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How They Measure Up: Scientific Institutions

The recipe for job satisfaction couldn't be simpler: Give scientists colleagues with whom they can collaborate, and the tools--both physical and financial--they need to do their own work well. These ingredients are valued most by 2,210 full-time researchers who participated in The Scientist's survey, "Best Places to Work in Scientific Institutions." Whether at academic institutions or in private research centers, a majority of scientists in North America, Europe, and Israel ranked their rela

By | October 20, 2003

The recipe for job satisfaction couldn't be simpler: Give scientists colleagues with whom they can collaborate, and the tools--both physical and financial--they need to do their own work well.

These ingredients are valued most by 2,210 full-time researchers who participated in The Scientist's survey, "Best Places to Work in Scientific Institutions." Whether at academic institutions or in private research centers, a majority of scientists in North America, Europe, and Israel ranked their relationships with colleagues as important, and this category garnered more votes than any of the 56 features of the scientific workplace discussed in the survey. "We are extremely collegial [and] collaborative, with a can-do attitude. I think that is extremely important," says Anthony Yeung, director of the Fannie E. Rippel Biochemistry and Biotechnology Facility at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, the top-ranked US institution in the survey.

The next priority for scientists is core facilities--the libraries, microscopes, and up-to-date buildings that allow them to pursue cutting-edge research. They also praise institutions that provide the funding they need to tide them over when the grants they write themselves fail to cover all their costs.

Similarly, survey participants want to ensure that fledgling full-timers--assistant professors and lecturers--get the money they need to start their research. Institutions that provide scientists with the technology and money to support their discovery don't have to pay towering salaries, nor do they have to give scientists unlimited tenure, according to the survey results. For example, the scientific staff at the INRA Research Center at Versailles-Grignon--rated second among institutions outside the United States--consists of permanent, fulltime employees who don't question where their next grant will come from or worry about tenure, says Olivier Loudet, a researcher at the center and web master for QTL mapping in Arabidopsis. That's key in science where salaries are traditionally moderate. "Everybody is extremely motivated by the science itself," he adds.

SURVEY METHODOLOGY This is the third survey by The Scientist that aims to help researchers identify the universities and centers where their work will be nurtured and fairly remunerated. The earlier polls tested the best places for postdocs and in industry; this survey examines whether research environments are welcoming to assistant professors, lecturers, and senior scientists. We invited researchers from academic, private, and government labs to participate.

The Scientist posted a web-based questionnaire and invited our readers in tenure and tenure-track positions in noncommercial organizations to respond. From over 38,000 invitations, we received 2,210 usable responses from scientists in the United States, Canada, and western Europe. We asked respondents to assess their working conditions and environments by indicating their level of agreement with 56 positive statements in 12 different areas. Respondents also indicated which factors were important to them. We identified responses from 956 separate institutions, but only 168 institutions (131 US and 37 non-US) with four or more responses were included in the rankings.

To calculate the institutions' overall rankings, we first weighted each factor based on the percentage of respondents who considered it important. Because several factors that ranked as important in the United States are valued less outside the United States and vice versa, we used different factor weightings to rank US and non-US institutions. The overall rankings are based on the average score per institution from all respondents on all factors weighted according to their regional importance. Detailed information on the survey methodology is available at www.the-scientist.com/academia/method.htm. Our sample of scientists was self-selected, and we have made no attempt to standardize the results or to conduct detailed statistical analysis.


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