Investing in the postdoctoral trainees of today to enable life-changing discoveries of tomorrow

The life-changing discoveries of tomorrow will be made by the scientific trainees of today. At Van Andel Institute, we are committed to supporting our outstanding roster of postdoctoral fellows as they pursue biomedical science breakthroughs and prepare for the next stages of their professional careers.

Postdoctoral fellowships are a key part of an early career scientist’s journey. Much like medical residencies, the postdoctoral period is a time for junior scientists who have just earned their Ph.D. to gain additional experience at the lab bench, further develop their grant-writing and manuscript preparation skills, and develop new perspectives into the business of scientific research and leadership.

But postdocs also face unique challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent reports in eLife, Nature and other journals are a stark reminder of the obstacles that stand in the way of promising young scientists and their careers: relatively low pay, lack of benefits, lack of institutional support, loss of work due to lab shutdowns, loss or high cost of childcare, and mental health considerations, among others. Many graduate students are opting to leave academia altogether due to these concerns.

Our institutions have a responsibility to support early career scientists and address these barriers to retaining the brightest minds who will make future breakthrough discoveries. VAI has always believed that postdoctoral training should be a rewarding experience — both scientifically and professionally. We want our scientists to have the bandwidth to do groundbreaking, life-changing science, and that means ensuring a supportive environment and strong infrastructure that rewards people for their talent.

We have addressed these issues head-on with our long history of providing salaries above National Institutes of Health-recommended levels, comprehensive benefits, robust career and professional development opportunities, and an active Postdoctoral Association and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. In fact, starting this December, VAI is further increasing postdoctoral starting salaries to $70,000 a year, with further increases for merit and experience. This adjustment recognizes the vital role postdocs play at VAI and demonstrates our commitment to an outstanding postdoctoral experience.

In tandem with an increase in base pay, we offer benefits that are not the norm for postdocs in the U.S., including low or no-cost health insurance for fellows and their families; paid parental leave; relocation funding and a relocation coordinator; and retirement benefits. VAI postdocs also benefit from the Institute’s exceptional support staff, which frees up their time to engage in research instead of administrative tasks.

In addition to our top-notch, traditional postdoctoral program, we are home to several specialized, innovative postdoctoral programs. One is our Cancer Epigenetics Training Program, which is funded by a T32 grant from the National Cancer Institute. This program provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary research training in cancer epigenetics with individualized mentorship from VAI’s world-class leaders in epigenetics. Another program is our Inspire Fellowship, which supports exceptional postdoctoral fellows by reducing barriers, fostering community, and providing the resources and personalized mentorship needed for an outstanding training experience. We also offer the VAI Fellows program, which provides greater independence than a traditional postdoctoral fellowship. VAI is accepting applications for all three of these programs. More information may be found here.

Deciding to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and choosing an institution are major decisions with lifelong ramifications. In recognition of its importance, we also are pleased to host an annual Postdoc Preview event, during which selected applicants visit VAI and Grand Rapids to see if our research and environment are a good fit. Applications for the next Postdoc Preview will open in spring 2023.

As a scientific community, we must support postdocs. It is our hope that these programs, along with VAI’s other postdoctoral training opportunities, will serve as springboards for the next generation of scientists and advances that will improve human health now and in the years to come.

The Cancer Epigenetics Training program is supported by a National Cancer Institute T32 training grant (no. T32CA251066). The content is solely the responsibility of VAI and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.