Monday, December 19, 2011

Announcements from the Public Affairs Committee - Nov 1st 2011

The NIH Invites Comments and Suggestions on Ways to Support Research Funding In Fiscally-Challenging Times
Did you know that the Office of Extramural Research (OER) has a blog? Did you know that they are reviewing how to fund NIH research in these challenging times? Make your voice heard. Give the NIH your opinion on how they should prioritize research funding in the future. Remember, you are a part of that future and you can only have an impact if you participate. Please see the Director of OER’s (Dr. Sally Rockey’s) blog below:

The National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program
Do you have any outstanding student loans from your undergraduate, graduate or medical education and are performing clinically-related research? Are you aware that the deadline for applying for the NIH’s loan repayment program (LRP) is November 15th? Do you want to know the tricks of the trade, regarding the submission of a successful LRP application? We have enclosed links that provide tips when writing the LRP application, as well as a webinar, that goes through helpful information, below:
Written Tips:
Online webinar:

The Postdoc: Transition to Independent Positions
 Are you unsure of what to do, who to talk to, what to say or even where to start when thinking about your future? Then click on the link below, which will take you to the website for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This website includes information via webinar regarding, 1) Making the right career choice; 2) Finding a good institutional fit; 3) Applying for the position; 4) The job interview and seminar; 5) Negotiating a start-up package; 5) Establishing a lab; 6) Finding a mentor; 7) Networking and collaborations; 8) Applying for and getting a grant; 9) The tenure process; 10) Teaching; 11) Non-academic careers; 12) Balancing research/teaching/family/Other commitments.
Website that includes informational webinars:

Did you know….
            Dr. Nancy E. Schwartz, Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Affairs at The University of Chicago has been appointed by The National Academies to review, “The State of the Post-Doctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers”? The project duration is slated to last for up to 15 months. For more information about the goals of the committee, please see the weblink below.

Post-Doc. Awareness Campaign
Are there issues and/or topics that you feel the post-doc. community should be aware of? If so, 2 seats are still available on the University of Chicago Postdoctoral Association’s Public Affairs Committee. Please email Pragati Nigam, Beth Russell and/or Derek A. Wainwright for more information. Alternatively, email us your thoughts or suggestions and we will try to include them in future informational inserts.  Our email addresses can be found below:
Pragati Nigam (Member):
Beth Russell (Member):
Derek A. Wainwright (Chair):

Announcements from the Public Affairs Committee - Nov 14th 2011

Urge Congress to Reject NIH and NSF Spending Cuts

Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended that the 2012 budgets of the NIH and NSF should be cut by $190 and $162 million, respectfully. However, the House Appropriations Committee has recommended a $1 billion increase for NIH and no funding cuts for NSF. It is critical that you let your members of Congress know that the Senate’s proposals would be devastating to scientific progress. Use the following link below, freely provided by FASEB, to advocate for increased funding levels.

NIH Research Funding Trends, 1995 – 2012

Are you looking towards the future and wonder what the NIH has funded in the past? Now you can explore data that presents the trends in funding from the last 7 years. Click on the link below for more information.

The National Post-Doctoral Association

            Did you know that there is a National Post-Doctoral Association (NPA)? There are currently many initiatives being promoted by the NPA, including a call for international officers, the announcement of new NPA board members and the announcement that Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, will be the keynote speaker of the 10th annual NPA meeting. All of the links below will take you to these important updates.

Impact your future
Some of the post-docs. that call University of Chicago their home are currently attending the Society of Neuroscience meeting, being hosted in Washington D.C. Aside from the outstanding research that the meeting offers, many student/post-doc.-oriented symposiums are geared towards informing those individuals how best to impact their future. One of the workshops, “Advocating in Congress for Federal Research Funding”, emphasized that the future of biomedical research funding is dependent on us, as post-docs. If we fail to advocate for the basic science- and disease-research areas that we all value so deeply, we not only negatively impact the future of science, but also significantly affect future careers in the biomedical field, including ours. Remember, it won’t matter how well connected you are nor how well your grant is written if funding for the NIH/NSF stagnates/decreases in future years. Please contact your society’s advocacy office to see how you can make a difference and if you don’t belong to a scientific society, JOIN ONE!

Announcements from the Public Affairs Committee - December 5th

These announcements were found in the bulletin on December 5th 2011

Failure to agree by the deficit reduction ‘super committee’ has broad implications for future funding at the NIH
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach a consensus on a long-term cost-cutting package by the November 23, 2011, deadline. Although a direct impact on NIH’s budget in 2012 remains to be determined, the automatic trigger of cutting $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending will likely have an enormous impact on biomedical research during the next 10 years, unless congress acts to protect that programmatic area. We urge you to contact your state senators, congressional representatives and community officials to express the consequences to biomedical research, high quality jobs and to the future careers of countless post-docs., whom will be impacted by this potential action over the short- and long-term.
Please visit the weblink below to understand what the NIH is currently facing, ways it is coping with years of budgetary stagnation and thoughts on potential cuts in the future.

The NIH operates under a continuing resolution
The NIH has announced that due to the lack of a defined budget for 2012, it will issue non-competing research grant awards at a level below that indicated on the most recent Notice of Award (generally up to 90% of the previously committed level).

2012 workshop for postdocs. transitioning into independent positions
The NIGMS is currently organizing a program whereby post-docs. that are thinking about-, applying for- or transitioning into independent positions get a special look into how best to go about career planning. Notably, the Director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins will be delivering the keynote address. Furthermore, travel awards of up to $1,250 are available to those that are interested in attending this event. Finally, the time to consider this event is limited. The application deadline is January 6th, 2012. For more information, please see the weblink below.

Tis the season for treats and weight gain
Are you contemplating going on a diet to combat the holiday weight gain? If you are looking to maintain your waistline, simply want to stay healthy or considering how to decrease stress levels, consider a fitness membership at one of our outstanding recreational facilities. The rates listed below are for the combined access to the Ratner Athletics Center and Henry Crown Field House.
Rates for Post-Doctoral Scholars/Fellows = $405/annually or $170/quarter
Rates for Post-Doctoral Medical Residents = $144/annually or $36/quarter
Want to sign up a spouse? Please see the following weblink for additional pricing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garnett-Powers info sessions: November 8th and 9th 2011

Members of the Steering Committee attended all five Garnett-Powers info sessions on November 8th and 9th. The slides presented in the sessions are found here Open Enrollment PowerPoint

For those of you that could not make it to the info session, here are some things to know:
1. If you do not want to make any changes in your enrollment choices, you do not need to do anything. If you want to cancel something or add dependents, this is the time. Even if you think you do not want to change anything we strongly suggest you continue reading to find out if there are benefits you could add or modify to better suit your needs.
2. All of the below comments on benefits apply to both postdoctoral scholars and fellows. Scholars have until November 24th to make changes that will take effect on January 1st 2012.
3. However, fellows have open enrollment whenever their funding starts in the calendar year and yearly after that (not necessarily in November). As a fellow you should be receiving a salary supplement to cover your healthcare but this might not cover it fully if you have a family. Talk to your departmental administrator if you are unsure of when you open enrollment is or for more info on the supplement and healthcare costs. For a list of administrators email
4. The Summary Plan Description (SPD) has all the details of a plan including what is covered. You can also call Garnett-Powers and Associates at 1-800-261-7109
5. Retirement is NOT part of Garnett-Powers and associates and you can change your benefits twice per year at any time.
6. Garnett-Powers will give you 60 days to sign up for COBRA after your termination date, which is the last day of the month your appointment ends.
7. Open enrollment instructions
8. We hope that this blog is helpful. We have made every effort to ensure that the information here is accurate. Please do confirm important details with your departmental administrator or Garnett-Powers. Feel free to comment, suggest improvements or post questions by leaving comments in the blog or by emailing

Here are more details on each type of benefit (Life, Vision, Dental and Health):

All full-times postdocs get $12,000 coverage (remember to put in your beneficiary name on-line). More info here. You get additional $12,000 if accident. J1 status is included and you can purchase more coverage. More info here. 


•HMO – One exam every 12 months ($0 copay)
• PPO – One exam every 24 months ($15 copay)

Low Dental plan better if you plan to stay in network, lower fees.
High Dental Plan probably only better if you plan to use an out-of network dentist.
Link to provider network

1)Rate decrease! 2012 rates found here Rates

2) To contact Garnett-Powers you can call 1-800-261-7109 (they will return your call within 24 hours). However, they prefer you email them with concerns and questions at They will also respond to emails in 24 hours.

3) Healthcare reform makes routine physical exams free! Exceptions include a disease is diagnosed at that visit and possibly, for PPO members the University of Chicago outpatient fee (see PPO below).

4) Differences between HMO vs. PPO options.
All around cheaper option. Both in monthly dues and in co-pay amounts.
Requires you to have a Primary Care Provider (PCP) and for the PCP to give you referrals to any specialists. You can change your PCP once a month. You cannot go to the University of Chicago Hospital since no doctors are covered there! Also, if you are traveling, this could be a problem. In-network is only Chicago based doctors. You are always covered while traveling if it is an emergency. For out-of-state non-emergency coverage you can get a BlueCard Urgent Care card. However, if you travel a lot a PPO might be more convenient.

1) No need for referral, lots of freedom, can see any doctor including those at the University of Chicago (lots of in-network doctors all over the US).
2) Keep up with claims and expenses on-line using Blue Access. Also allows you to print temporary ID card.
3) Did you know you have access to a 24/7 Nurseline for answers to health-related questions 1-800-299-0274. Another great wellness program is “Special Beginnings” for expectant parents which offers an online resource center. Discounts to fitness centers in the Blue Care Connection Fitness Program. For more information go to the Blue Cross Blue Shield website or contact Garnett-Powers.
4) You can use things like Urgent Care facilities (for example when you are traveling, less wait than the ER and often cheaper). Also look into seeing a nurse at drugstore clinics (Walgreens, CVS) for less urgent matters.

1) More expensive monthly payments and in addition to co-pays have to pay 20% of most procedures.
2) University of Chicago physicians charge an outpatient clinic fee (can be several hundred dollars but you will never pay more than your deductible, $250). You may be charged for both a co-pay and outpatient fees. After fulfilling the $250 deductible, the only fees that you have to pay when you see a doctor that calendar year are the $15 co-pay (prescriptions not included). If you have a family, it is still only $250 total per person, $500 whole family. So, if you plan on seeing the doctor more than once (recurring illness, several family members, pregnancy) and you want the convenience of UofC physicians, it is probably worth it. If you plan to see a doctor only once (f.ex. a routine check-up) then you might be better off going elsewhere for your services. I have been informed by a postdoc that Northwestern does not have similar charges.

Look up what doctors are in-network here

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Postdoctoral status changes

Some of us have made the transition from scholar to fellow and back to scholar and wanted to share some tips and cautionary tales. We also recommend anyone about to go through a switch attend one of the PDA quarterly info sessions. The next info session is November 7th 2011 at 2pm in BSLC room 202, RSVP to

First, some definitions:
Postdoctoral scholars are University employees and as such are eligible for benefits (matched retirement, subsidized healthcare, pre-tax parking etc). The scholar is paid a salary.

Postdoctoral fellows have obtained their own funding (NIH, ACS, DOD, AHA, Komen, etc) and are NOT University employees. The paycheck says University of Chicago but you are NOT an employee, no tax is deducted and the fellow is not in the Human Resources system. The fellow is paid a stipend.

Important for international postdocs/Visa holders: Funding agencies will sometimes allow grants to be paid out as salary, allowing postdocs to remain as scholars and thus, university employees. This can be very important for international postdocs, in particular those on H1 visas. Inquire with International Office and your grants administrator about whether the particular funding agency can provide salary instead of stipend.

Switching from postdoctoral scholar to postdoctoral fellow

The transition from scholar to fellow was made easier by the fact that a postdoc. in my lab had just gone through it. The biggest change was that no taxes are taken out of the paycheck and I was responsible for paying estimated payments. There is an online service allowing you to pay your taxes directly that makes things so much easier. It is free, government run and can be provided here. I highly recommend it.

The scholar to fellow transition also involved losing the pre-tax status of the parking, health insurance and having no matched retirement funds. You can contribute to a retirement fund, but the funds will be un-matched and you cannot contribute to the TIAA-CREF fund that is open to all of the employees of the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division.

Every fellow should be paid a supplemental stipend (currently it is $1,600 if healthcare funds are provided or $6,200 if no healthcare funds provided), in addition to the regular stipend you receive. This is to provide you with funds for retirement and healthcare (see below).

It is important to talk to your PI about health insurance, as soon as you find out that you will be transitioning. This is because most postdoctoral scholars pay $62/month (pre-taxed income; $62/month×12months/year=$744). This is in contrast for postdoctoral fellows, who will pay $376.59/month×12months/year=$4,519.08, which is extracted out of the institutional allowance, if any (postdoctoral NRSA stipends currently are provided a $7,850 institutional allowance).

When it comes to families, the health insurance coverage for postdoctoral scholars to coverage a married couple is $129/month (×12months/year=$1,548) and for a family is $156/month (×12months/year=$1,872). When it comes to families for postdoctoral fellows, the difference between affordability is dramatic. For a married couple, the health insurance premium is $794.60/month (×12months/year=$9,535.20) and $1137.26/month (×12months/year=$13,647.12). Thus, both of the latter sums for postdoctoral fellows go far beyond the institutional allowance and will require some good will by your PI for coverage.

For NRSA (F32) recipients, the institutional allowance guidelines can be found here.

Finally, make sure your department implements the $1,600 supplemental stipend (or $6.200, if the grant does not provide healthcare funding) in addition to your normal stipend, during your transition. Although it does not offset the cost of losing the excellent benefits supplied through postdoctoral Scholar status, it does help to defray some of the economic burden.

Switching back from postdoctoral fellow to postdoctoral scholar

Because you are not being newly hired and it is just a change in status, it is very important to make sure all your benefits are in order. I did not pay enough attention when I was switched back from a fellow to a scholar. It turns out that the pre-tax parking was not reinstalled and the retirement was not started. I didn’t realize this until 4 months later and lost the retirement I could have been accruing (including University matching) and pre-tax benefits.

Monday, October 10, 2011

NSF Announces New Career-Life Balance Initiative

NSF Announces New Career-Life Balance Initiative

The White House Council on Women and Girls, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science Foundation held a national convocation at the White House on Monday to announce the NSF "Career-Life Balance Initiative." This ten-year plan is designed to "provide greater work-related flexibility to women and men in research careers," according to the press release from the Office of the White House Press Secretary.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mailing list for parents

The"studentparents" mailing list is a great resource for expecting parents and current parent. It gives access to a community of parents at the University. You receive emails about things like babysitting, daycares, schools, nannies, pediatricians receive info on garage sales for gently used items. You can also post your own questions about child-related issues.

Sign up at:

or within subscribe to "studentparents" group

Lactation stations at the University

Here is a list of lactation stations at the University put together by graduate affairs:

There is also a room in the hospital which has pumps. Hospital ID is required for access. It is Room TC275 and it is right behind the ABP.

We have also just added a room in Cummings. It is a temporary solution, very small room, only one chair and table and no pumps. You need to get a key to access the room. Please contact for more info.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NPA resources on maternity leave

NPA ADVANCE is a project to assist women postdocs in making the transition to the professoriate. Supported by the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program for "advancing" the representation of women in academic careers, NPA ADVANCE will focus on adapting and disseminating promising institutional practices that can help women postdocs successfully transition to faculty careers.

A postdocs guide to pregnancy and maternity leave:

2011 Survey results

This past spring the PDA annual postdoctoral survey had 116 respondents! The results help us target the areas of most concern to postdocs, so we thank all who participated. This year’s survey provided valuable insight. For example, 71% of respondents reported that they wished to receive a yearly performance evaluation from their mentors while only 16% reported actually receiving a performance evolution. The PDA recently developed an Individual Development Plan (IDP), a tool for postdocs to use for career-planning purposes and for yearly performance evaluations.
A template of the IDP is available on the website:

This is just one example of how results the PDA tries to improve the postdoctoral experience. For a copy of the complete survey results and an executive summary, visit the Publication section of this website or email Terrie Vasilopoulos ( with questions.Also, please share your experience with the IDP and any suggestions for improvement.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Childcare at the University of Chicago: New childcare center available to postdoctoral fellows and scholar in fall of 2012

Dear postdocs,
The postdoctoral association (PDA) has confirmed that postdoctoral fellows and scholars, in addition to other staff, academic appointees and faculty, will have access to the new childcare center slated to open in the fall of 2012. The center will be located on Drexel between 56th and 57th Streets and will accommodate 124 children between six weeks of age and five years old. An outside provider will operate the new day care center and will charge market rates and allocate slots on a first-come, first-served basis. More information will become available for parents and others interested in the center in 2012.

In addition to the new center, faculty, other academic personnel and staff seeking child care will continue to benefit from the University's partnerships with two local child care providers, the Baby Ph.D. Childcare Network, and the Chicago Child Care Society. In 2005, the University funded grant proposals, creating more than 70 new infant and toddler slots in the neighborhood for children of University and Medical Center employees.

For more information on Baby PhD and Chicago Child Care Society please refer to the following Human resources (HR) childcare webpage and flyer:

On behalf of the PDA Steering Committee,
Kolbrun Kristjansdottir