Skip to content
Main menu hidden.
Published: 2023-12-20 Updated: 2023-12-21, 09:25

Fun, career, and rights – for postdocs by postdocs

NEWS As many as 220 postdocs at Umeå University and SLU are connected to Umeå Postdoc Society, UPS. President Maximiliano Estravis Barcala and vice-president Madhusree Mitra are halfway through their “tenure” and have the important task to further improve the postdoc experience in Umeå.

“Being president carries significant responsibility, but it is truly rewarding when postdocs express gratitude, spread positive word of mouth, and attract new members after events. I personally struggle with delegating and trying to have everything under control at the same time. Fortunately, I am surrounded by excellent colleagues who are helpful and understanding,” says Maxi, postdoc at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU.

Umeå Postdoc Society, UPS, is a network of postdocs in Umeå. Its purpose is to create an open and inclusive network environment, regardless of the postdoc’s length of stay or employment situation (contract or stipend holder). It aims to bring about more collaborating opportunities, provide a platform for raising awareness of postdoc rights, career development opportunities, and a forum for voicing disquiet. Furthermore, it is a checkpoint to meet new friends and feel welcome in Umeå.

“I feel both privileged and stressed in the UPS leadership, receiving appreciation in feedback is always a relief. But it is not all on us. As the motto of UPS implies ‘for postdocs, by postdocs’, indeed this is a big responsibility for all UPS members to improve the overall postdoc experience here in Umeå,” says Madhusree, postdoc at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU.

Started during the pandemic

UPS was created in 2020 as a way for postdocs to connect and support each other in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first postdoc association of Northern Sweden.

“When UPS started, several months were spent in bureaucratic tasks writing the bylaws, constituting an advisory board, and setting up a website and mailing list. Also, the first active members were recruited. Thanks to the hard work of that 'first generation', we can now focus on organizing events for an established and solid community of postdocs,” says Maxi.

He describes that the organization of career development events, particularly the big events, works very well. This year UPS has organised a Postdoc Day in February, a Postdoc Retreat in September, and most recently a Young Investigators Symposium (co-organized with UCMR). Each of these events had between 50 and 100 participants.

Aims to widen the community

The previous leadership strived to gain a campus wide presence in Umeå. It is a task that now continues and has high priority. The society is well-known in centres like KBC, UCMR and departments at the Faculty of medicine and the Faculty of science and technology, but very few postdocs represent the faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“We want to change this and work to extend our communication so that more postdocs from all fields know about our events and to recruit active members in as many departments at Umeå University and SLU as possible,” says Maxi.

Another development area is to try to improve the awareness in the society about postdoc rights, working conditions and mental health related issues.

“We aim to become more aware of what is going on, what actions are needed and more importantly have a voice in these matters. I know that in our short tenure of one year most probably we cannot achieve all we plan, but we will take a sincere approach to make these attainable in the future,” says Madhusree.

Step into the unknown

Being a postdoctoral researcher is a transient phase between the PhD degree and a permanent career path, therefore embarking on a postdoc journey can be both exciting and challenging. Most postdocs who arrive in Umeå are from foreign countries, and many come on their own, without any support network of colleagues, family, or friends. The situation can be full of struggle, both personal and work-related.

“For them, UPS can work both as a source of information on what to do before and after arriving in Sweden, and as a way to meet like-minded people and socializing,” says Maxi.

Maxi and Madhusree emphasize that UPS is a place where postdocs are having lots of fun.

“We organize many social events, like board game nights, pub nights, and hikes out in nature. It really feels like a friends’ gathering, which is valuable when you are new in Umeå and not knowing anyone,” says Maxi.

“Far away from home in a place where it is dark and cold most of the time, UPS has also helped me to meet new people and friends, explore Swedish nature, and learn new things. I am enjoying every bit of it and hope that our members do too,” says Madhusree.

Wanted: passionate members

“In my opinion, what works less well in UPS is recruiting and maintaining a constant base of active members. We are working hard on that,” says Maxi.

Even though the mailing list reaches around 220 postdocs in Umeå, only around 15 are active members, which forms the important core of the society.

“Therefore, we have started departmental fika crawls and are attending departmental meetings to introduce the roles and responsibilities you can take within UPS. In all our major events, we emphasize the importance of active members, encouraging them to contribute a small amount of time from their busy research lives for a significant impact. We have recently attracted more interest and recruited eight new active members,” says Madhusree.

Make a difference

Joining UPS enables postdocs to make a difference by contributing ideas for events and enhancing the experience of fellow and future postdocs, fostering a strong sense of team spirit and commitment.

“Also, demonstrating event organization and coordination skills is advantageous for a CV, highly valued by recruiters especially outside academia,” says Maxi.

Madhusree adds: “People are always vocal about what should change in a researcher’s condition like how to improve work-life balance, the lack of collaboration and information, and so on. By joining UPS one can enact those changes instead of worrying about things.”

Before leaving their posts, Maxi and Madhusree would like to develop a code of conduct – that is, to establish the ethical standards that the organization expects postdocs and people in leadership positions to follow – to make sure that all postdocs feel welcome and safe in the context of UPS.

About Umeå Postdoc Society, UPS

UPS was stablished in 2020 and is open to all postdocs in Umeå. The society is divided in several working offices: Presidency, Career Development, Social Events, Media, Communications, and Treasury. In each office except the Presidency office, there is one office chair and 4-5 active members. Each office conducts their office meetings regularly to plan their office activities. 

UPS has an advisory board consisting at present of ten PIs from different departments, who generously put aside a part of their funding on a general account for UPS expenditures. They also meet with the advisory board to report activities and get feedback from them. They have also applied for independent funding from KBC and the Forestry Faculty of SLU for event organization.



For more information, please contact:

Madhusree Mitra
Other position