Happy Summer Postdocs!
Inside this issue:
- A Dire High: Philadelphia on the front lines of the Opioid epidemic
The city’s battle to be the first in the US with a safe injection facility: page 2
- Health, Insurance and the Postdoc at Penn
Navigating your options: page 4
- Meet the BPC’s New Co – President: Maxime Jacquet
His plans for the Biomedical Postdoc Council: page 6
- Summer Events in The City
Stay cool; check out what’s hot: page 7
Happy spring, postdocs!
Volume 8, issue 2 is now available, compliments of our new writers.
Content in this newsletter:
- BPP-sponsored grant-writing workshops
- Fellowship opportunities for international postdocs
- Brain Food: science night at Reading Terminal Market
Happy Fall Postdocs,
We have the latest issue of the BPC Newsletter.
Inside this issue:
- Congress passes spending bill increasing NIH Budget
- Transitioning to a foreign country – the international postdoc
- Meet the New BPC Co-President, Jason Goldsmith
- BPC Spotlight Café Highlights
- Fall Events in the City
Find the latest issue here: October 2018 Issue – BPC Newsletter
- Congress passes spending bill increasing NIH budget
- Transition to a foreign country: The International Postdoc
- Meet the new BPC Co-President, Jason Goldsmith
- BPC Spotlight Cafe Highlights
- Autumn events in Philly
Dondra Bailey, PhD.
A Diversity in STEM panel discussion was held on Friday, December 8, 2017 in BRB Auditorium. The panel discussion was led by graduate student Hannah Shoenhard. Ms. Shoenhard defined diversity and presented statistics about diversity nationwide and at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine for both graduate and postdoctoral fellows.
This lead to a panel discussion that included Eve Higginbotham, SM, MD, Vice Dean of Inclusion and Diversity, PSOM, Arnaldo J. Diaz, PhD, Assistant Dean of Research Training Programs, and Dondra Bailey, PhD, IRACDA PennPORT Postdoctoral Fellow and also Diversity Committee Co- chair for the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC). The panel discussed key concepts about implicit bias, microagressions and shared their career paths. After the panel discussion, there was a reception where the panel interacted with members of the audience including Penn faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to discuss the importance of diversity in STEM, continuing this conversation and follow-up to organize future programming and initiatives. Organizers were from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), Graduate-Led Initiatives and Activities (NGGLIA) and Biomedical Graduate Student Association (BGSA).
Photo credit: Alice Dallstream and Felicia Davatolhagh
Reuben Das, PhD.
A long-standing event sponsored by the Biomedical Postdoctoral Lunch is the annual Thanksgiving Potluck. The event is targeted mostly toward those postdocs who are away from their families during the holiday season. The majority of the postdocs are foreigners who do not celebrate Thanksgiving in their home countries (with the exception of Canadians). Amita Bansal, current BPC co-President and a former co-chair of the BPC Foreign Nationals Committee, suggested that this year, the postdocs could celebrate the 2017 Thanksgiving in the true American style.
At previous Thanksgiving potlucks, most postdocs would bring delicious homemade dishes that are popular in their own countries, but would be very different from the typical American Thanksgiving meal. To create a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the BPC revamped the annual Thanksgiving potluck: we sponsored a Thanksgiving lunch on 19th December 2017, at the 14th floor lounge of BRB. Three different committees – Diversity, Foreign Nationals, and Social teamed up to organize this event along with BPP staff Donna Crawley. There was a big turnout with over 150 postdocs attending the lunch. Dondra Bailey, Diversity committee co-Chair, was instrumental in leading a bingo game – the two lucky winners received gift cards. The Social co-Chairs Maxime Jaquet and Rueben Das worked with Donna behind the scenes to make the event a huge success. Everyone had a wonderful time socializing and making new friends. For those who missed the event we have some pictures. https://www.facebook.com/UPENNBPC/photos/pcb.809969542516370/809969522516372/?type=3&theater
Photo Credit: Reuben Das.
Natoya Peart, PhD.
On November 29, 2017, an email from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research alerted the postdoctoral community at Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM Postdoctoral Community) to some changes coming to our paycheck. Effective January 1st, all non-NRSA postdocs would have their stipends subject to FICA withholding and automatic deduction of our federal taxes. I for one, welcome the withholding of the federal taxes as I have dreaded the estimated tax payments. With those quarterly payments whose due dates were so easy to miss, I wondered, “Was I miscalculating the amount due? Did I even really have to make this payment?” (A few of my fellow postdocs do not).
Personally, I am a fan of withholding because I like having a refund. But coming to Penn, I was shocked when I received my first paycheck. It was a lot more than I expected and when I checked my paystub – I saanw that federal taxes were not withheld. I will admit to not knowing much about the US taxes besides that it must be paid. So I was confused why there was no federal taxes being deducted (a little forewarning would have been nice). Upon consulting a senior postdoc in my lab I learned that UPenn did not withhold Federal Taxes on Postdoc stipends*, and following a google search that led me to an old link on the BPC page (https://www.med.upenn.edu/bpc/tax-issues.html**) I learned that Penn policy was such that for my postdoc category Federal taxes were not withheld, but I was still responsible. So with this began my new life, learning to budget in anticipation of paying taxes.
This was perhaps the life for many postdocs at Penn, but we are in for a change. With the new changes which redefine postdoc stipends as wages, federal taxes will now be withheld, which I can live with. This money was never mine in the first place. However, the change was the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act).
Penn was generous and to mitigate the suddenness of the change and to help alleviate the burden that this change places on the strained stipend, Penn offered a one-time stipend supplement of $2500 to the affected non-NRSA postdocs. This was initially disclosed at the Town Hall for the Penn Medicine post-docs held on Thursday, December 14, at 1:00 PM in the John Morgan Building, Reunion Auditorium. It was attended by the beleaguered postdocs, and with the presence of one tenured faculty member in the audience we learned more about the implications of the changes for not only the postdoc take home pay, but also for the PI’s grant that supported our research.
I am told I am trainee, which justifies the stipend that we are paid as we acquire more experience. But suddenly, our stipends have been redefined and now can is considered wages (which are compensatory in nature) so we are contributing to FICA. But for some, the questions are, What is FICA? What does it mean that my stipend “wage” is compensatory – since we can debate whether this compensation reflects how and how much I work? And more importantly, what does this mean for our take home pay? Will there be additional changes afoot? Will postdocs qualify for Penn retirement plans (the answer is yes, we can enroll in the Supplemental Retirement Annuity (SRA) Plan: https://www.hr.upenn.edu/PennHR/benefits-pay/retirement-news-detail/2018/01/02/non-nrsa-post-docs-eligible-for-sra-plan)? Will postdocs (especially foreign postdocs) reap the FICA benefit in the long run? Has the postdoc track/option (if you don’t qualify for an NRSA grant) gotten less attractive? What are your thoughts? And as a final reminder, check your paycheck and set a plan for your fiscal future.
* Some postdoctoral fellows/researchers do have federal taxes withheld automatically, usually postdoctoral researchers holding a H1B visa and some J1 visa holders.
** Recently updated, but as of January 17, 2018 does not reflect the new FICA changes nor the automatic withholding.
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