Iowa surges again
After spending two years in the lower half of the top 40, the postdoc program at the University of Iowa jumped 27 places this year to number five. Postdocs attribute the leap to a growing recognition of the importance of postdocs on campus and a tight support network among several solid research cores.
While there is no official postdoc association or campus-wide group yet, several smaller groups have taken it upon themselves to give a voice to postdocs' needs. For example, the Women in Science Engineering (WISE) group recently met with postdocs across campus to gauge their satisfaction with the program; the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) also has become a liaison between the fellows and the administration. Many departments and faculty members offer seminars and workshops on grant writing and career advancement.
Among several grievances - the most minor and yet most annoying being the limited parking availability on campus - is the lack of official feedback from the university on postdoc performance. While postdocs are technically classified as graduate students, they aren't given reports on their progress, as are graduate students. "Here you join a lab and [evaluation] is very mentor-driven," as opposed to a universal standard, says Christine Weydert, a third-year postdoc studying the role of endothelial growth factor protein in cancer metastasis.
Postdocs at Iowa, like many of their colleagues at similarly ranked institutions, say they have access to a highly collaborative research environment. "What I like about the research here is that there are excellent cores," says Maged Harraz, a first-year postdoc who is studying macrophage enzymes. "There's a lot of collaboration around, a lot of expertise outside the lab I'm working in, and access to equipment that makes my research easier, and expands my research," he adds.
Outside the university, Iowa City offers postdocs some of the big city luxury with small-town charm. For some postdocs with children, the tightknit local community and growing daycare options at the university make it more appealing than a large-city research institution.