‘Postdocs are all in the same grey area’

Postdocs are an often forgotten group of academic staff at TU Delft. A dedicated network should change this. Delta interviewed the network’s initiator, Dr Eelco Lens.

“Only five percent of all postdocs succeed in the scientific world.” (Photo: Marjolein van der Veldt)

From PhD students to professors, most TU Delft academic staff are united in their own networks. For one group, a network was still missing: the postdocs. Dr Eelco Lens, a postdoctoral researcher in medical physics, is changing this. Together with five colleagues, he is working on setting up a Delft postdoc network. Its first meeting is on Friday 7 June and will feature a workshop called ‘Your next career move’. Around 80 interested people have already registered. Lens would like to reach all 400 postdocs at TU Delft.

What makes it difficult to reach all postdocs?
“Postdocs are spread across all the faculties and have different titles. One is called researcher and the other is a project employee. This makes it impossible to compile a mailing list of all postdocs.”

The postdocs seem to be a very fragmented group then.
“Certainly. In addition, the postdoc community is very international. I share my office with a Colombian, an Australian and a Turk. Furthermore, the number of postdocs working at TU Delft who also obtained their PhD at TU Delft is small. I myself obtained my PhD at the University of Amsterdam. So you can see that it is a very diverse group with various challenges.”

‘We want a clearer set of duties’

What connects you to each other?
“One thing is that we are all in the grey area called postdoc. We would all like to progress further in our scientific careers, but that proves difficult. Only five percent of all postdocs succeed in the scientific world. Furthermore, our duties are unclear. One postdoc will do a lot of teaching while the other is not even allowed to give lectures. We would like a clearer set of duties for postdocs.”

What is the biggest problem you encounter?
“That postdocs often have temporary contracts. The law only allows you to have a temporary contract for four years. Then the employer must offer you a permanent position. That makes it difficult to apply for research grants. For example, if you want to apply for a Veni grant, you must have a guarantee that you can work at the same university for three years. If you have been working as a postdoc at TU Delft for a year and a half, they cannot give this guarantee and you have to look for another university.”

How can the postdoc network help?
“I am also in a national network, the PostdocNL. That network is striving to draw attention to postdocs at a higher level. We do this, for example, by joining NWO. The intention is not that all postdocs become members of the national network. Our preference is to set up local networks that join the national network. Local networks are good places to exchange experiences and to present a clear unified voice to the university in question.”

What responses have you received so far?
“Very positive ones, both from fellow postdocs and from TU Delft. When setting up the network, I had a lot of help from Sarah Benschop and Frank van Klaveren from HR (the Human Resources department, ed.). They helped me apply for a subsidy from the Executive Board. I am happy that this subsidy has been awarded. I see it as a recognition of our position.”

If postdocs want to join, how can they reach you?
“They can email and join our LinkedIn group.”

Michiel de Haan / Freelance redacteur

Editor Redactie

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