a doctoral supervisor should be strongly discouraged unless there has been some break (at least a year). It is hard for both supervisor and postdoc to shift into a new role. This probably accounts for a lot of the frustration of postdocs!

"Regarding the future, I'd like to embark on an academic career and I've already applied for some jobs."

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