Postdoc Best Paper Awards presented for the first time

The first ever Postdoc Best Paper Awards were presented on Thursday, June the 10th. The award is an initiative from the Postdoc Association and the three research institutes at TU/e. 25 TU/e postdocs submitted their papers, of which 10 were selected. The postdocs held pitches during the online award ceremony, but for the sake of suspense, they hadn’t been told in advance. In the end, three winners were picked: Matthew Dennis, Juliëtte van Duijnhoven and Tommaso Pini.

photo Radu Bercan / Shutterstock

The pitches, which were allowed to last only three minutes, were assessed on the basis of three C’s: content, clarity and charisma. However, that first C wasn’t the most important one. “Since these papers have already been published, we know that they are of a high quality,” says the secretary of TU/e’s Postdoc Association (PDA) Francesca Toso, who is responsible for the event’s communication. “It’s not so much about content per se, but about how that content is communicated and how accessible the papers are.”

The winner, Matthew Dennis, won 500 euros for his paper ‘Towards a theory of digital well-being: reimagining online life after lockdown,’ which he managed to pitch in a compact in clear manner. Runner up Juliëtte van Duijnhoven received 250 euros for ‘Personal lighting conditions of office workers: An exploratory field study,’ and number three, Tommaso Pini, was awarded 100 euros for his research ‘Deformation and failure kinetics of polyvinylidene fluoride: Influence of crystallinity.’ Maria Pastrama, vice-chair of the PDA: “Someone asked us whether the winners are required to spend the money on science. We strongly encourage it, but it isn’t required. If you want to buy your friends some drinks to celebrate, that’s fine as well,” the researcher says with a big smile on her face. The postdocs are very satisfied with the result and would like to organize a second award ceremony, only physically this time, Pastrama says.

The origins of the awards

Pastrama: “We started with the awards after the ICMS institute contacted us because it wanted to bring some attention to projects of researchers who were embarking on their careers in science. A competition like this one would be a good way to bring that about. I then talked to the other two institutes, after which we came up with a competition in which all three institutes take part.” Toso: “Eligible papers had to be written during the eighteen months leading up to the competition, and the postdocs had to be first authors. The jury is composed of various scientists from all three institutes and also includes science communication officer Barry Fitzgerald, social media manager Pascal Appel and one of our postdoc members. Everyone has a different perspective, which makes it such a strong jury.”

Strong growth during times of corona

Maria Pastrama, vice-chair at the PDA and postdoc Orthopaedic Biomechanics at the department of Biomedical Engineering, started the association for postdocs in February 2020, together with Tim Wezeman, Willem van Hoorn and a few others. Van Hoorn is involved with the association as a representative of TU/e’s Human Recourses Management. “I heard signals that something needed to be done for postdocs,” he says. “There was support for it in the collective labor agreement. We had our first event, which attracted some fifty people, just before the pandemic broke out. After that, we continued online.” Pastrama: “That was our only option, except for a hybrid event in July.” They refused to get discouraged and came up with plenty of online alternatives. “We use Gather.Town, for example,” says Francesca Toso, postdoc at the department of Industrial Design, where she conducts tests with technologies for people who suffer from dementia. “I was fortunate to have attended our association’s last physical event, and I was immediately enthusiastic and wanted to help.” And so it happened: she became secretary. “Gather.Town also works very well with larger groups, such as our association,” she says. “It’s an online environment where people meet each other through a character they select. This allows you to see and hear people in a natural way, meaning only the people who stand close to you. You can also play games there.”

Anti-stress events

The fact that the number of members continued to grow to 170 – more than half of all postdocs at TU/e – during the pandemic, shows that the online events are popular also. Apart from social events, the PDA also organizes career events and anti-stress events, for a good reason, Pastrama says: “We often sit with PhD candidates or tenure trackers, and it doesn’t quite fit: we’re right in the middle. We have shorter contracts, there’s much uncertainty and many of us travel from country to country because we want to start our science careers. That is why we feel a strong need to meet each other, but we also look for mentorship, social contacts, contacts in the science community and collaboration. These are all reasons to set up this association.” Are you a postdoc and would you also like to become a member of the Postdoc Association? Sign up here for free.

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