When Alberto Roca joined UCI in 2003 as a postdoctoral fellow, he faced the usual postdoc pressures: the steep learning curve of a new project, the long hours, the uncertain future. Roca also had the added stress of caring for his wife, Nancy Aguilar-Roca, who was diagnosed that year with epilepsy caused by a brain tumor. He worried that he’d lose his health coverage for his wife’s medical care if his fellowship wasn’t renewed. His wife recovered, and Roca is now an assistant project scientist in the Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, but the experience motivated him to improve the plight of postdocs.

His support of these often unsung scholars earned him the spring 2007 Living Our Values Award for staff members who have been at UCI less than five years.

“Alberto Roca has been an ad hoc champion of postdoc issues,” wrote R. Michael Mulligan, developmental & cell biology professor and graduate studies associate dean, in his nomination letter. “Postdocs contribute significantly to the academic enterprise, but are often overlooked. Roca has worked diligently to promote the recognition of their contributions.”

Roca has supported postdocs in many ways. He represented UCI at the UC Council of Postdoctoral Scholars, organizing its February 2005 meeting on campus. He acted as a liaison with postdoc groups from other departments, including biological chemistry.

“Most postdocs are the engine of innovation and productivity in academia. However, they receive little respect,” Roca says. “UCI is at the forefront of advancing postdoctoral training, but much work needs to be done. I enjoy contributing to that effort.”

He’s an especially strong advocate of underrepresented minority postdocs. As a member of the National Postdoctoral Association, he helped create the organization’s diversity committee. He’s worked with the national Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, receiving the society’s Presidential Service Award. He founded the group’s postdoc committee and created its Web site, minoritypostdoc.org. Roca will delegate his $1,000 Living Our Values contribution to SACNAS.

“Social justice issues have always been a priority of mine,” he says.

Because of his efforts on behalf of postdocs, UCI is planning to establish a postdoc office, which will provide comprehensive informational resources to the researchers, according to Sharon Metzger, senior fellowship & postdoctoral scholar program analyst in Graduate Division, who also nominated Roca.

“Alberto represents the ‘voice’ of the postdoc population,” she wrote.