Issue Date: April 20, 2009
Postdocs For Retirees
AN ARTICLE and subsequent letters to the editor note that some chemists wish to pursue laboratory research after retiring from industry or government service (C&EN, Nov. 10, 2008, page 38, and Jan. 5, page 6). The writers point out the difficulties in setting up home laboratories, particularly the difficulties posed by compliance with federal, state, and local regulations designed to limit chemical procurement; to ensure safe disposal of chemicals; to control hazardous materials and odors; and to discourage the synthesis of controlled substances.
Some alternatives to home laboratories were proposed, including opening academic institutions to trained chemists who would work under supervision. One may justifiably ask, "What is in that for a college or university?" I propose Postretirement Post-Doctorals (PPDs) as a workable alternative.
The potential PPD would contact an existing faculty member with similar interests. After review of the PPD's résumé and work proposal, an agreement would be drawn up for the PPD to work in a manner similar to any other postdoc, but with some notable differences. First, the PPD would not receive a stipend because the work would involve their own projects. Second, the PPD would reimburse the academic institution for the cost of the chemicals, solvents, and basic laboratory equipment required over and above what is available in the faculty member's research group. Third, outside analytical costs would be negotiated between the sponsoring faculty member and the PPD. Fourth, chemicals, solvents, and equipment would stay with the faculty member's group when the PPD leaves, unless transferred by mutual agreement to another academic institution, thus eliminating the problems associated with home laboratories and avoiding conflict with federal, state, or local regulations.
PPDs would be subject to all departmental and institutional policies, and periodic work progress reviews would be conducted by the faculty sponsor. Any publications would be coauthored with the faculty sponsor as the principal investigator. Patents arising from the work would be handled in the normal postdoctoral manner.
Because research lab space is always at a premium, PPD lab work could be scheduled during summer and inter-term periods when undergraduate laboratory space is available. While classes are in session, the PPD could update their chemical knowledge or do library work. The PPD would have to supply their own lodging and travel expenses as required.
This sort of arrangement would be a win-win situation for the academic institution, the sponsoring faculty member, and the PPD. Among the benefits to the faculty member and institution would be postdoctoral research personnel at a fraction of the normal cost, new ideas and potential access to industrial and government groups through PPD contacts, and years of practical and diverse industrial or government service experience made available to the academic research group. The main benefit for the PPD would be the opportunity to pursue their research ideas in a safe and supportive research environment.
Park Falls, Wis.
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