In April 2016 the Presidents of the Postdoctoral Association of the University of Calgary (PDAC), the University of Alberta Postdoctoral Fellows Association (PDFA), and the University of Lethbridge Postdoctoral Fellows Association (ULPA) submitted a letter to the Alberta Government requesting a meeting with the Province to discuss much-needed improvements in postdoctoral policy on behalf of the ~1,000 postdocs working at their respective institutions. The letter was sent to a handful of MLAs, including the Premier, Rachel Notley, and the Minister of Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt.
A copy of this letter can be found here.
The major issues raised in the letter, included:
- The employment status of postdocs working in Alberta and how the current ‘trainee’ status hurts postdocs and their families.
- The exclusion of postdocs from the provincial legislation governing post-secondary institutions in Alberta (the Post-Secondary Learning Act, or PSLA) and how this oversight leaves postdocs vulnerable and disadvantaged relative to other groups (e.g., grad students and faculty) in academia.
- The fact that the majority of postdoctoral funding in Alberta is dedicated to increasing recruitment of new postdocs rather than support and career development for current postdocs.
The overarching goal of the letter was to open a dialogue with the Province regarding the state of affairs in postdoctoral policy and the need for change. Towards those goals the letter proved fairly successful, as it led to a meeting with the Minister of Advanced Education in late August 2016.
As the President of PDAC at the time, I was fortunate to be one of the postdoctoral representatives present at that meeting, wherein we provided more detailed information about the issues facing postdocs working in Alberta, including data from institutional and national surveys. The discussion eventually turned to potential changes in provincial policy that might improve postdoctoral working conditions, and landed squarely on postdoctoral labour policy and the need for inclusion in the PSLA. As a first step in deciding how to move forward on these issues, the Minister asked our group to participate in the labour relations consultation being conducted for all Alberta university employees in the fall of 2016.
In response, we submitted a 19 page report (along with 7 appendices including survey data from Alberta postdocs) on October 28th, 2016. A copy of the full Consultation Report is available here and is summarized in an Executive Summary available here.
In it, we basically argue for 3 major changes in postdoctoral policy in Alberta:
- For all postdocs working in Alberta (regardless of their source of funding) to be granted employee status, including access to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.
- For provincial funding to be provided to offset the cost of improving services, protections, and benefits for postdocs working in Alberta as part of ongoing support for research and innovation.
- For the inclusion of postdocs in the PSLA (or other provincial legislation) that explicitly provides postdocs with rights and privileges similar to those afforded to other groups in academia (e.g., grad students and faculty).
We have yet to hear back from the Province regarding the outcome of the labour relations consultation, but we remain hopeful for positive change given their openness to our input.
Although the outcome remains uncertain, to my knowledge, this is the closest that postdocs in Alberta have ever come to achieving meaningful and uniform postdoctoral policy reform at the provincial level.
If you’re a postdoc in Alberta, I hope that gets your attention because our associations are going to need your support to ensure success in this endeavour. Please watch your inboxes and social media for additional information about how you can help support this important initiative in the coming weeks.
As the current Chair of CAPS/ACSP, I also hope that these efforts gain the attention of postdocs across the country, as we’re looking to promote and facilitate similar advocacy efforts in other provinces. I encourage all postdocs to read the letter, Executive Summary, and/or Full Report, and if anyone is interested in moving forward with similar initiatives in other provinces please contact CAPS/ACSP (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and to discuss how we can support you in that process.
Thanks for your time and all the best.
Joseph S. Sparling, PhD