Bonnie Ferri, vice provost for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education and professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Bonnie Ferri has been a trailblazer at Georgia Tech since the day she stepped on the historic campus. After earning a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame, and a master’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University, Ferri came to Tech to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.  

In 1988, Ferri made history as the first woman to graduate from the program with a Ph.D. She quickly made history again as Tech welcomed her as the first woman faculty member in the school, paving the way for future generations. 

In her role as a faculty member, Ferri primarily conducted research and taught classes, but she wanted to do more to give back to students, faculty, and the wider Georgia Tech community. Ferri showed leadership promise in her role as chair on a faculty committee, which catapulted her career into the administrative side of higher education. 

“I was invited to participate in leadership training, and I took to heart everything I learned and applied it to the position I was in, and it helped me to be more effective,” said Ferri. “As I became more effective, I found that I could have more impact. The contributions I can make in these roles are what has driven me more than anything.”  

Ferri has now been with Tech for nearly 35 years in a variety of leadership roles. She is currently the vice provost for the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Education and led the reorganization from the Office from Graduate Education and Faculty to Development to the emphasis on postdoctoral education. 

Postdoctoral scholars are an integral part of our ecosystem at Georgia Tech,” said Ferri. “They give back to the university in terms of their research and teaching. Georgia Tech has a responsibility of giving a great deal back to them, including fitting into the Georgia Tech mission, which is to develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.

Jana Stone, assistant vice provost for professional development and director of postdoctoral services in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education 

“What are you going to do next?” This question can be difficult for postdoctoral scholars to answer, but for Jana Stone, she realized she could take this question and make her career out of it.  

Stone earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in genetics and molecular biology. She went on to conduct postdoctoral research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. 

During her time as a postdoc, Stone found herself volunteering to help organize career symposiums and with other committees. 

 “I started to realize that I might be a good fit for an academic administration position,” said Stone. “I really wanted to help people like me who were struggling to figure out what their career trajectory could look like.” 

Armed with this realization, she accepted a position at Duke University where she coordinated professional development and outreach programs at a systems biology research center. After the funding for the research center ended, Stone found herself back on the job market. 

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was searching for the right person who could help build the postdoctoral office from the ground up. Stone saw the posting for a program manager at Tech, and she leaped at the opportunity. 

As the inaugural director for the newly minted office, Stone’s first mission was naming the office and figuring out what core services they were going to offer. They settled on the Office of Postdoctoral Services with a focus on providing professional development programming, community building activities, and advocacy for the needs of postdocs. 

Fast forward 10 years, and those are still the office’s core tenets.  

“I really like that with my role, I have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of a population that sometimes can feel invisible and also has distinct needs,” said Stone. “Postdocs are here to get more training. They’re here for a limited amount of time. They’re not faculty, and they’re not students, and they’re not staff. They are their own special population. They really need some dedicated work to look out for them, and it is my privilege to continue to do that every day.”

During her time at Tech, Stone has been able to advocate for higher salaries, improve access to professional development resources, and help postdocs navigate whatever struggle they are facing, to name a few. 

“I find it very rewarding to be able to see the impacts that we have had on campus,” said Stone. “There are so many people on campus who are supportive of postdocs and willing to work with us, and I am super appreciative of them.” 

Karena Nguyen, assistant director of postdoctoral services in the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education 

Before coming to Tech, Nguyen was a disease ecologist and environmental microbiologist with experience conducting lab and field-based research both domestically and internationally. Her research focused on waterborne pathogens and the effects of climate change on disease transmission. Nguyen earned a Ph.D. in integrative biology from the University of South Florida and a B.S. in ecology and evolution from Saint Louis University. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching program at Emory University, which included creating and teaching a parasitology and disease ecology course at Morehouse College. 

While at Emory, Nguyen revitalized the postdoctoral association and was a representative on Emory’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Planning Initiative. These service opportunities sparked a desire to find a career where she could continue supporting postdocs and building inclusive environments for their professional development. 

As her postdoctoral fellowship was coming to a close, Nguyen considered positions inside and outside academia. She discovered that Georgia Tech was hiring for the assistant director of postdoctoral services at Georgia Tech. 

“It was the perfect fit for my skills, values, and interests,” said Nguyen. “I applied because it would give me the ability to teach, mentor, and advocate for postdocs.”

Nguyen was chosen for the role and has been in the position since 2021. 

“My goal as an administrator is to create an environment where postdocs feel supported holistically,” said Nguyen. “I want postdocs to feel like they have a community of peers and the space to develop as independent researchers and future leaders.”

Nguyen also strives to develop and facilitate career and professional development workshops that empower postdocs to choose a career trajectory that works for them. She also believes that postdocs should have fun, so she organizes social events for that purpose. 

The Postdoc Visibility Project is a collaboration between the Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Services, the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Tech’s postdocs. Our goal is to highlight the contributions of postdocs to the research enterprise, humanize the postdoc experience, and connect postdocs to each other. To achieve this, we will share three spotlight articles and accompanying video interviews throughout the Spring 2024 semester. This is the fourth installment of the Project. 

This work is supported in part by the National Sciences Foundation Mathematical and Physical Sciences divisions ASCEND program under grant award number CHE-2138107.