Courtesy of Justin Smith, UNC-Chapel Hill

Each year The Scientist asks postdocs from the United States, Canada, and Europe to reveal how they feel about their jobs, and this year more than 3,500 answered the call. What's clear is that postdocs have an overwhelming commitment to their research, and the institutions that provide valuable training and experience, necessary books and journals, and equipment and supplies (the top three factors) gain high marks. Nearly as important is the support and communication skills of the principal investigator (PI), which played a role in seven of the top 10 most important factors. A pleasant environment, timely pay, accessible daycare, and a 401(k) retirement plan don't hurt either, according to the comments we received.

"I love working for the NIEHS," says Paige Adams of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, which was in the top five institutions in the...


The Scientist posted a Web-based questionnaire and invited readers of the magazine and registrants on The Scientist Web site who identified themselves as nontenured life scientists working in academia or other noncommercial research organizations to respond. We received 3,553 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 levels of agreement with 46 criteria in 11 different areas. They also indicated the factors that were important to them. We identified 123 US and 66 non-US institutions with five or more responses.

To calculate an institution's overall ranking, we first weighted each factor based on the average importance score. Because several factors that ranked as important in the United States are less valued 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 on The Scientist Web site at http://www.the-scientist.com/bptw/postdoc_2005/method. Our sample of scientists was self-selected, and we have made no attempt to standardize the results or to conduct detailed statistical analyses.

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