Best Places to Work Survey: Postdocs Speak Up

Give a postdoc an environment that encourages collegial work, and not competitive strife, and that person will respond with ample praise. At least, that's the lesson of The Scientist's Best Places for Postdocs 2004 survey; it's the magazine's largest yet, with 3,529 usable responses from postdoctoral researchers in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States.Postdocs rated access to publications and journals as the most important attribute of a university. High-quality research tools attracted

By | February 16, 2004

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Give a postdoc an environment that encourages collegial work, and not competitive strife, and that person will respond with ample praise. At least, that's the lesson of The Scientist's Best Places for Postdocs 2004 survey; it's the magazine's largest yet, with 3,529 usable responses from postdoctoral researchers in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Postdocs rated access to publications and journals as the most important attribute of a university. High-quality research tools attracted tall praise as well. They also noted the value of career preparation, which involves both scientific coaching and job advice. "My principal investigator gives me all freedom in research and is open to accept my ideas in my research project," says Dhananjay Kunte, a postdoc at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute in Illinois. "This is giving me [a] lot of encouragement and inspiration."

In the United States, government labs, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute, dominate the survey, with five positions among the top 15. Like the government labs, the top-rated Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia provides funding and infrastructure that allow postdocs to focus on their PCRs and pipettes.

Outside the United States, the Universities of Alberta and Liverpool earned the most admiration from their postdoctoral researchers. At Liverpool, a researcher attributed its second-place showing to its recent high ratings from the UK government. At Alberta, a respondent said that the newly opened postdoc office helped push the school to the top spot. "This is a university with great support to postdocs, even though there are differences in postdoc support according to the specific program," says Carlos Flores-Mir at the University of Alberta. "The postdoctoral position I am taking is brand new, and I have all the support I need. There is a commitment to maintain this position in the future."

These comments show that postdocs look beyond working with microscopes and assays: Relations with other scientists attracted more responses in the survey than did scientific issues. "The quality of my postdoctoral colleagues here at Harvard is beyond what I could have hoped or expected," says Don Kirk-patrick, who works at the medical school. "Additionally, the ability to collaborate with the 'world's expert' in nearly every field provides immense opportunity."

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

This is the second annual postdoc survey by The Scientist that aims to help researchers identify the universities and centers where their work will be nurtured and fairly remunerated. 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 more than 48,000 invitations, we received 3,529 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 45 criteria in 11 different areas. They also indicated which factors were important to them. We identified replies from 929 separate institutions, but only 91 of them (61 US with 10 or more responses, and 30 non-US with five or more responses) were included in the rankings.

To calculate the institutions' overall rankings, we first weighted each factor based on the average importance score. Because several factors that ranked as important in the United States are valued less elsewhere 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 http://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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