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Top Pick Outside the United States: The University of Alberta

The University of Alberta's pre-eminence in The Scientist's postdoc survey came as little surprise to many of the institution's researchers. These scientists cited as particularly important the April 2003 opening of a campus postdoc office, which provides a wide range of training and support services. The new office has encouraged postdocs to attend sessions on teaching, communication, and leadership, with which science graduates all too often lack experience, says postdoc Sheryl Gares.Carlos Fl

By | February 16, 2004

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The University of Alberta's pre-eminence in The Scientist's postdoc survey came as little surprise to many of the institution's researchers. These scientists cited as particularly important the April 2003 opening of a campus postdoc office, which provides a wide range of training and support services. The new office has encouraged postdocs to attend sessions on teaching, communication, and leadership, with which science graduates all too often lack experience, says postdoc Sheryl Gares.

Carlos Flores-Mir, a postdoctoral fellow in the university's orthodontic program, has attended some of these sessions. "I have all the support I need or could have imagined," he says. However, departments receive varying levels of support, he adds, because at this point, the office is still registering postdocs around campus.

Members of his department already have enrolled in the office's Postdoctoral Fellows (PDF) development program, launched in September 2003. The program offers training in communication, career development, and professional practice. Postdocs learn about conflicts of interest, standards of integrity, and other issues that will help them in both academic and industrial environments, according to the office Web site.

Susan Buchsdruecker, who coordinates the PDF office, says that the university's new PDF program aims to extend best practices in promoting postdocs' interests throughout the university. "It was designed to give [them] access to specific learning sessions," she says. These sessions also explore issues about intellectual property, publication preparation, university governance, and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Participants receive certificates signifying their participation in the program and their completion of a PDF appointment.

- Philip Hunter

In the Number 2 Spot: The University of Liverpool

Every five years, the United Kingdom conducts its Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), whereby its universities and colleges are judged for the quality of their research. According to the RAE Web site,1 institutions conducting the best research receive a larger proportion of money: In 2001, the pot contained about €5 billion.

The University of Liverpool had not been ranked among elite UK universities, but in 2001, a turnaround began: It received the high RAE rating of 5 for biology, chemistry, pharmacology, clinical laboratory science, and veterinary science, and the highest 5* rating for physiology. According to the school, 93% of its staff were assessed at performing at the highest levels, an improvement from its prior level of 62%.2

Jamie Wilson, a postdoc in cancer research, praises the quality of the university's science and boasts about its access to up-to-date equipment. "Just a very good place to be at the moment," he says. "It's now got a 5* rating [in physiology]. The new building has dedicated rooms for specific areas of research and yet has open, planned areas for interaction with other labs. There are always people to go and see when you need to."

For biological sciences in particular, the most important development was the consolidation of the whole school within a single, new state-of-the-art building in October 2002, says Brian Merry, a specialist in aging. "That's brought us in from seven old Victorian buildings scattered around the town. We've now got all postdocs together, with access to a wide range of expertise from ecology to genetics, and with access to all the latest technologies, such as proteomics, and also a confocal imaging suite, which is one of the best in the world." This consolidation, says Merry, has made it possible to obtain funding for collaborative projects that previously would have been impractical, given the school's fragmentation.

- Philip Hunter

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